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Pirate Notebook No. 503
Monday, December 10, 2012

Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien

Fans off base on Holtz reaction

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

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The firing of Skip Holtz as South Floridaís head coach is one of the more surprising recent developments in college football.

At least it was for me.

It wasnít so much that Holtz was removed from his post after a disappointing 3-9 season with the Bulls. Given the sense of urgency with which most athletics departments now must operate, it was no surprise that USF issued Holtz a pink slip.

That his tenure in Tampa was unsuccessful, however, is puzzling to say the least.

After leading East Carolina to some of the highest moments in its football history, it seemed rational to believe he would, at a minimum, replicate that success at USF. If he could lead the Pirates to knock off several nationally-ranked opponents and win consecutive conference titles, it was more than feasible that he would do the same in a watered down Big East.

With access to an automatic Bowl Championship Series berth, the financial boost associated with it, and better recruits, how could Holtz not exceed what he accomplished in Greenville?

Equally as perplexing as Holtzís lack of success at USF is the virtual high-fiving from a faction of East Carolina fans at his failure abroad. The moment he was fired from USF set off an Internet firestorm of celebratory jabs from Pirates fans still scarred by his departure from ECU.

Some were confined to 140 characters on twitter. Others could hardly be contained within a dozen-paragraph montage on fan message boards.

That cyber sentiment was satisfaction over Holtzís dismissal. In retrospect, it shouldnít have been surprising considering the attention that was given to each USF loss over the past three years.

As a two-time alumnus of East Carolina, I remain thankful for what Holtz did for ECU and sincerely wanted him to win each game he coached in Tampa. His vision and overall direction resurrected the Pirates from a college football laughing stock back into a program no school wanted to play.

As a member of the media, I always appreciated the candor with which he dealt with those who covered the program. The ability to interact with him behind the scenes affirmed how deeply he cared for East Carolina and its fans, and how much emotional distress he faced each time another program flashed bigger paychecks in his direction.

If that were not the case, he wouldnít have made an about face following the Piratesí victory over Tulsa in the 2008 Conference USA championship game, after which he all but admitted to the media he was heading to Syracuse.

Looking back, there is little question that Holtzís decision to bolt Greenville for Tampa was a miscalculated one. Riding the momentum of consecutive Conference USA titles, along with the departure of most of the personnel responsible for them, no doubt aided the decision to move.

What it confirmed, however, is that success at one program does not necessarily translate into the same at another, especially when the two places have little in common.

USF still is a relatively young program with little fan investment, no on-campus facility, and modest media coverage compared to the professional teams that share the same zip code. By contrast, East Carolina is a tried and tested football culture in a traditional college town with a 50,000-seat, on-campus stadium that fills with regularity.

It makes sense that Holtzís style and philosophy would work in one, but not the other.

In time, my guess is that residual anger over Holtzís departure will lighten. Any grudges that might have existed over the willing departures of Sonny Randle, Pat Dye and Bill Lewis have long subsided, so there is no reason to believe the same wonít be the case with Holtz.

Had Randle, Dye, and Lewis departed during the Internet rage, they might have gotten the same reception. That would have especially been the case for Lewis, who spent most of his time in Greenville desperately trying to leave it.

Even if the landscape of college athletics changes dramatically, itís unlikely that East Carolina will ever evolve into a destination job. Truthfully, there are only a handful of those around, to which former national powers like Tennessee will attest.

Anytime another school courts East Carolinaís head football coach, the motive for doing so is the notable success with which that individual has been able to navigate the Pirates. It likely means he has brought added attention to the program and increased its national profile.

Thatís what Holtz did for ECU. And thatís why fans are missing the mark for celebrating his unemployment.

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12/10/2012 02:23 AM

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