How Skip Holtz saved first USF class (cont.)
Finally, Mary Trump had some answers to provide. Trump, in her third year running the Bulls' recruiting office, essentially turned into a switchboard operator the moment Leavitt was fired. For almost two weeks, she fielded hundreds of phone calls from concerned recruits and their parents. They all had questions, but she had little information to give them. "People wanted answers," she said, "that I couldn't give them."
In her time running the recruiting office, Trump has learned the best response in that situation is the simplest and most truthful one: I don't know. "People get frustrated, but I don't know what else they want me to tell them," she said. "I don't know."
Armed with the identities of assistants and a clearer picture of the program's new CEO, Trump could handle most of the questions. The Bulls' recruiting machine began to hum again, and the coaches hit the road to finish out the class.
When Holtz and company arrived at East Carolina on Dec. 3, 2004, they started from scratch. Fortunately, there is a recruiting dead period in late December. With no coaches on the road, Holtz and his assistants had time to catch up. For almost two weeks they pored over videos, trying to identify the players who were capable of playing for East Carolina and willing to sign with the Pirates. Equally fortunately, Holtz had just spent six years working for his father at South Carolina. He knew the best players in the Carolinas, and he knew which schools they would consider.
At USF, Holtz faced a different problem. He had all the recruiting information, but he had no time. With Signing Day looming, he decided to recruit the players Leavitt's staff had recruited. He also decided he wouldn't recruit players who had committed to him at East Carolina, even though several called him to express interest in USF. "We had a number of commitments at East Carolina that kept calling us here that wanted to change, that wanted to come," Holtz said. "I wouldn't get involved with them. I didn't want to take them away from East Carolina. Some of them turned around and committed to other schools."
Even though not all of the dozen or so players already to committed to USF were the kind Holtz would necessarily recruit, he pledged to honor their scholarships on one condition: They had to commit to him and decline to take other visits. That message got lost in translation with one key recruit, and the situation mushroomed into a mess that cost the Bulls a quarterback and left Holtz scrambling to repair a damaged relationship with a legendary coach.
Brion Carnes, a 6-foot, 181-pound quarterback from Manatee High in Bradenton, Fla., committed to USF in December 2008. He was the first player to commit to Leavitt for 2010, and Carnes fully expected to be a Bull until the day Leavitt was fired. "He had no other visits set up until all this happened," said Manatee coach Joe Kinnan, who coached former Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier and former Green Bay Packers cornerback Tyrone Williams and who also once served as an assistant at Arkansas.
Carnes, shaken up by the change, decided he wanted to examine other options. Soon after Leavitt was fired, Carnes scheduled a visit to Nebraska for the weekend of Jan. 23. He made his official visit to USF the weekend Holtz arrived. Then Carnes went to Lincoln. For the weekend of Jan. 30, he scheduled a visit to Western Kentucky, where Manatee grad Willie Taggert had just taken over as head coach. The visit seemed a mere courtesy, and Holtz, who shuddered every time he looked at his quarterback depth chart, wanted to know where the Bulls stood with Carnes.
USF has a potential star in B.J. Daniels, a redshirt freshman who took over in September 2009 after senior starter Matt Grothe suffered a season-ending knee injury. But Daniels is the only quarterback the Bulls have on scholarship. His former backup, Evan Landi, is a likely starter at receiver, and Holtz didn't want to ask Landi to become a backup again. Holtz absolutely had to sign a quarterback in this class. "Spring is going to be interesting," Holtz said. "We may be in the Wing-T in spring practice."
At the same time, Holtz didn't have many scholarships left to give. The NCAA allows schools to keep 85 players on scholarship at a given time, and at the moment the Bulls had just 13 open slots. Holtz said he told Carnes days before he visited Western Kentucky that he needed an answer. Either Carnes wanted to play for the Bulls, or he wanted to play for someone else. If he wanted to play at USF, he needed to re-commit and cancel his final visit. "He said he needed to take some other visits," Holtz said. "He needed to be able to compare South Florida to another school. He needed to take some other options, and he did. ... I understand that, but at the same time, we have one quarterback on scholarship. I can't afford to go to the 11th hour and have no quarterbacks."
Further muddying the issue was Holtz's impression that Carnes didn't want to play for any coordinator but Canales, with whom he'd developed a bond. "When I let Canales go, I more or less lost the quarterback," Holtz said. "I hate it. But you could sit there and try to lie and mislead and keep everybody in place until recruiting ends and then let everybody go."
Kinnan said neither Holtz nor any of his assistants gave Carnes a hard and fast deadline. "Coach Holtz was under the impression that information had been conveyed," Kinnan said. "However, I never got that information. Brion said he never was aware that was the case."
Kinnan said Carnes had just arrived at Western Kentucky on Jan. 29 when he learned he no longer had an offer from USF. Two days later, it became apparent why. Multiple outlets reported Jamius Gunsby, a 6-4, 220-pound quarterback from LaGrange, Ga., had committed to USF. "I've lost a lot of respect for the South Florida program," Kinnan told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Jan. 29. Carnes, meanwhile, followed in the footsteps of Manatee grad Frazier and signed with Nebraska.
Reached by SI.com on Feb. 5, Kinnan didn't seem angry. Because of his college experience, Kinnan understands the concept of a scholarship numbers crunch. What he couldn't understand is why neither he nor Carnes knew Carnes needed to make a decision. "If they had ever said that to him or said that to me, then I would have had no problem," Kinnan said. "They never said that." Kinnan said has spoken to Holtz once on the phone, and the men plan to meet down the road to discuss and hopefully iron out the misunderstanding.
Holtz, for his part, is sick about the entire ordeal. He doesn't want a reputation as a coach who pulls scholarship offers. Nor does he want to start off on the wrong foot with a coach whose program produces top-shelf talent every year. "It's unfortunate," Holtz said. "I hate the way it is."
Some good may come of the Carnes' recruitment, though. Kinnan said he plans to hold an information session for players and parents to explain the ins and outs of the recruiting process. One of his key points will be this: If you aren't 100 percent sure you want to attend a certain school, don't commit. "If you get married," Kinnan said, "you don't keep dating."
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