Alan Dell

Commentary | Is Skip Holtz too expensive for USF?

How long can the University of South Florida football program afford to keep Skip Holtz?

No matter how unpleasant, it is a question that has to be asked.

We have an athletics program strapped for cash and a football coach spiraling downhill with six losses in his past seven games.

Holtz is the third-highest paid Big East Conference football coach, earning $1.7 million per year, according to a recent USA Today listing.

In return, the Bulls (5-6) have won one league game.

The math is simple: USF can’t afford to pay Holtz $1.7 million per conference victory.

When your stock values plunge, you admit you made a mistake, get rid of them and try to keep losses at a minimum.

Only Rutgers’ Greg Schiano and Louisville’s Charlie Strong make more, each earning $2.3 million annually, according to the report. Pittsburgh was the only Big East team that didn’t reveal its salary data.

Holtz earns more than 11 of the 14 FBS head coaches who will not return to coach in 2012. All were either fired or forced to resign except FAU’s Howard Schnellenberger, who announced his retirement prior to the season.

If you look at the coaches let go this year (Penn State’s Joe Paterno excluded), you see patience is not a virtue.

The head coaches who left Kansas, New Mexico, Akron and Memphis lasted two years. Houston Nutt (Mississippi), Rick Neuheisel (UCLA) and Bob Toledo (Tulane) were at their schools for four, while Dennis Erickson (Arizona State) and Neil Callaway (UAB) each had five years in. Ron Zook was at Illinois for seven years.

Nutt and Turner Gill (Kansas) earned more than $2 million and Zook had a slight salary edge over Holtz, earning a reported $1.75 million.

Holtz will be going into his third year. He did not inherit a team that lacked talent. He inherited a salary that many would say is bloated.

Three of USF’s conference losses were disturbing because in each game the defense collapsed in the final minutes. In last week’s loss to Louisville, the defense gave the Cardinals two touchdowns by leaving receivers wide open in the endzone, well behind USF defenders.

Holtz said his team was in three-deep zone coverage and he didn’t know why certain defenders didn’t do their jobs.

We’ve heard about injuries, a wet ball, cold weather, lack of moisture and so on. If you play in the Big East, you have to deal with inclement weather, and injuries happen.

Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who took advantage of USF’s generosity on defense, is a true freshman. He was playing high school football this time last year, but threw three second-half TD passes in leading the Cardinals to their comeback victory.

There are too many penalties and breakdowns on special teams, and now there is a concern that the players, particularly on defense, have lost focus.

Disappointment wears on a team. Even the most resilient group can only endure so much before it collapses. When you see the same mistakes being made over and over you have to look at the coaches. Holtz, to his credit, admitted as much.

USF doesn’t have a lot of money to pay for an unemployed former coach, which is why there was some glee over recent reports that Holtz would take the top job at North Carolina. It could be the best deal for everyone concerned and only cost USF a farewell handshake.

Holtz is a good person with a reputation for running a clean program. But even he has said the bottom line is your record.

This is a two-way street and Holtz is traveling one way. At some time the administration has to put up a stop sign. He needs to return something for its investment.

Holtz says his team is a few plays away from being something like 10-1, 9-2. OK, give him another year, but keep the clocking running.

He reminds us of Steve Kragthorpe, who did wonders at Conference USA Tulsa, came to the Big East at Louisville and failed miserably before getting fired after three seasons.

Like Kragthorpe, Holtz won a C-USA title and showed promise at East Carolina, but his resume wasn’t all that impressive. He was only 38-27 with the Pirates.

You want to see him succeed, but USF can’t afford to pay $1.7 million per Big East victory.