TAMPA — Skip Holtz has spent much of the past three months introducing himself to USF fans, with a tireless parade of TV, radio and other public appearances. This month, the USF coach is undertaking another massive introduction: pledging to get his nine assistant coaches out to every high school in the state to make the most of a key recruiting month during the spring evaluation period.
"We want to get in every school, to introduce ourselves, to find out where the players are, to develop relationships with all the coaches," said Holtz, who as a head coach isn't allowed to visit schools this month due to the NCAA's recruiting rules. "It's not that hard from a logistical standpoint. You divvy it up and everybody's got so many schools. It's just a matter of a little preparation and planning."
The dizzying task of dispatching nine assistants across the state — the FHSAA has 548 high schools that will play varsity football in the fall — falls to Carl Franks, the Bulls' longtime recruiting coordinator and running backs coach, now in a new role as director of player personnel.
Franks and Holtz first established a "home area" of about 100 schools in Hillsborough County and the four counties that border it — Pinellas, Pasco, Polk and Manatee. Each assistant has a geographic area to cover there, and each has a region of the state that's his new turf.
Much of the "home area" was covered by assistants last week, and since the NCAA allows each university to make two visits during the spring, the coaches reconvened in Tampa this week to line up their priorities and decide which schools merit a second visit, often by a recruit's position coach.
In the frenzied rush between Holtz's hiring in January and national signing day in February, USF had a more focused recruiting push, targeting specific players. The Bulls met with recruits already committed under the previous coaching staff, then added six new signees.
This is a more thorough canvassing of the state, from defensive backs coach Rick Smith in the Panhandle to defensive ends coach Vernon Hargreaves in south Dade County and the Keys, which is crucially important when you consider that only three of the nine assistants were at USF last fall.
Take new quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas, who was an assistant along with Holtz at Notre Dame (1990-91) and came to USF from Miami (Ohio). His recruiting area is Daytona Beach and the Space Coast south of it; he has 42 schools there, as well as 12 "home area" schools in north Pinellas. The final week of May, he'll drop the geographic boundaries and visit the quarterbacks USF is targeting.
"Recruiting is about building relationships," said Vaas, who also squeezed in some out-of-state recruiting for two days last week. "You want to find out as much as you can about a player, but it's a two-way street, so it's about the young man developing a relationship with your staff as well."
Coaches can visit with high school coaches and watch practice this month but cannot contact recruits; of course, they can leave a phone number and the players can call them. The Bulls have only one commitment so far toward their 2011 class, so there's a lot of work to be done.
Reaching out to every school means every school — including schools that haven't even opened yet. Atlantic Coast High School in Jacksonville, which won't have any seniors this fall, is practicing at night on its new campus, with about 80 players who will enroll when the school opens in August. Sure enough, coach Kevin Sullivan said he has already talked to USF assistant Steve Shankweiler, whom he has known from when he recruited the area for Holtz at East Carolina, and Hargreaves, whom he has known since he was recruiting as a Connecticut assistant under Holtz.
"I talked to both of them last week," Sullivan said. "We're just starting and don't have any seniors, but it'll be good for our kids to see that they're already interested."
Times staff writer Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.