Clocks tick faster today for coaches, including maybe USF Bulls' Skip Holtz

Published Nov. 30, 2012

The calendar could not save Ellis Johnson.

The university diploma on his wall could not save Jon Embree.

The championship trophy in the case could not save Gene Chizik.

Fired, all of them. Quickly. Cruelly. Cold-bloodedly. Their colleges could not wait to get rid of them.

Hard-working? (So what?) Well-intentioned? (Who cares?) The regular season is not over in many places, but already we have seen college administrations strip coaches of their power, of their prestige, of their positions.

Yes, it seems unfair. Yes, it seems unreasonable. In some cases, it seems insane. Coaching a college football team has never been a nastier way to make a living, and patience has never run out quicker. In other words, they cook discontent in the microwave.

In other news, USF coach Skip Holtz makes his final arguments to keep his job Saturday night against Pittsburgh.

Here, too, there is hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing and the sounds of discontent. USF has never had a more disappointing season than this one, never had a team that fell so short of its own expectations, never had so many restless fans calling for the head of the football coach.

And why not? This is college football, and losing smells as bad here as it does anywhere. If one year was not too soon to judge Johnson at Southern Miss, if two years were not too soon to judge Embree at Colorado, is three years too soon to judge Holtz?

For most of the season, I have defended Holtz. I still do, but frankly, it's getting harder. This team had many shortcomings, and yes, coaching was one of them.

The prevailing opinion seems to be that Holtz is safe for another year. With the athletic department under the cone of silence, who really knows? It does seem like common sense that a coach stays long enough to see his recruits grow up — "until they learn to shave,'' Holtz said earlier this year — but common sense left college football about the same year as leather helmets.

In other words, the question for Doug Woolard, the athletic director, and Judy Genshaft, the university president, shouldn't be how long Holtz has been here or how long he has left on his contract. It shouldn't be if players still like him or when Holtz got an extension or how much money it will cost if you change. USF should be guided by a simple, pointed question:

Is Holtz the man to lead USF into the future?

It's as simple as that, really. If Woolard is convinced Holtz is the best coach to make this season a bad memory, if he still sees the qualities that led the school to hire Holtz to begin with, then he should bring Holtz back.

If Woolard still has his doubts, if he wonders where improvement is coming from and where the program's momentum went, then he has to make a change. If he thinks Holtz is the wrong fit for the program, why wait another year just to be fair?

Pretty much, isn't that the job description of an athletic director?

Again, it is a crazy time in the profession. Look at Auburn. The first Auburn coach to win a national title, Shug Jordan, has his name on the stadium. The second has unemployment papers. Two years after winning the title, Gene Chizik is gone.

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It shouldn't surprise him, either. The two Auburn coaches before Chizik each had an unbeaten season, too. And both of them were fired, too.

How about Embree, who got the Colorado job in part because he played for the Buffs. He was fired after two years. That doesn't sound like a lot unless you were Johnson, who lasted one year at Southern Miss.

At N.C. State, Tom O'Brien was fired despite getting to a bowl game in four of his last five seasons. For N.C. State, is that really underachieving? Purdue is going to bowls in back-to-back seasons, but it still fired Danny Hope. Kentucky is Kentucky, but it fired Joker Phillips after three seasons.

In other words, coaching has a lot less staying power than it once did., which ranks the temperature of college coaches around the country, has 22 coaches still on the hot seat. Of those, 16 have been in their jobs three years or fewer.

In that ranking, by the way, Holtz has the fifth-hottest chair in the country behind Maryland's Randy Edsall, Southern Cal's Lane Kiffin, Kansas' Charlie Weis and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz.

Is that fair? In college football, does it matter if it is?

When the season is over, you would anticipate that Woolard and Holtz would meet to discuss this season and, perhaps, those to come. Woolard needs to ask some pointed questions.

What happened?


And how in the world can USF be sure it won't happen again?

Is there a junior college quarterback out there who can lift a program? Should Holtz evaluate his staff? Are a better level of recruits coming in? And what exactly happened with the clock management against Louisville and Miami?

For USF, this is a crucial time. As embarrassing as the lessening of the Big East is, it also affords the Bulls a chance to claim the league as their own. For that to happen, USF needs to be sure it has the right coach and the proper direction.

After all, there have been too many questions lately.

Soon, it will be time for some answers.