TAMPA — Sitting in the front row of the student section at USF's men's basketball game Saturday night, Erin Floto proudly held a sign that read, "RESERVED FOR COACH HOLTZ."
Just before halftime, USF's new football coach saw the sign from across the arena, waved and mouthed the words, "I'm going to be there."
Skip Holtz took the microphone at midcourt and knew the right thing to say to a loud Sun Dome crowd on its feet: "(Athletic director) Doug Woolard told me … the best part of the University of South Florida is the student body."
Then a quick radio interview, and sure enough, Holtz went up the steps into the middle of the student section and mingled.
"A lot of coaches would say that and wouldn't do it. But he actually came up and got to know his student body, and that means so much," said Floto, a sophomore from Melbourne.
"We're really excited. He turned (East Carolina) around, did an amazing job in Conference USA, and we're all for him to come here and make a great change."
Holtz wasn't done, walking across the court and sitting in with the TV crew — ESPN360, mind you. And even though 11 recruits are in town, Holtz stuck around for the whole game, shaking hands with basketball coach Stan Heath after the Bulls' first Big East win of the season.
"I was really impressed," Heath said. "Just a genuine guy, a lot of passion, and you can tell a lot of energy to really get things moving forward. I'm happy to see him here and supporting us here. He's got some recruiting to do, but any other time, we'd love to have him. I told him I'll be at all of his football games."
Holtz has worked the city of Tampa like there's an election, making a quick impression in his first two days as the successor to the fired Jim Leavitt. Holtz took recruits to the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, where owner and USF booster Richard Gonzmart was impressed by his tirelessness smile.
"He's such a great guy with wonderful values and family," Gonzmart said. "He's very friendly. You don't feel like he's standoffish. I wish I could be that friendly. The area is going to really embrace his style."
The busy night was nearly marred as Jennifer Holtz, sitting courtside, was almost hit by an errant burrito fired from a promotional slingshot. The coach's wife was saved by an alert backhand from the oldest of their three children, 15-year-old Louis Leo Holtz III, known as Trey. "He's a quarterback, but he's also a receiver," she said. "He saved my life."
Holtz's family will head back to North Carolina today until they make a permanent move. But seeing the loud, lively reception Holtz drew from fans Friday at an introductory news conference, his wife was surprised by how quickly their new campus felt like home.
"I was told we were going to a press conference, not a pep rally," she said. "When we got on the dais and looked out in the crowd, we had friends that drove from Orlando and up from Sanibel and so many members of the football team there, too. What I'll remember is the support, just them saying, 'We're glad you're here.' "