TAMPA — The disappointment comes late, as it often does. As usual, it feels like something dark and evil oozing through the building.
It slinks across the lobby and makes its way up the stairs. It takes a quick right, then a left past the football helmets. It slithers down the long hallway, past the photos on the walls and makes its way toward the last door on the right.
In this season of mediocrity, yes, the disappointment winds up in the office of Skip Holtz, too. And if the USF season has been somewhat less than your expectations, perhaps you should compare notes with the man in charge of keeping the losing at bay.
This is where you find Holtz these days. In the past two weeks, he has spent six, maybe seven nights on the couch in his office. He has survived on late-night pizza and game films, trying desperately to figure out the way to the end zone.
Yes, he admits, he is disappointed, too. Of course he is. Holtz came to town talking about big goals and high standards, about production and possibilities, and so far his is a program that has been stuck in the mud. His offense is doing nothing, and his team is going nowhere, and these days you can break off the underachievement in chunks.
"Absolutely, it's disappointing," Holtz said Tuesday. "I mean, we are what we are. I don't think I can sit around and cry. I understand why we have gotten to where we are, but that doesn't make it any easier to be here."
Here? Here is a place without a win, or an offensive touchdown, in the Big East. Also, with a loss to Syracuse that still demands explanation.
Here is being the 84th-best team in the nation, according to the BCS computers, three years to the week after being ranked No. 2. Here is 3-3, with victories over a layup, a tap-in putt and the free space in bingo. Here, it turns out, is the capital city of the state of disappointment.
After all, this was the season that had promised so much more. This was the season of Holtz and his unbridled optimism, and the feeling was that he would take over a program used to winning eight games and year and push it to the next level. He was going to keep the season from fading in November, as had happened in the past. He was going to stake a claim on the Big East.
It has not happened that way. The USF offense has been parked. Quarterback B.J. Daniels, raw and athletic as a freshman, now seems merely raw as a sophomore. The wide receivers used to be running backs and quarterbacks and defensive backs. "The Land of Misfit Toys," Holtz calls them.
As a result, the season feels even worse than it is. Looking at the schedule, few of us would have had the Bulls any better than 4-2 at this point. Given that, a 3-3 record isn't the biggest case of underachievement you might imagine.
That said, the Bulls have been inexplicably mediocre. There is no explosion, no excitement to the offense. Watch the Bulls struggle and this no longer seems like a program on the rise.
"I know from the outside it may look like it's broken," Holtz said. "But it's not broken. It really isn't."
Holtz talks about the USF defense, and his words pick up speed until it sounds as if the superlatives are having a race to see which one can get out first. He talks about the transition from one coaching staff to another, and he is convinced that has nothing to do with the team's shortcomings.
Still, nowhere special.
The Bulls have beaten Stony Brook, a Division II nonpower, and Florida Atlantic, ranked No. 112, and Western Kentucky, ranked No. 118. Nothing much to brag about there, is there?
So what has happened? Is this because of the coaching change from Jim Leavitt to Holtz? Has Daniels gone backward? And how can a team from Florida not have more impact receivers?
Start with Daniels, who has struggled despite constant tinkering to the offense to suit his strengths. Daniels seems caught between the world of a running quarterback and a thrower, and these days he seems to be neither. In the Bulls' three losses, for instance, he has thrown nine interceptions. Daniels is a sophomore, but you get the feeling that if Holtz thought he had another option, he would have tried it by now.
It doesn't help Daniels that most of the players he might have been throwing to aren't around. Carlton Mitchell left early for the NFL, and A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin are injured.
Holtz said he knew it wasn't going to be easy. He said he knew the team might struggle in the passing game. Still, he thought winning was possible. Given his nature, what else would you expect?
So how much of this is on Holtz? Why, all of it, of course. He is the head coach, and as such, he has sole ownership of the wins and the losses. No, it isn't fair. No, you can't expect him to invent wide receivers. No, he didn't throw the interceptions.
"When something goes wrong, the first thing you do look is at yourself," Holtz said. "I haven't put (Daniels) in enough positions where he can be as successful as we'd like him to be. That's my job."
After six games, we can assume this: Holtz's job is going to require more work than most Bulls fans might have believed.
First of all, there are those six games to come (five against the Big East, one against Miami). USF is either going to have to find enough consistency on offense to drive the ball or enough explosion to hit a big play or two. The Bulls are going to have to win a couple of games (or more) that you don't expect them to win before a successful season seems possible.
After that, there is recruiting to be done. This roster needs more skill, more speed, more strength. As Holtz said, "We need to have enough depth to have options."
Eventually, Holtz believes, his team will get there. Eventually, the losing will stop, and the touchdowns will come, and the cheers will be as loud as ever.
For now, Holtz seems destined to spend a lot more tough nights on his couch.
Perhaps a few more on his sideline, too.