ORLANDO East Carolina coach Skip Holtz took center stage Tuesday in USF's search for a new head coach to replace Jim Leavitt.
As soon as Holtz arrived at the American Football Coaches Association national convention here, he was bombarded by questions and well-wishers.
"I'm really pulling for you," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt told Holtz shortly after Holtz acknowledged USF contacted him about the job Sunday. As Tuesday morning turned into night, Holtz had emerged as the leading candidate but it remained unclear if he officially interviewed Tuesday with athletic director Doug Woolard.
Holtz returned to his Greenville, N.C., home late Tuesday night still considering his options. Earlier Tuesday, he denied any job offer had been made as was the hot rumor at the convention.
"The rumors at this point, I can tell you, are not true," Holtz said. "I have not taken the job. I have no idea what is going to happen at this point. I don't have an agent, so it's not a thing where I've got somebody working behind the scenes for me."
Holtz, 45, was contacted by Woolard on Sunday to gauge his interest to replace Leavitt. Holtz, who recently completed his fifth season at East Carolina, confirmed the USF job is very appealing to him and his family. His wife, Jennifer, is from Port Charlotte, and Holtz's parents live in the Orlando-area.
"Obviously there is interest from the standpoint of the league that they play in, the Big East, my parents live here in Orlando, and my wife is from Port Charlotte," said Holtz, the son of former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz. "We would have four grandparents right there.
"There are a lot of positives to it. I think it's definitely and up-and-coming program, so yeah, there would be interest."
On Monday night, the younger Holtz spent the night at his father's house. Lou Holtz is sees the USF job as a great opportunity for whoever gets the job.
"I think that could be a great job," Holtz said. "Why? You're in a BCS conference, you're in the state of Florida where you have so many great athletes, and you're at a beautiful school in South Florida, you live in Tampa, and you play in Raymond James Stadium. I mean what more do you want."
In five seasons at East Carolina, Holtz is 38-27. When he took over the program in December 2004, the Pirates had lost 22 of their previous 25 games and had just one Conference USA win during that span. The Pirates have four winning seasons in five under Holtz, including back-to-back Conference USA titles.
Holtz signed a contract extension in 2008 that runs through 2013, but has a modest $100,000 buyout clause. Holtz's base salary is $655,000 for 2010, though several bonus incentives reportedly push his annual salary over $1 million per season.
Woolard is not commenting on USF's search until he is ready to name a new coach to replace Leavitt, who was fired Friday after 13 seasons.
Meanwhile, USF fans can rule out any visions of former Bucs coach Tony Dungy coming out of retirement to take over the program. Despite speaking to the team Monday, Dungy isn't interested in returning to the sideline.
"I have a job I enjoy and that's where I am right now," said Dungy, who is working as an NFL analyst and motivational speaker. "I'm out of the coaching business at this point."
USF has contacted Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, a former USF assistant, and Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill about the opening. Stockstill served with Skip Holtz on Lou Holtz's staff at South Carolina in 2004. Magee spoke with USF officials Monday. Other known candidates include Bucs assistant Rich Busaccia, who former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks has pushed for the job. Brooks has called Lee Roy Selmon, who is helping Woolard and USF executive associate athletic director Bill McGillis in the search, on behalf of Busaccia.
Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer has shown interest in the position but there has been no official contact with USF. Fulmer's former school, Tennessee, lost its coach Tuesday night when Lane Kiffin took the USC job, taking his father and former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin along with him as the defensive coordinator.
As for Holtz, under his direction East Carolina established attendance records in three consecutive seasons and started a 7,000-seat expansion at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Prior to East Carolina, Holtz was head coach at Connecticut for five seasons (1994-98) and spent time on his father's staff at South Carolina.
"I've said this before, I have a great situation in Greenville," Holtz said. "I work for a great man in (athletic director) Terry Holland, and I have a great situation. We've spent five years building that program to where it is right now, but I would have interest in talking to South Florida.
"There is some attraction, but I don't know what they're thinking or where they're looking to go at this point," Skip Holtz said.
Leavitt, who announced Monday he is filing a lawsuit to get his job back, is scheduled to have his exit interview today with USF officials. USF sports information Chris Freet said that Leavitt's meeting will not have any impact on the school's coaching search.
During his visit with the team Monday, Dungy encouraged the players to remain focused during what has become the most tumultuous period in the program's 13-year history.
"You could see the hurt," Dungy said. "Everybody wants to know where we go from here, who's next," Dungy said. "I just wanted to talk to some of those guys about what it means to continue to strive and continue to work for your goals, and stay together as a team and how they are going to have to stick together until they get a another coach."
While he's not a candidate for the job, Dungy is available to help in the search any we he can.
"I told them I'd be there to help," Dungy said. "But they have a great search committee in place. I am not part of the search committee, so I don't have any inside information. I just told them I would be a resource and be available."