USFL 2022: Birmingham Stallions coach Skip Holtz explains how he got here

By RJ Young
FOX sportswriter

Skip Holtz knew what he was getting into when United States Soccer League President Brian Woods approached him about the opportunity to become head coach and general manager of Birmingham Stallions.

Holtz had spent 35 years in coaching, 22 of them as a college football head coach, and he was ready for a different flavor of football. What’s more, he believes his nearly 40 years of experience has helped him prepare for the challenge of a 10-week season, a 45-player roster and a nine-man coaching staff at the Professional level.

“I just wanted a new challenge,” he said. “I was excited about the opportunity to sit down and have the opportunity to speak with Brian Woods, to listen to everyone involved in this [league] and who are behind it all [league], who are committed to doing this work. The more I started talking to Brian, the more excited I got about the USFL and what it was going to be like. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to step into professional ball.”

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Holtz has earned a reputation for being an exceptional offensive mind and the kind of coach other men want to work for. Members of his Stallions team included former Broyles Award winner and LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis (defensive coordinator) and San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl-winning wide receivers coach Larry Kirksey (running backs coach) . He started building that reputation in Tallahassee, Florida.

For Holtz, the opportunity to win the inaugural USFL title is tied with his first opportunity to coach at Florida State and then serve as a coordinator at Notre Dame.

A graduate and wide receiver at Notre Dame, Holtz worked as a graduate assistant for legendary Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden in 1987. He also had a memorable first day in Tallahassee.

“The first person I met when I walked into the office became my wife,” Holtz said.

In his first season on the team, FSU finished 11-1 and No. 2 in the AP Poll, with a Fiesta Bowl victory over Tom Osborne’s No. 5-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Noles followed the next year with another 11-1 performance and a final No. 3 ranking in the AP.

Their only losses in both seasons were against Miami, which won the national title in 1987 and finished second in 1988. In 2022, Holtz hired another graduate assistant from the 1987 Miami staff to his Stallions staff in defensive line coach Bill Johnson.

Bobby Bowden helped Skip Holtz get an offensive coordinator job at Notre Dame

Bobby Bowden helped Skip Holtz get an offensive coordinator job at Notre Dame

Birmingham coach Skip Holtz tells the story of Florida State’s Bobby Bowden who asked Skip’s father, Lou Holtz, to give him the position of offensive coordinator on his Notre Dame team. Lady.

After a year at Colorado State coaching wide receivers for Earle Bruce, Holtz accepted a job coaching at the same position for his father, Lou, who proved to be a difficult man to impress. With Lou Holtz as coach, the Fighting Irish won the 1988 national title with an undefeated season in which they managed to become the only team to beat the No. 1 Hurricanes. When Skip returned to South Bend, Notre Dame had finished No. 6 or better from 1987 to 1990.

However, after a 10-3 season with a final AP ranking of No. 12, Lou decided to switch offensive coordinators. He tried to elevate his legendary offensive line coach, Joe Moore, but Moore turned him down.

Skip, however, had an idea of ​​who Notre Dame’s next offensive player should be.

“When the coordinator [position] open,” Skip said, “I went to my dad, and I said I wanted to come in and put my name in the ring for the position of offensive coordinator at the time. I was 27 years old. And he said, ‘I can’t hire you. I mean, you’re 27. You are my son. No I can not. Who would you hire?

The father asked his son to be serious. But Skip was serious.

“No, I would enlist,” Skip told his father. “He’s the one I would hire.”

But Lou didn’t hear about it, so Skip decided not to insist. Instead, he recommended then-FSU offensive coordinator Mark Richt.

“I had the opportunity to work with Mark,” Skip said of his time on staff at FSU. “Mark and I shared an office when I was in Tallahassee, and I just have incredible respect for him, the man, the person, the mannerisms, the way he coaches. I just think Mark is really good in what he So, I told dad that I would hire Mark Richt.

Lou accepted Richt as a valid recommendation. He called Bowden to ask permission to interview the FSU quarterback coach about becoming ND’s offensive coordinator.

Bowden told Lou that was fine – but he didn’t stop there.

“While I got you on the phone,” Bowden told Lou, “if you hire him, I want permission to talk to Skip to replace him.”

Whether Bowden knew it or not, he would put Lou in a bind. He had to hire the man his son had recommended—and possibly lose his son—or just hire his son, whom Bowden thought enough to want to add to his staff.

It turned out that Bowden’s question about whether Skip would be hired turned out to be just the boost Lou needed to raise his son.

“And so, that’s really how I became the coordinator,” Skip said.

Scooby Wright is one to watch in the Stallions defense

Scooby Wright is one to watch in the Stallions defense

Skip Holtz explains to RJ Young why he recruited former Arizona star Scooby Wright to lead the Birmingham defence. Wright had 131 tackles and 31 tackles for loss in his 2014 season with the Wildcats.

In 1992, Skip’s first season as offensive coordinator, the Fighting Irish finished 10-1-1 with a No. 4 ranking and victory over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. The following year, ND finished 11-1 with a No. 2 ranking in the AP and Coaches polls, but Irish fans argued they deserved the national title.

I asked him during our chat on the FOX Sports 2022 USFL Coaching Series if he was ready to submit to the AP Poll and Coaching Rankings for that 1993 team. It was final.

“No, I don’t want to,” he said. “I’m not ready to give this up.”

As far as he and many college football fans are concerned, ND won the 1993 national title. The Fighting Irish were ranked No. 2 and unbeaten at 10-0 when they hosted No. Florida to South Bend.

With Heisman winner Charlie Ward at quarterback, the Irish held on to win 31-24 in what was dubbed (another) “Game of the Century” to move to 11-0. However, Notre Dame followed that up the following week with a loss to Boston College in their final regular season game.

And so Florida State was named the No. 1 team in AP and coaches polls and the consensus national champion, despite being 11-1 as ND with a loss at ND.

These teams, this season and this game were important reasons for the creation of the Bowl Championship Series and, eventually, the College Football Playoffs. And that’s one of the reasons why Holtz, like me, believes championships should be decided on the scoreboard, not by voters or nominating committees.

“We didn’t have the BCS to be able to win on the court,” Skip said. “You had to win it in the polls, whether with the coaches [poll] or the PA. I know that Coach Bowden hadn’t won a national championship at that time, as long as he had been coaching, for as much success as he had been.

“So I certainly don’t think that [the Seminoles] didn’t deserve. I think they deserved it. But I also think that Notre-Dame deserved a national championship that year.”

Skip Holtz breaks rivalry with USFL coaches Larry Fedora and Kevin Sumlin

Skip Holtz breaks rivalry with USFL coaches Larry Fedora and Kevin Sumlin

Birmingham coach Skip Holtz has known both Gamblers coach Kevin Sumlin and Breakers coach Larry Fedora from their conference days in the United States. Holtz details his friendship with both coaches and explains the rivalry he has with them on the pitch.

It is one of two defining moments in Holtz’s career that are also significant moments in college football history. The other arrived in September 2001.

Holt was training with his dad again, but this time they were in South Carolina. Nine days after 9/11, 2001, the Holtz Gamecocks and Jackie Sherrill’s Mississippi State Bulldogs were tasked with playing the first game of college football after that horrible day.

The unranked Gamecocks managed to defeat No. 17 Mississippi State 16-14 in Starkville. But the score, the victory, was not so important for Holt on September 20, 2001 at Scott Field.

“It turned out to be one hell of a game of football,” he said. “But I don’t want to say it was strange, but it was really a special moment, to be there, to listen to 70,000 people without making a sound and it was just a silent pew. It was really a experience real enough to go by.”

The Gamecocks finished the 2001 season 9-3 with a win over Jim Tressel’s Ohio State Buckeyes in the Outback Bowl and a No. 13 ranking.

Over the next 20 years, Holtz became a head coach at East Carolina, South Florida and Louisiana Tech, won two Conference USA titles – with a victory over Houston Gamblers coach Kevin Sumlin (Houston) in the game for the 2008 C-USA title – and won C-USA Coach of the Year in 2016.

He also knows New Orleans Breakers coach Larry Fedora, whom he coached in C-USA when Fedora was head coach at Southern Miss.

“When I came to this league,” Holtz said, “Kevin Sumlin contacted me, who had already been announced as head coach, and he was one of the sales forces that really got me excited about the game. idea of ​​getting involved. And then I had the opportunity to play the same role with Larry Fedora when he came in after me and I had the opportunity to speak with him on the phone.”

It’s important to Holtz that he gets his first chance to coach professionals as a head coach alongside friends and fellow first-time professional head coaches Fedora and Sumlin. Their friendship sustained him.

The Holtz Stallions take on the New Jersey Generals in the USFL season opener on April 16 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama.

“I think there are a lot of great things happening for the USFL right now,” he said. “I just couldn’t be more excited to be a part of it and to have the opportunity to have this experience. It’s going to be awesome.”

He is dazed and ready to stun himself.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The #1 Rated Show Starring RJ Young.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Youngand subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube. It’s not on a StepMill.

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