I had a chance to catch up with USF coach Skip Holtz in the wake of his team’s disappointing 5-7 season. I will divide up our interview into two parts. Here is a little of what he had to say about the season in general. Part II will focus more on individual players and performances.
How much have you second guessed yourself in the wake of so many close losses this season?
SH: Every game you go back and say, ‘Golly, if we would have called this instead of that … if we had called deep-right kickoff instead of deep left. Hindsight is 20-20. It’s easy to beat yourself up but the bottom line is we could have done a better job with this team. The healing process begins when you start to take ownership. It's too easy to point your finger and say the 18-year-old went the wrong way or a 19-year-old dropped the ball. You get into coaching because you feel like you can make a difference. I always jump on the grenade and say we could have done more as coaches. I feel a deep sense of regret to the seniors, Chaz Hine, Jeremiah Warren, Jerrell Young, (Quenton) Washington that we weren't able to get it done, but I also can look at it and I can't say there's just one thing if we had done this we could have done a better job. It seemed every game there was a different breakdown. B.J. Daniels plays his tail off in the last game. He had missed 10 days of practice before he has to play. He was playing with a sore shoulder. He puts us in a position to win the game and unfortunately, we put the ball on the ground. It wasn't because he doesn't care. Then we get a 15-yard penalty that puts them into field-goal range. There's things we could have done, but it's not like some people won and some people lost. We lose as a team.
So what can you take away from this season?
SH: The thing that encourages me is we are that close. I know from a perception standpoint, you win or you lose, but when I look at the young men, the football team we have returning, the number of young players that gained experience, when I look at this football team I am excited about the future. It's certainly not like the wheel’s broke and we've got to re-invent the wheel here. I think we just have to stay the course. When you look at what we return, with every offensive skill player returning, with our quarterback, all your receivers, Sterling Griffin back healthy, Deonte Welch, Andre Davis and Ruben Gonzalez, Chris Dunkley is going to be eligible after he sat out. Victor Marc, Terrence Mitchell will be back, Darrell Scott, Demetris Murray, Marcus Shaw all our tight ends -- I'm encouraged. I feel like the momentum in our team meeting at the end is not one of despair like, 'What are we going to do now?’ It's one of, ‘We'll roll our sleeves up to get this done. Same for the defense with Sam Barrington, Mike Lanaris, DeDe Lattimore, Cory Grissom, Elkino Watson, Ryne Giddins, Julius Forte back and Kayvon Webster, JaQuez Jenkins, Jon Lejiste, a lot of guys who have played for us. I'm encouraged for the future even though the season didn't turn out the way we wanted to. I'm not discouraged, like the dam is broken.
Have you been through anything like this in your career, where you lost so many close games?
SH: Not like this. In my head coaching career, I think I lost four or five games by three points or less. It happened four times this year, so it puts it into perspective in how close we were. That's what made this year so frustrating.
How can this season be seen as anything but a step backward?
SH: It's hard to say you didn't make improvement. When you look at a year ago on offense, you're leading the league in rushing, ranked in the top 2 or 3 in offense, top 2 or 3 scoring offense, top 2 or 3 in passing offense. It's definitely hard from a football standpoint to say we didn’t make progress. Same thing from a defensive standpoint. We lost a lot of players that went to the NFL. We were hit hard by graduation, but we had a lot of guys step up. … When you look at it, the wins-losses, we went backward but if four plays turn out differently, we improve on last year's record. … When I look from the inside of the program, I feel good about the improvements we've made and where we're going as a program.