The transition from East Carolina to South Florida has been smooth, but there's still a lot about Greenville that Skip Holtz misses.
"Not just the barbecue, either," the former Pirates football coach said this week.
"I miss the people, the players and the friends I still have there. There are a lot of things really, but I knew that would be the case when I made this decision. ECU became home."
In Tampa, there was a familiar welcome wagon for Holtz, his wife Jennifer and their three children.
"My folks are in Orlando, and Jennifer's are very close by," Holtz said. "That was a big part of what made this situation different from the others from the start."
But there's no secret that another lure was the chance to move into a Bowl Championship Series conference.
Winning two straight Conference USA championships at ECU was good enough to get Holtz and his team to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
If he can bring that title touch to the Bulls in the Big East Conference, the reward will be an invitation to the Orange Bowl.
Holtz's first South Florida team won't be the Big East favorite. But with B.J. Daniels at quarterback, the Bulls could have the league's best offensive player and certainly the most versatile. On an 8-5 (3-4 league) team last season, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Daniels passed for 1,983 yards and rushed for 772.
"He's a very special talent," Holtz said. "We asked him to do a lot of things in spring drills, too. There wasn't anything he didn't do well."
The rest of the personnel isn't nearly so set, however.
Two of Daniels' favorite targets return, but the defensive unit is undergoing full-scale reconstruction, and there are a lot of offensive line question marks.
"Defensively, we have a lot to get done before we're ready to play," Holtz said. "There are a lot of good players with great attitudes, but it's a little different from last season when we had so much defensive experience at ECU."
With an opening game against Stony Brook, it's a safe bet Holtz will get off to a successful start on Sept. 4. The following Saturday - a trip to Florida - is another matter.
Holtz's first Big East game won't be until Oct. 9 against Syracuse. Eventually, he would like to see that Big East schedule include the program he left.
"I absolutely would love to see ECU in the Big East," Holtz said. "It'd be great for the school, and I think it'd be great for the Big East, too. That's what I thought there, and it's what I think here. I'm not changing. I'll always be a big supporter of that."
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