If four-straight winning seasons, a quartet of bowl game appearances and back-to-back Conference USA championships are an indication of things to come, the football fortunes at East Carolina continue to head toward unprecedented heights under the leadership of Louis "Skip" Holtz.
He quickly revived the lifeline of a once-proud tradition which had stumbled to record just three wins in a 25-game period two-plus seasons prior to his arrival. He promptly instilled a sense of pride, commitment, character and discipline into a Pirate team which, only 60 months later, rewarded its loyal and passionate fan base with the school's first-ever run of four consecutive bowl invitations and the program's first four-year streak of winning seasons since the 1970s.
While there was a strong sense of renewed optimism surrounding the Pirate program after a first-year rebuilding and foundation-setting effort, it has paled in comparison to the excitement and enthusiasm that has followed during Holtz' last four seasons in Greenville.
A natural result of East Carolina's drastic turnaround on the field, which include a 7-6 finish in 2006, an 8-5 ledger in 2007, a 9-5 mark in 2008 and another nine-win campaign in 2009, has been dramatic school-record attendance increases at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium which have used Holtz' entertaining offense and opportunistic, hard-hitting defense as headline banners.
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 Bowl Championship Series 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.
The Pirates 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. East Carolina 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' 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 seven games.
Holtz became East Carolina's 19th head football coach in the school's all-time history on Dec. 3, 2004 when he was introduced by athletics director Terry Holland.
Holtz, who has played an active role on coaching staffs which have captured seven major bowl titles in eight appearances since 1987, officially ended a six-year position on the South Carolina offensive staff when he moved to Greenville.
"We have great confidence in Skip to take over and lead our football program into a new era as its head coach," Holland said when making the hire. "His background and enthusiasm make him a perfect fit for ECU, our community and the Pirate Nation. We are certainly pleased to have identified an individual of high character who has demonstrated proven qualities as a role model and leader."
Holtz, 45, completed his sixth season as South Carolina's assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach in 2004. He displayed his all-around abilities as a coach, remaining closely involved with the Gamecock offense in addition to handling a variety of duties as assistant head coach under his father, the legendary Lou Holtz.
He wore several hats during his tenure with the Gamecocks, coaching the quarterbacks his first four seasons, before handling the tight ends in 2003 and then returning to guide the signal-callers. He helped South Carolina to a top 50 national rank in rushing offense (168.7 ypg) while averaging 368.9 yards of total offense in 2004.
The Gamecocks ranked second in the Southeastern Conference in rushing offense in 2001, and under his tutelage, senior Phil Petty developed into a winning SEC quarterback, leading South Carolina to 17 victories in his last 23 starts, including back-to-back Outback Bowl wins over Ohio State in 2001 (24-7) and 2002 (31-28).
For his efforts during the 2001 season, Holtz was recognized as one of the winners of the Assistant Coach-of-the-Year Award by the All-American Football Foundation, and was presented with the award at the organization's annual banquet.
Holtz came to South Carolina after a successful five-year stint as head coach at the University of Connecticut. While at Connecticut, he led the Huskies to their best season in school history in 1998 and was recognized as one of the top young coaching talents in the country.
Holtz has been credited for developing high-powered and prolific offenses throughout his coaching career. During his last season at UConn, he led the Huskies to a school-record 10 victories and an appearance in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs. His team ranked 11th nationally in scoring offense, averaging nearly 36 points per game.
During his five-year tenure as head coach at Connecticut, Holtz guided the Huskies' program to national top 25 rankings the last four seasons and unprecedented success in the school's 100-year football history which provided a firm foundation for the school's eventual move to the I-A level in 2002.
The success Holtz earned on the field at Connecticut during his first head coaching tenure was matched by his involvement in the community as a successful speaker, clinician and humanitarian - often donating his time and effort to many charitable and educational organizations. He served as the honorary chairman for Camp Courant in Hartford for four consecutive years, helping fund-raising efforts to send over 1,000 under-privileged area children to recreational and educational camps during the summer. Holtz was also actively involved with the American Diabetes Association, serving as an honorary chairman and member of the Board of Trustees for two years.
Holtz was honored in 1996 with the National Football Foundation Man-of-the-Year Award and was a member of the Foundation's ethics committee. He was also the recipient of the Franciscan Life Center's St. Francis Award in 1995, an honor given for his dedication and support of Christian values and outstanding athletic achievements.
Holtz's stay at South Carolina marked the second time in his career that he had worked under his father on an offensive staff. He combined forces with his father at Notre Dame for four years, in fact, serving the Fighting Irish's offensive coordinator during the 1992 and 1993 seasons.
During those seasons, he was in charge of one of the country's most potent offensive attacks - a period in which the Irish compiled a 21-2-1 record. The 1992 Notre Dame offense ranked third nationally in total offense, averaging better than 470 yards per game. The 1993 Irish offense, despite the loss of All-America running backs Jerome Bettis and Reggie Brooks, ended the season ranked No. 9 in scoring offense (36.6 points per game). During Holtz's two seasons as offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, the Irish offense averaged nearly 37 points per game.
Holtz has also served on the coaching staffs at Florida State and Colorado State. While serving on Bobby Bowden's FSU staff in 1987 and 1988, the Seminoles rolled to a 22-2 record, captured the Sugar and Fiesta Bowl titles and earned a No. 2 and No. 3 national rank, respectively.
In all, he has been involved in eight New Year's Day bowl games during his coaching career. Prior to his stint at South Carolina, the overall record of teams he had been associated with as an assistant coach was an impressive 67-15-2.
Born March 12, 1964, in Willimantic, Connecticut, Holtz spent the first two years of his life at UConn while his father served as the top football assistant on the Huskies' staff from 1964-65. He was a prep quarterback at Fayetteville (Ark.) High School, while his father was the head coach at the University of Arkansas.
He attended Holy Cross Junior College in South Bend, Ind., for two years before transferring to Notre Dame in 1984. Holtz earned his bachelor's degree in business management in 1986 and was a football letterwinner for the Irish in 1986, appearing in all 11 games as a special teams member and backup flanker.
Skip and his wife, Jennifer, are the parents of three children: Louis Leo (Trey) Holtz III (15); Chad Fitzgerald Holtz (12); and Hailey Elizabeth Holtz (10).