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USF Bulls football team hires both coach and salesman in Skip Holtz

TAMPA — Skip Holtz wants to meet you. And your family. The dog is negotiable.

He had about 10 days to recruit his first 15 football players at the University of South Florida, and now Holtz is devoting the next several months to recruiting everyone else within earshot of this message.

That means USF boosters. And students. And bay area football fans. And, frankly, anyone else he can talk into showing up for games at Raymond James Stadium in the fall. It may say Head Football Coach on his office door, but the intent sounds more like a Pied Piper.

Holtz just wants a few minutes of your time. Give him that, and he'll do the rest. Lend him your ear, and he will go to work on your devotion.

"Anytime there is change, there is excitement and enthusiasm and energy, and you want to build on that. You want to keep that going," Holtz said. "Part of the obligation as a head coach is to get out and meet with your booster club, meet with your fan base, meet with your student body, meet with the faculty, meet with the media. It all goes together.

"Being a head football coach today has very little to do with how to block … it has very little to do with schemes."

If you're looking for differences between Holtz and his predecessor, this is a biggie. Holtz seems to view his role as CEO of a company. Jim Leavitt was more like the foreman on the ground. It doesn't mean one way was better than the other. In fact, Leavitt's us-against-the-world mentality was probably just what a new football program at a university with an identity problem needed.

But now that the heavy lifting has been done — now that USF is in a BCS conference with a string of bowl appearances behind it — the school could use the kind of big-picture thinking that Holtz is planning to provide.

He hasn't bought a house yet, he barely knows his Fowler from his Fletcher, but in the past two weeks he has shown up at practically every sports radio show in town. He has been to a couple of USF basketball games and played host to an alumni group at one. He has been to a Lightning game and a Brandon Rotary Club. He has had lunch with some of USF's big donors and met with student government groups.

Next Wednesday he will hold his first town meeting — The Inside Skip — at the Corral by the Sun Dome. He'll meet with fans, answer questions, sign autographs and, presumably, heal the sick. Other town meetings are planned later for Palma Ceia, and in Pinellas County.

All of which explains why athletic director Doug Woolard is showing you a calender crammed full of Holtz's obligations in March. Various groups are color-coded in green, black, blue and red. At the rate Holtz is going, they may have to introduce mauve and fuchsia to the schedule.

"You have to do it. You have to promote your program," Holtz said. "I'm not going to say, 'Let's sit behind locked doors, and do our thing.' We need the media to get to where we want to be."

And where would that be? Specifically, on top of the Big East Conference. And in front of packed crowds at Raymond James. And in the living rooms of the hottest recruits in the state. And all of those things are interconnected.

"Every piece is a little piece to the puzzle," Holtz said. "Ultimately, it's going to be about the product on the field. Ultimately, it's going to be what you see when the ball is snapped. How competitive this team is, how consistent, how hard they play."

That's why Holtz cannot afford to take a breath right now. His staff is already spending hours every day looking at videotape of last season's high school juniors to get a jump on the next recruiting class. He's creating a flow chart of responsibilities within the football program. And he's spreading the message of USF to anyone willing to listen.

Holtz has been through this, just on a smaller scale. He took over the Connecticut football program and guided it to Division I-A. He took over East Carolina and won two conference championships while setting attendance records every year along the way.

"I was in Greenville (N.C.) where we had 60,000 people trying to fill a 50,000-seat stadium," Holtz said. "How many people live in this area? A couple of million? I've never had the opportunity to recruit a couple of million people to fill up a stadium. If we have the same batting average we had in Greenville we'll do really well here."

The potential here is much larger, and Holtz understands it will take time. His goal is to regularly sell out the stadium, but that's probably down the road. The goal is to win the conference championship, but that also will probably take some time.

For now, Holtz is willing to plan. To build. To grow.

Even if it's one fan at a time.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

USF Bulls football team hires both coach and salesman in Skip Holtz 02/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 10:25pm]
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