Jan. 14, 2010

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) -Skip Holtz is leaving East Carolina to take over as coach at South Florida.

Team spokesman Tom McClellan says Holtz informed the team of his decision in a meeting Thursday afternoon.

AOL FanHouse was first to report the hiring.

Holtz replaces Jim Leavitt, who was fired earlier this month after a school investigation concluded he grabbed a player by the throat, slapped him in the face, then lied about it. Holtz compiled a 38-27 record in five seasons with the Pirates, including wins in the past two Conference USA championship games and high-profile victories against Virginia Tech and West Virginia in 2008.

Holtz was under contract through the 2013 season and had only a $100,000 buyout. He made $605,000 in base salary this year, though that figure rose to nearly $900,000 due to several incentives.

Holtz, the son of former Notre Dame and South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, has been an annual fixture on the list of top candidates for coaching vacancies elsewhere. He flirted with Cincinnati and Syracuse in recent years, but insisted he wasn't looking to leave the program he rebuilt from its miserable state earlier this decade.

East Carolina had lost 22 of 25 games - 19 by double-digit margins and seven by at least 33 points - when he arrived after the 2004 season. The Pirates steadily rose from there, reaching a bowl game in his second season and winning one the following year.

The consecutive league titles were the first conference crowns for the program since 1976, sending the Pirates to the Liberty Bowl each time. East Carolina was an independent from 1977-96 before joining C-USA.