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View from the 'ville
Thursday, January 14, 2010

By Al Myatt

Skip's future on the line again

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Why wouldn't football coach Skip Holtz stay at East Carolina? After all, he knows there's a good thing going in Greenville, and if you're a Pirate Club member who has made a financial commitment during the recent economic downturn, you should consider yourself one of the reasons. Read about it in the next issue of The Pirates Chest magazine.


In the world of brief courtships that are coaching searches at this time of year, Skip Holtz may have kissed South Florida goodbye. Holtz's twitter on Wednesday indicated he was back in Greenville where there is work to be done with recruiting and hiring a new defensive coordinator.

He's not acting like a guy planning a change of address. Still, if you listened to talk radio in the Triangle on Tuesday, you'd have thought that Jennifer Holtz was at home packing and a moving van was on the way to take the Holtz family belongings to Tampa.

Holtz may well have investigated the job vacancy created by the dismissal of Jim Leavitt and decided to leave it alone.

The St. Petersburg Times has not scratched Holtz as the top candidate for the job and stated in today's editions that he could be introduced as the Bulls' new boss before week's end. Hopefully, the return of Holtz to Greenville wasn't to inform his players of a pending move.

The head coaching position at Tennessee subsequently came open with all the clandestine drama and ensuing bitterness of the Baltimore Colts' departure to Indianapolis years ago. The early speculation on potential candidates for the Volunteers hasn't involved Holtz, who has guided the Pirates to consecutive Conference USA titles.

Speaking of speculation, there has been a lot of it from the media, including to a degree, from his dad Lou Holtz on ESPN, when the Kansas job was open, about various destinations for the ECU coach. There may have been much more speculation from the media than interest on Holtz's part.

I plead guilty to thinking that Holtz would have been a good fit at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish apparently were focused on Brian Kelly all along.

Maybe we will start listening when Holtz, who has no agent to market him, insists he's hesitant to abandon the football program he's been building at East Carolina.

The reason we aren't inclined to listen is that for every successful coach who is happy where he's at, there's a Lane Kiffin or Bobby Petrino who's ready to jump the fence for greener pastures elsewhere at a moment's notice.

There are a lot of good reasons for Holtz to remain in place. If he does it's testimony to the sound judgment that has helped him build a championship program at ECU.

The first four reasons are within his own household — Jennifer, Trey, Chad and Hailey. Holtz knows from firsthand experience what it's like to grow up as the son of a coach. There was no moss growing on his dad, Lou, as he moved from William & Mary to N.C. State to Arkansas to Minnesota to Notre Dame to South Carolina during his career — with a brief stint at the helm of the New York Jets along the way.

The younger Holtz knows what it's like to say farewell to friends, start life at a new school and do the same thing again four years later. It's well known in the Holtz family that Mom raised the children and Lou went about the business of running football programs. Skip obviously has a similar passion for coaching but he also appreciates the value of as much stability as possible at home.

Although Skip and Jennifer both have family in Florida, it's another thing to uproot children — especially during the school year.

Skip gave some insight to the situation when he said that Jennifer was fine with him taking over another program and that she said he could visit her in Greenville whenever he had the chance.

The next factor has to do with the momentum of the football program at ECU. There's no reason to be thinking in terms of getting out of town before things go south. There are some significant graduation losses to address but some junior college transfers should fill some immediate needs.

Quarterback Dominique Davis, who played well at Boston College before encountering academic issues with the Eagles, could be a special player for the Pirates next season.

The administrative structure at ECU is another factor that Holtz cites from time to time when he's talking about what makes his situation special. Athletic director Terry Holland recognized Holtz's potential back in 2004. Within the Pirates' resources, practice facilities have been improved, meeting rooms have been remodeled and a stadium expansion is underway.

Holland realizes that football is the flagship program at ECU. He's given Holtz the freedom to explore other job opportunities but managed to reward him when he's demonstrated his loyalty to the Pirates.

Above Holland in the chain of command, of course, is Chancellor Steve Ballard, a former College World Series shortstop at Arizona. Having a campus leader with a real understanding of athletics can't be underestimated from the standpoint of a perceptive coach.

Holland and Ballard have been enablers for Holtz in terms of rebuilding from the desolation of 1-11 and 2-9 seasons before he assumed control.

The well-organized Holtz has things in place. He also knows that ECU has a rather remarkable fan base. Season ticket sales have risen steadily during his tenure and despite the economic downturn, the Pirate Club is flourishing. (Again, check out the report in the February issue of The Pirates Chest magazine).

Possible Hudson successors

ECU's return to football prominence under Holtz hasn't come without the cost of losing defensive coordinator Greg Hudson to Jimbo Fisher's new staff at Florida State.

At least, we're dealing in the speculative realm with possible replacements for Hudson rather than for the head coach at the moment. Hudson's departure will be an adjustment for Holtz, personally and professionally. They were teammates at Notre Dame and Holtz is the godfather of Hudson's oldest son.

Hudson's exit creates the possibility that Ruffin McNeill could return to his alma mater. McNeill was a candidate for the head job at Texas Tech, serving well in an interim capacity in the Alamo Bowl following Mike Leach's dismissal, but the Red Raiders opted for the head coaching experience of Tommy Tuberville.

Holtz is loyal to his staff as well as ECU, which might mean a promotion from within such as secondary coach Rick Smith, who has been a defensive coordinator at Kentucky, Tulane and Cincinnati.

E-mail Al Myatt

Al Myatt Archives

01/14/2010 03:57 AM


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