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Difficult Season, Differing Philosophies Left Tough Situation For Holtz Clan

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Dave Glenn and staff, ACC Sports Journal
December 16, 2002 COLUMBIA — It was a miserable year for Skip Holtz. The question now is whether he wants to repeat it. In three previous seasons, Holtz coordinated the weak link of otherwise decent South Carolina football teams. His offensive crew rarely was the reason the Gamecocks won 17 of its 34 games, but it usually moved the ball well enough to avoid ridicule.

In 2002, however, Holtz coordinated an offense that was among the worst in Division I-A. He ran an offense so simple that its best play was the quarterback keeper, one so inept that it failed to pass for 100 yards in three straight defeats, which might be some kind of record in the era of the forward pass. It was an offense that didn't rank among Division I-A's top 100 statistically, even after piling up easy yards against New Mexico State, Temple, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.

Worse yet, it was an offense built around four senior linemen, a senior running back and a senior quarterback. With that experienced lineup, one would expect better results.

At almost any other Division I-A program, there would be little discussion over the future of an offensive coordinator in the wake of a season like this. Not only would the beleaguered assistant be disillusioned with the job, but the head coach would be disillusioned with him. In most cases, the pair would shake hands and part ways Ö or just part ways.

But this is the Division I-A school with a monarchy form of coaching, and that made the Skip Holtz decision of December 2002 far more difficult.

When he arrived at USC four years ago, after a successful tenure as the head coach at Connecticut, Holtz walked into a plan in which he eventually would follow his father as the Gamecocks' head coach. While waiting, he'd dutifully oversee the offense.

The plan assumed that (1) the Holtzes would share offensive views, (2) Skip could and would tolerate the micromanagement of the head coach and (3) increasing success would make the plan popular. All three assumptions were flawed.

The differences in offensive philosophy between Lou and Skip hardly could be more striking. The coordinator prefers the spread formation armed with a drop-back passer, while the head coach wants a simplistic power game built around a mobile QB. The result for four years has been a strange and strained hybrid of a spread/power game that hasn't produced much power. Two winning seasons enabled fans to overlook an offense that, despite Derek Watson's big-play ability, rarely produced big plays.

There remain philosophical differences that become more relevant with each recruiting season, as the USC staff continues to sign mobile quarterbacks with marginal passing skills.

And they've signed a bunch of them. USC began the 2000 season with eight quarterbacks on the roster, and two more were signed last year. In each of Phil Petty's three years as the incumbent QB, the staff signed a juco as immediate help. But Josh Rogers was a bust, Jerrod Reese failed to qualify and Corey Jenkins had to wait until Petty graduated.

It is clear that Lou Holtz is looking for another Rickey Foggie (who led his offense at Minnesota) or another Tony Rice (Holtz's most successful QB at Notre Dame). The Gamecocks haven't found one yet, though, and one victim of the failures is Skip Holtz.

One byproduct of Lou's offense is a thin playbook, another shortcoming that doesn't seem to get much attention in winning seasons, but one that makes an offensive coordinator look bad when the season is going bad.

The philosophical mismatch has been paraded in front of the players and the fans in the last 13 months, hardly an ideal environment. During games, when Skip talks to his QB during a timeout, Lou sometimes can be seen simultaneously giving instructions to the same player. Following games, Lou leaves hints at the differences by explaining decisions — some successful, some not — as “Skip's idea.” He rarely refers to “our idea.”

The differences were on display nationally during the 2001 Tennessee game, when, as South Carolina tried to muster what proved to be the most important drive of the season, cameras watched Holtz Sr. berate Holtz Jr. on the sidelines. Players tend to notice those details.

This season, the situation reached a very strained point in November, when, in the midst of a losing streak, Lou took what he called “complete charge of the offense” for the Arkansas game. The decision came with little regard for what it would do to Skip's credibility. Nothing like a demotion in the week of an important game to solidify the respect of players. Such moves do little to cultivate creativity among the assistants.

That erosion of credibility among fans and players makes this offseason a pivotal one for Skip's career ambitions.

What seemed 45 games ago as an ideal stepping stone to a Division I-A head coaching job today looms as a move that instead could reduce his head coaching opportunities. While trying to install a spread offense with the wrong personnel, and while trying to gain the respect of players while his authority is being eroded, Skip is hurting his chances of finding success as a head coach at South Carolina.

If he's unwavering in his desire to be the head coach at USC, Skip must tolerate the situation. If he doesn't intend to become the head coach there, it makes little sense for him to continue with the Gamecocks. It would be far better for him to find a school where the recruiting philosophy fits his schemes and where the head coach doesn't take over the offense during the week of an important game.

Leaving his father's staff would be difficult for Skip Holtz, a respectful son who is careful never to criticize his father's decisions or methods. But staying on it might be even more difficult.