- Skip Holtz is out as head football coach at Louisiana Tech after nine seasons.
- Holtz is 64-49 at Lousiana Tech leading the team to seven straight bowl appearances with six wins.
- Louisiana Tech is 3-8 this season heading into their season finale against Rice on Saturday.
You can add another vacancy to what appears will be the most active college football coaching market in recent memory. Skip Holtz has been fired as head football coach at Louisiana Tech University. The school is using the ‘mutual decision’ verbiage allowing Holtz a measure of dignity out the door. Holtz will coach the season finale against the Rice Owls on Saturday.
The departure of Holtz–the son of former Notre Dame and South Carolina coaching legend Lou Holtz–is at least somewhat surprising since he’s been extremely successful since taking over the LA Tech football program. He’s 64-49 in his tenure at the school, leading the team to seven straight bowl appearances with six victories. He’s had five seasons with 8 or more wins during his run but before he arrived the school only had seven seasons with 8+ victories since 1990. LA Tech has shown some regression over the past two seasons, dropping to 5-5 in 2020 and 3-8 to date this year. In context, however, there have been considerable external challenges for every college football program with the COVID-19 pandemic being the most significant.
In addition, Conference USA is in the midst of serious upheaval. Tech is one of five current C-USA schools that are committed to the league beyond next season. Nine current C-USA members are leaving for other conferences. Meanwhile, the league has announced that five new teams are being added by 2023: Liberty, New Mexico State, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State. You’d think that it a period of such far reaching transition Louisiana Tech would want the continuity that an experience head coach provides.
There’s obviously ‘more to the story’ but since the party line is that the school and the coach came to a ‘mutual decision’ we’ll likely never know the real deal. One curious rationalization is that the LA Tech athletic department was concerned that Holtz didn’t generate much interest to fill one of the many coaching vacancies in college football. The lack of overtures left them to conclude that he’s not *that* good of a coach despite the solid numbers he’s put up at the school. In a strange way, it makes sense–Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Billy Napier has led the Ragin’ Cajuns to three straight 10 win seasons and in the process has become one of the most sought after head coaching candidates in the country. By some strange associative property of in-state rivalry dynamics this suggests that the Louisiana-Lafayette football program is higher up in the state college sports pecking order than Louisiana Tech. While there may be something to this it *is* pretty silly–like divorcing your wife because your neighbor’s wife gets hit on more often in public.
Here’s how Louisiana Tech athletic director Eric Wood explained the departure of Coach Holtz:
“Skip and I talked and agreed it was time for a change for both parties. Louisiana Tech owes Skip a debt of gratitude for his loyalty and dedication to our football student-athletes, our University, and our community over the past decade.”
“He has been able to accomplish some things that weren’t previously done here on a consistent basis prior to his arrival. We continue to be committed to winning conference championships, and that expectation is stronger than ever.”
Coach Holtz towed the ‘mutual decision’ party line in his comments:
“This is the right time for me to evaluate a new start in my career. I’ve had the privilege of mentoring young people and building football programs for more than 30 years, including the last nine as head coach of Louisiana Tech. The past two seasons have brought additional challenges to our program, and I simply think it is time for someone else to have the chance to lead this special group of young men.”
“I am not done coaching football and have great passion and energy to continue to lead young men through this game that I love so much. It is just time for me to channel my energies elsewhere.”
“I appreciate the support of the University, my players and the Ruston community and am extremely proud of what we have done here. I hate that our streak of seven straight bowl appearances was broken this year. But the program is not broken, and I have no doubt that there are great things ahead for the Bulldogs. I am locking arms with our team to go out and compete with everything we have one last time against Rice.”
There are plenty of schools that are quick to dump their head coach when there’s even the hint of regression. You don’t see it so often at Louisiana Tech’s level of competition. With an unprecedented number of job vacancies in the college football coaching ranks–many at ‘A List’ programs like USC, Florida and LSU–this might not be the best timing for Louisiana Tech. They’ll be competing with some heavyweight universities all seeking to land the best head coach out of a limited pool of quality candidates. LA Tech might have been best served by giving Holtz a year to try and turn things around while delaying a potential new hire until the turnover in the college coaching ranks settles down somewhat. Holtz might not be the second coming of Bear Bryant but he’s only had two losing seasons in nine years. There’s no guarantee that Louisiana Tech can improve their hand battling for quality coaches against a number of deep pocketed, competitive elite programs.