TAMPA, Fla. — Skip Holtz has been fired as South Florida’s football coach following the worst season in the program’s 16-year history, a person familiar with the decision said Sunday.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the firing would not be announced until a late afternoon news conference.
The son of former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz went 16-21 at the Big East school, concluding a three-year run by losing nine of 10 to finish a school-worst 3-9, 1-6 in the conference, following a 2-0 start.
The move comes a year after Holtz was given a contract extension through 2017 despite going 5-7 in his second season. He will receive a $2.5 million buyout paid over five years.
Holtz inherited a program that Jim Leavitt built from scratch, signing a $9.1 million, five-year contract in January 2010 after Leavitt was fired for mistreating a player who had accused the former coach of grabbing him by the throat and slapping him in the face during halftime of a game.
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.
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 red-shirt 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.
“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.”
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