- Brett McMurphy, College football reporter
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Skip Holtz has been fired after three seasons at South Florida, the school announced Sunday.
Holtz was 16-21 at USF, including 5-16 in Big East play. This season, the Bulls, picked second in the Big East's preseason poll, went 3-9 (1-6 in the Big East). It was the worst season in USF's 16-year history.
In its last 16 Big East games under Holtz, USF was 2-14.
Holtz and Jim Leavitt are the only coaches in USF history and both were fired -- but for different reasons.
Holtz was dismissed for his lack of on-the-field success, Leavitt for his off-the-field actions, which included hitting a player in the locker room.
Holtz, who received a contract extension from athletic director Doug Woolard despite going 5-7 last season, will receive a $2.5 million buyout, paid out over five seasons.
"While our program remains young, having just completed our 16th season of competition, our history is rich, and the expectations of coaches, players, students, administrators and fans are high. That is why the past few months have been hard for all of us," Woolard said in a statement.
Holtz inherited a program that Leavitt built from scratch, signing a $9.1 million, five-year contract in January 2010.
The 48-year-old Holtz came to USF from East Carolina, where he had guided the Pirates to a pair of Conference USA championships. He welcomed the challenge of stepping into the Big East and trying to transform the Bulls, ranked as high as No. 2 in the country in 2007, into an elite program.
But it did not happen.
The Bulls went 8-5 and appeared in a bowl game for the sixth consecutive season three years ago, but a pattern of underachieving that actually began under Leavitt returned in 2011, when USF won four straight to climb into the Top 25 only to drop seven of eight down the stretch and tumble to the bottom of the conference.
USF has lost 14 of its past 16 against Big East opponents and were 5-16 overall in league play under Holtz, who stated boldly after taking the job: "We can win conference championships here. We can win national championships here."
The dismissal came the day after the Bulls concluded with a 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh. Holtz said afterward that he hoped to retain his job, reiterating that the program had made strides under his direction, including academically, that weren't necessarily reflected in the win-loss record.
"Our team has excelled in the classroom, setting a new USF standard for team GPA. Our APR scores are up as well," Woolard said in the statement. "Skip's hard work in stressing the academic side of student life has been critical in that progress. He has worked tirelessly, helping to mold our football players into outstanding young men."
Injuries hurt this year's team, particularly on offense, where the Bulls lost quarterback B.J. Daniels, No. 3 on the Big East's career total yardage list, and redshirt freshman Matt Floyd started the last two games. By the end of Saturday's loss, tight end/emergency backup QB Evan Landi was playing.
Pitt limited the Bulls to a USF record-low 117 yards, including 8 rushing. The offense scored one touchdown in the final 15 quarters of the season and USF was outscored 94-22 in the final three games of the season.
"Just a very frustrating night, a very frustrating year," Holtz, who's 88-70 overall in 13 seasons at Connecticut, East Carolina and USF, said after the game.
"There's been a lot of hard work that has gone into this. ... But I also understand that we've put some people in a very tough position with where we are, and I understand the nature of this business is to win games," Holtz added. "People don't really care if you're on a fourth quarterback, your fifth defensive end or how many freshmen you're playing. They want to win."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
3dSam Khan Jr.