TAMPA — This message just came in from North Carolina.
The thoroughly disappointing USF football team fell down the stairs again Friday afternoon, flopping and bouncing and careening all the way to a 34-24 loss to the Louisville Cardinals. As losses go, you have seen this one before, again and again and again, in this Groundhog Day of a season.
Once again the Bulls took a lead, and once again they lost it, and once again they managed to lose to an average opponent in an average league. Once again they were the collapse-a-Bulls, and you can find them in last place in the Big East.
For all the questions about USF coach Skip Holtz skipping off to UNC, then, here is the biggest one: Why? Is this what the Tar Heels are looking for — a coach whose team has no idea what to do with the lead, or on third down, or in the fourth quarter, or in pass coverage, or on special teams?
Not to be mean, but who is starting these coaching rumors? Boosters from UNC, or boosters from USF?
I kid, I kid. I like Holtz, and I still think he has a chance to be a fine coach here, and I think USF would be hard-pressed to find another one.
On the other hand, Holtz has a lot more coaching to do here before anyone develops worry lines at the thought.
Even in an underachieving season, this game was hard to watch. Throughout it, you could feel the avalanche about to come down. Even when the Bulls were ahead 17-3, even when they came from behind to go ahead 24-20, they were tap dancing in a minefield.
Aren't they always? They are the worst fourth-quarter team in the history of fourth quarters. UConn. Cincinnati. Rutgers. Now Louisville. They get close to victory more often than a Bond villain. And then they lose.
Along the way, there always seems to be a crucial mistake, or a key turnover, or a bad penalty, or a player out of position.
At some point you have to wonder:
How much of this is on Skip?
"A lot of it," Holtz said. "I'm the head coach. That's where it starts; that's where it stops. I take responsibility. I have to do a better job holding our staff to a higher standard, and our staff has to do a better job holding our players to a higher standard.
"I take it personally. That's why you get into coaching, because you think you make a difference. It's too easy to point a finger at a player and say he didn't make a play or he didn't do this or do that. When I keep saying we're four plays from being 9-1, I'm not pointing at the players and saying they're four plays away. As much as anything, I'm four plays away as a head coach. Our defensive staff, our offensive staff are four plays away."
Is it only four? When defensive backs keep getting lost in zone coverage, when they are blistered so badly they don't seem to be in any coverage at all, that reflects on the coaching. When a team has three turnovers, when it has a key penalty, when the lead is eternally slippery, that reflects on the coaching.
It is not lost on Holtz. Give him that much. This team has to get better. It has too many positions where the athletes aren't ready to compete. The secondary has been a problem since this staff arrived.
That's why I don't think Holtz will leave for North Carolina. It's a fine college, but it's not one of those once-in-a-lifetime dream programs, and who knows what it looks like after the NCAA brings in the wrecking balls in its UNC investigation? I think it's 90 percent that Holtz stays at USF to try to finish the job. He is frustrated, if you want to know the truth.
In many ways, this is USF's most disappointing season, but it is Holtz's most disappointing, too. He used words like "inexcusable" and "foolish" Friday. Probably the same words occurred to you.
How do you judge a coach?
Well, results. Start there. USF is 5-6, last in the Big East. It has lost six out of its past seven.
What else? How about fourth quarters? Everyone wants to be stronger at the end, right? Over its six Big East games, the Bulls have been outscored 65-28 in the final quarter. It's hard to win that way.
How about third downs? The Cardinals converted 9-of-18, throwing two touchdown passes on third-and-11 situations. Six times they covered third and 7 or longer.
There is improvement to be made. The talent has to be greater. The efficiency has to be higher. The coaching has to be better.
In other words, Skip has a lot of work to do.
Frankly, he ought to do it here.