TAMPA — One week after USF named Skip Holtz as its new football coach, public records showed the high level of interest in the Bulls' opening, and the extensive lobbying that went on to get candidates considered.
Consider Florida State, which had two prominent figures e-mail USF to recommend former coaches. Outgoing FSU president T.K. Wetherell e-mailed USF president Judy Genshaft on behalf of former FSU assistant Kevin Steele, now defensive coordinator at Clemson. Florida State athletic director Randy Spetman recommended former N.C. State coach and FSU assistant Chuck Amato.
"I understand you are looking for a football coach," Wetherell wrote Genshaft, in an e-mail provided to the St. Petersburg Times in response to a public records request. "I would highly recommend Kevin Steele. He was at FSU, and we were grooming him for Bobby (Bowden)'s job until Nick Sabin (sic) and (Alabama) hired him away."
Spetman wrote to USF executive associate athletic director Bill McGillis on behalf of Amato, who lost his job after Bowden stepped down.
"Chuck is a very professional and loyal individual that will work hard to keep your program at the top," Spetman wrote.
Many top candidates indicated an interest, either directly or through an agent. The agent for former USF assistant Dan McCarney, now defensive line coach at Florida, sent 30 pages of newspaper clippings about his client, and three of his former players at Iowa State wrote USF with letters of endorsement.
Even a current USF player, receiver A.J. Love, took the time to write athletic director Doug Woolard, asking him to consider promoting then-offensive coordinator Mike Canales, who was later not retained by Holtz.
"I am sure that the candidates being mentioned for the job are well qualified," he wrote. "However, I feel like we already have the head coach in waiting on our current staff. … The coaches have made better players out of us, and more importantly, better men and students."
E-mails showed a spectrum of responses to former coach Jim Leavitt, who was fired Jan. 8, with some calling for his reinstatement and others lauding Woolard for taking action after a university investigation concluded that Leavitt grabbed walk-on Joel Miller's neck, slapped him twice in the face during halftime of a Nov. 21 game against Louisville, then lied about it to investigators.
Former USF player Shawn Hay was among several who endorsed former USF assistant Calvin Magee, now the offensive coordinator at Michigan. "(Magee) is a naturally gifted and respected teacher, speaker and motivator whose sound judgment, balance, character and calmness under pressure are not only admired and respected by players and coaches alike, but emulated," he wrote.
NFL candidates expressing interest or getting recommended included Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, Bucs special teams coach Rich Bisaccia and then-Dolphins defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni. Top college assistants such as Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley were said to have interest in the job.
The largest support came for former Bucs coach Tony Dungy, but not far behind was former Auburn coach Terry Bowden — one letter came from former Countryside High quarterback Harrison Beck, who played for him at North Alabama this past season.
"Think about the prospects of having a Bowden still coaching football in the state of Florida," he wrote. "Think about his name and its effect on recruiting."
Letters from fans endorsed a range of candidates — Bobby Bowden, recently fired Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer, former Alabama coach Mike Shula, former Bucs quarterback Doug Williams, and even Ruffin McNeill, who has now taken over for Holtz at East Carolina.
More than 60 coaches' names were dropped in more than 200 pages of e-mails sent to USF's top athletic administrators. In all that input, there was only one e-mail that specifically recommended Holtz, whose hire has drawn steady praise from fans and pundits in the media.
"I am in favor of a Holtz or Bowden, someone like that who could come in and help the recruits and players get excited," wrote Ken Griffin, a season ticket holder from Clearwater. "When we make the hire, people should say, 'Wow, what a great hire.' "
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] Follow his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf.