Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

USF Bulls, Skip Holtz fueled by hurt of last season


If you wish, you could move the game to Saturday afternoon. That would be just fine with Skip Holtz.

Come to think of it, why wait? Why not play on Saturday morning? Early, if that would make the TV people happy; it's no problem with Holtz. Just tell the Tennessee-Chattanooga players to skip breakfast and show up at dawn.

Friday night's all right. For that matter, so is tonight. Who has anything better to do?

Heck, as far as Holtz is concerned, a half-hour from right now is good. Just let him pick up the first down markers on the way to the stadium and he's ready to get this party started.

Frankly, Holtz is tired of waiting for USF's football season to begin. These days the coach is wound tighter than your grandfather's watch. He talks fast, and he walks around his office like an expectant father, and you get the feeling that if he had to wait another week to play, his head might explode.

In his coaching career, Holtz has never been like this. He has never wanted — never needed — so badly for a new season to begin. He is like a stir-crazy boxer who needs to hit something soon. Have you heard about the countdown clock in the Bulls' locker room that tells the players how long it is until kickoff? In the pit of his stomach, Holtz has one of his own.

Why? Because this season is so promising.

Why else? Because last season was so painful.

At USF, it is impossible to talk about the season to come without remembering last year, the season that got away. Game after game, week after week, the Bulls would be in great shape in the fourth quarter and somehow or another they would find a way to lose. UConn. Cincinnati. Rutgers. Miami. Louisville. West Virginia. Week after week, nightmare after nightmare.

It was a maddening, frustrating 5-7 season, one Holtz calls the worst he has endured. It was a Wile E. Coyote of a season. Every episode, the accursed Road Runner would be in trouble, and by the time the cartoon was at its end, a giant boulder was crashing onto a familiar head.

On Wednesday afternoon, Holtz sat in his office revisiting the pain. No one had to bring up last year. It is never very far from Holtz. Eight months after the season ended, his voice quivers as he talks about the recurring heartache of 2011.

"Whenever I think about it, I just get sick," he said. "I don't know if I've recovered from just having your heart torn out. It was gut-wrenching to be that close and not be able to get over the hump. You would go into the locker room and you could see the tears and the empty faces. That was the hard thing.''

It was hard, Holtz said. It was painful, and it was bitter, and it tasted like something vile.

Then he said this: He doesn't want his players to forget it. Not any of it.

"I want them to realize how close we were and how we shot ourselves in the foot," Holtz said. "We controlled whether we won or lost those games. I want them to think about what could have been.

"I don't want them to forget that hurt. I don't want it to go away. That's our fuel. That's the chip on the shoulders. The only way we can get rid of that bad taste in our mouths is in December if we're hoisting that trophy."

For USF, "that trophy" is for the Big East championship, a title the Bulls have never made a serious run toward. This year, however, they have most of the defense back, and they have a fifth-year quarterback in B.J. Daniels. Louisville is the consensus favorite in the Big East, but most people have USF at No. 2, which leads to this question: Why not USF?

"If we can stay healthy," Holtz said carefully, "we have a chance."

After all, this team is deeper, and it is more talented, and it has been through tough times. You can say that about the players, and you can say that about the head coach.

"It was definitely the toughest season I've been through," Holtz said. "You beat yourself up and say 'What could I have done to avoid this? What could I have called?' "

As a head coach, Holtz had lost five games on the final play in his 12 seasons before last. Last year he lost three, a fourth on the next-to-last play.

Yeah, that will leave a chip on a coach's shoulder, too, though Holtz tweaks it to "a fire in his belly." Either way, he says he would have started this season last December if he could have.

Instead, it begins Saturday night against Tennessee-Chattanooga.

"I want us to execute," Holtz said. "We're not playing Tennessee-Chattanooga. We're playing ourselves."

Right. And the Bulls are not playing with just 2012 in mind, but in healing 2011 along the way.

As for Holtz, the game can't come fast enough.

Listen to Gary Shelton from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays on 98.7-FM The Fan.

USF Bulls, Skip Holtz fueled by hurt of last season 08/29/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 30, 2012 2:03am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Longest home run at Trop and Erasmo Ramirez's pitching doom Rays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier returned. The problem was, so did Erasmo Ramirez.

    Seattle Mariners first baseman Yonder Alonso (10) scores on the double by Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.
  2. Rays journal: Kevin Kiermaier returns, Mallex Smith sent to Triple A

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It didn't take CF Kevin Kiermaier long to make his presence felt during his return Friday to the Rays lineup. Kiermaier pretended to have Mariners DH Nelson Cruz's first-inning line drive lined up even as the ball went past him to his right and to the wall.

    Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) flies out in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.
  3. Rays vs. Mariners, 6:10 p.m. Saturday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Mariners

    6:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    This is a 2017 photo of Jake Odorizzi of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. This image reflects the 2017 active roster as of Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 when this image was taken. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  4. Bucs journal: Starting defense disappointed holding Jags to 1 rushing yard


    JACKSONVILLE — The Bucs' starting defense held the Jaguars to a total of 1 rushing yard on seven carries in the first half of Thursday's 12-8 preseason win.

    And its members were disappointed.

    Jacksonville Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon (24) is thrown for a 1-yard loss as he is stopped by Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David (54) and defensive end Robert Ayers (91) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) JVS102
  5. Jameis Winston's hardest lesson: He can't always save the day


    TAMPA — Ever wonder what in the world goes through Jameis Winston's mind when he tries to fit the ball in a keyhole as he is being dragged to the turf like he was during Thursday night's 12-8 preseason win over the Jaguars?

    Jameis Winston, left, tries to hang on to the ball as Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler tries to strip it from him.