TAMPA — The one-line email was fired off at 3:26 p.m. Saturday, within a minute of the end of USF's humbling 37-28 loss at Temple, and it was sent to the chief of staff of USF president Judy Genshaft.
"Disgusting and unacceptable," it read. "We have major problems with our football program."
By Monday morning, that email was forwarded to athletic director Doug Woolard, with another one-line note: "Hope things are better. Make sure you have conversation with the Board Chair. Thanks."
Yes, the sentiment of the email echoed that of dozens of others sent to Woolard by USF fans in recent days and obtained by the Tampa Bay Times through a public records request, but the sender was notable: John Ramil, a USF graduate, the president and CEO of TECO Energy, and more important, a powerful man on campus as the chairman of USF's board of trustees.
"I was expressing the same feeling of frustration as all the USF fans are feeling," Ramil told the Times on Thursday. "I personally want what's best for all the USF programs, whether academic or sports. I also believe in candid feedback, and I think the president and the athletic director and the coaches need to have that kind of feeling of feedback from all the fans. I've given them feedback on good stuff, too."
The Bulls (2-4, 0-2 Big East) have lost four in a row, and 10 of their past 11 conference games, and while most of the losses have been closely contested, USF is in danger of not playing in a bowl game for the second year in a row.
Public criticism of Holtz and his players has been strong enough that Woolard issued a statement Tuesday, saying the wins and losses are "disappointing to everyone involved" but that the coaches and players are working hard, the season is only half over and he would "evaluate the status" of the football program after the season. Holtz, who is 15-16 in his third season at USF, has been accountable for the team's struggles and is optimistic of a rebound, saying "that falls on me as the head football coach."
"I don't coach football. I don't know what the answers are," Ramil said Thursday. "This Saturday was a pretty complete loss, with all three parts of the team failing in critical points. I don't know that it was a tipping point, but a time for me to say my piece as a fan.
"When you look at the season so far and that last game, we had challenges on offense, challenges on defense, and at the very end in the most glaring way, challenges on special teams (a blocked go-ahead field goal). We need to be looking at things differently, doing some things differently. I think it's gotten everybody's attention. … I have my fingers crossed for them. I'm rooting for them. I hope they do find some answers and we can do a whole lot better in the second half of the season."
Ramil said he likes Holtz as a coach, was "totally impressed" with him in his personal interactions, and he fully supports Woolard's decision in June to give Holtz an extension through the 2017 season despite a 1-6 record in the Big East in 2011, citing interest from other top programs in hiring the coach away.
"He was a person in demand," Ramil said. "There were a couple of significant openings where he had ties to. I think it was a good, smart move. If we'd have lost him at the end of the season, the reaction would have been, 'Oh, my God, he lost four or five games in the last minute, he's got a great record. Why'd you let him get away?' "
Ramil said he often points to USF football's academic progress under Holtz, how nearly all the team's seniors will have graduated by December, how that improvement parallels higher standards for the university's overall admissions in recent years.
"Right now, given everything in balance, while I wasn't happy after the game, I think I should be patient. I think we all should be patient," Ramil said. "I think Doug Woolard's plan to work on things we can during the season and assess at the end is the right thing to do."
Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls.