This is the second part of my interview with new South Florida coach Skip Holtz. You can read Part I here.
You hired Mark Snyder to help lead your defense. What did you like about him and what do you think his approach will be like?
Skip Holtz: I love Mark Snyder. Just having the opportunity to be around him when he was the head coach at Marshall and I was at East Carolina, we spent a lot of time together at a lot of functions for Conference USA. I have great respect for him and I've known Mark for a while. When he was at Ohio State, we had the opportunity to play against each other in Tampa in a bowl game when I was at South Carolina. I have great respect for Mark and his defensive mind and even more so for his personality and his reputation, the way he goes about working. His enthusiasm, it's infectious.
I think he'll do a great job, and I'm really excited about having the staff we have put together. Not only Mark but a guy like Rick Smith, who's been a defensive coordinator in the Southeastern Conference and having a guy like that in the secondary. And a guy like Mark Snyder running the linebackers. I think those guys give instant credibility just walking into a meeting room. As a player, you're sitting there like, "OK, tell us what to do."
Five players from last year's defense were invited to the NFL Combine. Is this going to be a young defense, and can you replace that much talent in one year?
SH: I really don't know where we are or what we're gong to have. But I do know it's hard to replace five defensive players going to the combine. I don't care where you are, whether you're Southern Cal or Notre Dame, it doesn't matter; you lose those kinds of numbers and it's hard to replace that. Some of these young guys are going to need to grow up and accept some responsibility and really start to grow not only as football players but as people as well.
You brought several assistants over with you from East Carolina. How much will that help the transition?
SH: Well, we talked a little bit about a guy like Rick Smith. We worked five years together. Vernon Hargreaves, who's going to be our defensive ends coach and work with special teams, that's a huge feather in my cap to have a special teams coordinator that's been with me before. I know him, he knows me and knows how we do things. It's just familiarity and stability with your staff and our relationships. On the offensive side, Peter Vaas and I were together at Notre Dame and we know each exactly what we're both getting into. Todd Fitch was my offensive coordinator at East Carolina and at Connecticut when we kind of turned that program around. Steve Shankweiler is an offensive line guy who's a very talented coach, and we've been together for a while.
So there are just a lot of people in place right now that I feel really good about. Being able to keep guys like Kevin Patrick and Larry Scott and Phil McGeoghan, I think they are great young coaches who do a fantastic job. They're eager in recruiting and give the program a little bit of stability.
Speaking of recruiting, how much of a challenge was it coming in in mid-January and trying to keep a class together while maybe adding some new recruits?
SH: It was kind of like starting at the starting line when everybody else has got a mile left to go in the marathon. There's only so much ground you can really make up. I think the old staff that was here and coach Leavitt did a great job, a professional job in putting a lot of relationships together and building a lot of relationships here. But I also think the new staff did a phenomenal job, coming in here with late notice, trying to build relationships with these young men as position coaches that some people are spending two years building. And it's hard to overcome that at times.
But I thought they did a great job of pulling their sleeves up and getting in some competitive situations and giving us a chance to compete for some of the better players not only in the Tampa area but in the state of Florida. We won a couple of battles and we lost a couple. But I'm really excited to see the staff recruit with a full year under their belt.
You played some big games at East Carolina and have been an assistant at some major programs. Still, how exciting is it to be a head coach at a school that has a chance of gaining an automatic BCS bid?
SH: It's very exciting. I loved my time at East Carolina ... and it was not a job I was looking to leave. The thing I just couldn't say no to was South Florida, and the opportunity to be in the state of Florida around my family. My wife's family is from Port Charlotte, which is about an hour and a half away. So the opportunity to be around family, the opportunity to be in the Big East, the opportunity to compete for a BCS title in state of Florida with its really fertile recruiting grounds ... You talk about a BCS bid and boy, that gets your heart pumping a little bit. It gets the blood racing through your body with excitement when you start thinking about it. So I'm really excited to have the opportunity to compete at this level again.
There was a lot of talk last year about South Florida maybe starting a new Big Four. You've got a game at Florida this year, as well as at Miami. How much does that help motivate players and coaches now in the offseason?
SH: I'm extremely excited to get the opportunity to play a team like Florida, a team like Miami again. Florida has won a couple of national championships here and they're known as one of the better football teams in the country, one of the better programs in the country. That's the level we want to compete at and I think it will be a great measuring stick for us early in the season to see where we are. It's not only about wins and losses, but about the opportunity to play against teams and compete at this level to see where we are how, how far away we are and what things we need to do to compete for a national championship at South Florida.