It's pretty clear that South Florida has a much different personality at the helm of its football program.
While Jim Leavitt could be brusque in interviews and public appearances, new coach Skip Holtz can offer more words in one answer than an entire Leavitt press conference. Holtz has been moving almost nonstop since being hired Jan. 15, both in trying to keep his first recruiting class together and also meeting and greeting just about everybody in the Tampa/St. Pete area.
I caught up with Holtz this week to talk about his manic schedule and the outlook for spring practice. Here is Part I of my interview. Check back Monday for Part II.
So, pretty boring month or so for you, huh?
Skip Holtz: Yeah, pretty boring. It's been a whirlwind. You'd really love to have a chance to catch your breath a little bit. Right now, I'm a single parent because I've got my son here with me and my wife's back in Greenville taking care of the other two, and you wish you could have a little more time to take in everything you're experiencing. But it's been great. There are just a lot of positive things going on and there's a buzz in the air and there's a lot of excitement and enthusiasm and energy. And I'd rather have it this way than nobody wants to talk to you and your phone never rings.
No one would have blamed you for taking some down time after signing day, but you're still doing lots of appearances and interviews. Is some of that to build some good will after the controversy of the Leavitt firing?
SH: I think time heals a lot of things. As I have told everybody, I am a fan of Jim Leavitt and the job he did building this program. He did an absolutely phenomenal job in taking this program from its stages of infancy to being extremely competitive in the Big East. I don't think anybody can argue the success that he had or the job that he did. And I hate the circumstances and the situation in which I had the opportunity to be here, but it doesn't change my excitement or my enthusiasm for being able to be here.
So I think one of the things we have to do is we've got to try to keep this momentum and excitement and energy going and try to build off this. You try and stand on every soap box you can and talk about your goals, and people want to hear about the direction you want to take the program and your goals and dreams and vision. From speaking to the Bulls Club members to talking to the board of trustees to alumni groups to the rotary clubs around town. Anywhere you can find a soap box to stand on and continue to try and promote what we're trying to do and what we're trying to build, that's a huge positive for us right now
The Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi called you the most media-friendly coach in Florida already.
SH: I like the title. I like wearing that crown. I think the media is important to what we're doing when we talk about wanting to build this program from an exposure standpoint -- especially when you look at the buzz we've talked about, because it can be torn down in a day. So I think it's important to remain positive in what we're trying to build and to understand there's going to be some open door relationships.
Let's talk about your philosophy for a second. You ran multiple offenses at East Carolina, whereas South Florida has had a spread with a running quarterback for a while. Do you plan on combining the two or instilling a certain style?
SH: I think we've got to start with the philosophy that we've only got one quarterback on scholarship and we'd better not get him hurt. I think we're going to start with that approach. I think the biggest challenge we have for this spring practice is to really identify what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are. And I think the challenge for us on offense defense and in the kicking game is what do we have to do to highlight our strengths and to hide our weaknesses to make our program as strong as it can be this season.
And I don't know what kind of offense that will be yet. I think we're going to have to get on the grass and see what our offensive linemen can do. I go back to when I first got to East Carolina. We had James Pinkney and we predominantly threw the ball. And then we had a guy like Chris Johnson and a better offensive line and we ran the ball more. So I just think you've got to be able to sit down and identify what are our talents and what are our strengths and weaknesses and then put it all together to make ourselves the best team possible for this season. Because every football team has a life expectancy of one year. And so I don't think you just want to build for the future, because at the end of this year we'll graduate some really good players and then start over from scratch the following year.
The one thing that makes this year hard is they're learning all new terminology. So for every player you have in your program, it's going to be like from a mental standpoint that everybody is a freshmen, or it's their first year learning French, more or less.
B.J. Daniels recently had surgery on his nonthrowing shoulder. Do you think he'll be able to get enough mental reps and no-ncontact work this spring to develop the way he needs to?
SH: I certainly hope so. I think B.J. Daniels is a special player and I hope we can get him as many physical reps as we can. You can teach it on the board and look at it up on a video screen. But it's not the same as getting behind the center and standing in there and seeing everything first hand. B.J. is an extremely committed, determined young man who is working extremely hard just coming off the surgery. Hopefully we'll get him back so he can get on the a grass little bit on March 16 when we begin.
From a practical standpoint, how does that affect what you're going to do? Will you have enough quarterbacks to scrimmage and to hold a full spring game?
SH: I don't know yet. I know B.J. won't be in that boat. He won't be eligible for contact and we'll put him in colored jersey. I just really don't know what's there. You look at a young man like [Evan] Landi who's played some wide receiver for us, and certainly you'd like to give him the opportunity to make the two-deep from a wide receiver standpoint. But I also told him I can't make any promises that I'll keep him on outside. I might need to bring him back to give us two quarterbacks so we can get some work. But he's a very committed young man and I think he'll do anything we ask him to do.
You mentioned in your signing day press conference that you didn't necessarily want your quarterback to be your leading tailback. Would you like to identify one main running back for this season, something South Florida hasn't had in a while?
SH: I remember Bobby Bowden used to say that if you have three of them, it just means you don't have a great one. I would love to have one tailback that was solid, dependable, had good hands out of the backfield, knew his assignments and could pick up pass pro. I'd love to have one tailback who could do all those things. But if we don't have one and we need to do it by committee, then I've gone that route as well. I think we've got a lot of numbers there when you look at our tailback situation, but I just don't know what we have yet.
When I look at the depth chart, I see names. The work I'm doing is to be able to put faces and names together and be able to understand what some of these guys can do. I still won't have the opportunity to get on the grass and watch football until we get into spring practice. But if we have one who's definitely earned the right to be the starter, then we'll make him that. And if we have one, we'll try to find two and then try to find three. But until you find one, you have to work with as many as you can because we may have to play by committee in the fall.