GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina University Head Football Coach Skip Holtz announced Thursday he has accepted the head coaching position at the University of South Florida.
Holtz led the Pirate program to unprecedented heights during his five-year tenure, guiding ECU to four-straight bowl game appearances for the first time in school history. In addition, he led East Carolina to back-to-back Conference USA Championship Game victories for the first time in league history while posting four consecutive winning seasons for the first time since the late 1970s.
After inheriting a program that had recorded just three wins in a 25-game period two-plus seasons prior to his arrival, Holtz compiled a 38-27 record from 2005 to 2009.
A natural result of East Carolina's drastic turnaround on the field, which included a 7-6 finish in 2006, an 8-5 ledger in 2007 and a pair of 9-5 marks in 2008 and 2009, were dramatic school-record attendance increases at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
"Skip Holtz and his family have transformed our expectations of ourselves and our athletic program while contributing to every aspect of our community," ECU Athletics Director Terry Holland said. "They will be missed, but have provided ECU with a solid foundation for future success. It will be up to us to build on that foundation. There has never been any doubt in my mind that the Pirate Nation is the strength of our future and Coach Holtz helped increase the number of members significantly."
While the initial success in 2005 relied heavily on a wide-open offensive assault that produced the school's fourth-best passing attack in history, it was a no-nonsense and fundamentally-sound defensive effort that launched the Pirates back into college football's competitive arena a year later.
Holtz followed by using a combination of both in 2007, offering a well-balanced offense and a run-stopping, ball-hawking defense to lead East Carolina to its highest Conference USA win total in school history at that time, just one shy of earning a berth in the league championship game, despite playing one of the toughest schedules in program history that was loaded with four automatic-qualifying Bowl Championship Series Conference members.
In addition to guiding ECU to its first post-season win since 2000 with a 41-38 victory over No. 24 Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl, Holtz fine-tuned the efforts of running back Chris Johnson, who turned in the program's first single-season 1,000-yard performance in four years and was college football's national statistical champion in all-purpose yards. Johnson also became the program's second first-round draft choice (first since 1992) in history when the Tennessee Titans selected him with their initial pick in April, 2008.
The Pirates also tallied 403 points during the course of the 2007 season, which marked the highest total in the school's proud history.
East Carolina impressively finished the job in 2008, not only by finally earning a spot in the league's title game, but delivering a knock-out blow to Tulsa on to the road to claim the program's first conference title in 32 years and earning a bid to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. ECU forced seven turnovers against the Golden Hurricane - the nation's top-rated offensive unit coming into the game.
Perhaps more impressive than the early headlines and No. 14 national ranking the Pirates earned after handing No. 17 Virginia Tech and No. 8 West Virginia setbacks to open the season, was Holtz' ability to navigate one injury hurdle after another and keep ECU's focus down the stretch. In all, the Pirates used 44 different starters throughout the year as a total of 15 starters and 26 members of his two-deep were lost for at least one contest during the campaign - five suffering season-ending injuries early or at the midway point of the year. For his efforts, Holtz was deservedly cited as the Conference USA Coach-of-the-Year by the Sporting News.
East Carolina added an exclamation point a year later when it became the first team in league championship game history to post consecutive victories with another win against a top-rated offensive unit.
The Pirates' 38-32 triumph over a nationally-ranked and explosive Houston squad, which was played out in Greenville because of a school-record seven-win conference season, served as a testament to the leadership of Holtz' seniors - a group which were part of his first signing class. ECU again rode the effort of a takeaway-happy defensive unit and an underrated, but efficient offense that rallied from a 3-3 start to post wins in six of its last eight games.
When Holtz became East Carolina's 19th head football coach in the school's all-time history on Dec. 3, 2004, he officially ended a six-year position on the South Carolina offensive staff when he moved to Greenville.
“Skip Holtz has been a great coach and a great Pirate, and we wish him and his family all the best," ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard said. "Skip’s success on the field is well known, but he was also an important force for the university in fund-raising, in the academic performance of student-athletes and in enhancing our relations with the Greenville community.
“We will, of course, miss Skip, and we thank him for his great work here. Now it’s time to look to the future, and I have every confidence that Terry Holland will quickly find a new head coach who will keep our momentum going.”
Holland will address media members Friday to discuss the future of the Pirate program.
"Our search process will begin immediately," Holland added. "We will be seeking a coach who can provide strong leadership and will be able to assemble a staff that will allow us to reach the substantial goals we have set for ourselves."