Convinced that the school's major athletic programs are headed in the right direction, the University of South Florida announced last week that head football coach Skip Holtz and head men's basketball coach Stan Heath have inked long-term contract extensions.
The moves add 3 years to Holtz's contract, which now keeps him in Tampa through the 2017 season, and tack a similar 3 seasons onto Heath's deal, which likewise was extended through the 2017-18 campaign. The obvious benefit of this decision is the stability imparted to the USF athletic department. Such certainty in football and basketball will surely benefit recruiting and continue to elevate expectations for the Big East school.
Yet, it is also fair to question the timing of the moves. Is such commitment appropriate for a major university that has yet to capture its conference's title in either sport?
Without exploring in great detail, the respect afforded Stan Heath appears fitting. Though the 47 year-old possesses a 70-87 mark through 5 years at USF, Heath clearly has the basketball team on a solid path. As reigning Big East Coach of the Year, he guided the unheralded squad to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nearly 20 years and even captured 2 games. Heath recruits well and has impressively delivered winning seasons in the nation's toughest conference.
Unfortunately, such praise cannot be showered on equally-rewarded football coach Skip Holtz. Unlike Heath, the 2nd generation coach came to USF in 2010 with high expectations. After an over-achieving 5 year run at East Carolina, Holtz was among the hottest coaches in college football and his signing helped overcome most bitterness from Jim Leavitt's untimely dismissal.
Yet, with a 13-12 record after 2 campaigns, Holtz's brief tenure has been filled with substantial disappointment. While an 8-5 mark and bowl victory in 2010 was not shameful, it merely matched the team's 2009 performance and further represented a missed opportunity in a year when UConn instead emerged with the Big East crown.
Rather than improving, the USF squad then backtracked under Holtz in 2011. Despite a veteran starting quarterback in B.J. Daniels and a trio of powder-puff games against out-of-conference opponents, the Bulls frustratingly ended the season by dropping 7 of 8 games. Their 1-6 mark in the Big East was dead-last and USF's final 5-7 record snapped a streak of 6 consecutive bowl appearances.
Such performance would ordinarily not be viewed as deserving of a lengthy contract extension, especially when posted in a rather weak football conference. Not only is the university at risk financially, but the principle that job security must be earned has been ignored. Instead, it seems that Holtz benefits from additional leverage because his famous name is continually linked to high profile positions where his father coached. For example, in April the 48 year-old was rumored to be a candidate to replace Bobby Petrino at Arkansas, but nothing came of the speculation.
Indeed, I think Holtz needs the USF job just as much as the school needs him. Both parties have significantly underachieved in recent times. Both parties once were on the road to stardom, but discovered that remaining on top can be more challenging than rising to fame.
While I disagree with the move of adding years onto his contract, perhaps Holtz's extension is best viewed as an acknowledgment that much work remains to be done. If the coach needs to be replaced, South Florida will find a way, just like every other school. Similarly, if the Notre Dame job were to open, would it surprise any Bulls' fan if Skip leaves Tampa?
Of course not. In the end, the extension is not that big of a deal. Even if undeserved based on merit, Holtz is certainly the right man for the job in 2012. With a senior at quarterback and a deeper defense, he deserves the chance to bouce back from last year. And the dauting task begins in just 8 weeks with a game against Chattanooga at Raymond James Stadium on September 1st.
Yahoo! Sports, USFBullsEYE.com, TampaBay.com.
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Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A USF Bulls fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.