For 22 years, he had one of the best jobs on campus.
In the pre-football era at USF, the big sport in the fall was soccer. And USF soccer was Dan Holcomb.
Holcomb, who started the men’s soccer program, over which he presided for more than 22 years, will end a 38-year association with USF when he retires Friday.
In addition to soccer, Holcomb coached tennis and taught several physical education classes. When his tenure as soccer coach ended in 1986, Holcomb served 16 years in campus recreation/facilities.
For Holcomb, the highlight of his long career was when “soccer was the big sport on campus,” to the point that homecoming and bonfires were scheduled around soccer matches, Holcomb said.
“We had our heyday. We used to get crowds of a couple of thousand, 3,000 when we first got the stadium and played under the lights,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb was recruited to begin the men’s soccer program in 1965. With no scholarships available, the coach filled the roster with walk-ons, many from the existing USF soccer club. Despite such an inauspicious beginning, the fledgling program produced a winning season, a feat that was repeated in every season of Holcomb’s 22-year tenure.
Once scholarships had been established in 1966, Holcomb returned to his native Missouri to find new players.
“St. Louis has always been a hotbed for soccer. I got seven players from St. Louis — The Oracle called them ‘the seven from heaven,'” Holcomb said.
The players may have been celestial, but when they took the field, there was no doubt they would come down to Earth.
“We played on intramural field No. 1. The spectators sat on the hillside. In those days, the field had permanent soccer and flag football goals,” Holcomb said.
Former Bulls assistant coach Jim Felix played under Holcomb for two seasons between 1977 and 1979. Felix remembers the era as a time when a more informal relationship between coach and athlete was the norm, an approach that perfectly suited Holcomb.
“(Holcomb) used to take myself and Tommy Feeney out to lunch, which you could probably never do these days,” Felix said. “Every Clemson tournament, he used to take us out to the fish camp and we would gorge on fish. He made the game enjoyable.”
However informal the approach, the program flourished during Holcomb’s reign. Recruits such as U.S. national team member Roy Wegerle and three-time All-American Fergus Hopper helped the Bulls to capture eight Sun Belt Conference titles and seven NCAA tournament appearances. Holcomb modestly deflects praise for his overall 216-87-22 record to the players.
“Any coach will tell you it’s the talent that makes you successful. We always had good players,” he said.
In 1976, Holcomb was called on to perform double duty when the sudden retirement of Stafford Taylor left the Bulls without a tennis coach.
“I had coached a couple of years at Florida State at grad school and always played,” Holcomb said. “I ended up coaching soccer and getting the tennis players playing and trying to recruit for both sports.”
Holcomb’s reign as head coach ended controversially in December 1986 when the coach resigned following an investigation by then Athletic Director Paul Griffin into allegations that Holcomb attempted to convert players to his religious beliefs. Although Griffin’s investigation concluded Holcomb had not used his position to proselytize to players, the report stated there was ‘some discrepancy’ in the case of a Jewish player.
The investigation came less than a year after the NCAA placed the soccer program on a one-year probation and ordered the university to forfeit $4,200 in scholarship funds for violating a NCAA recruiting regulation. Holcomb declined to give any reasons for his resignation and accepted a position in the campus recreation department.
Throughout his 16 years working for campus recreation/facilities, Holcomb has maintained his love affair with soccer through alumni games and as a youth soccer coach. Now 68 years old, the youthful-looking Holcomb is still keen to remain busy.
“I’m hopeful that I can tie in with one of the local private schools and coach soccer. I’m out there trying and continue to coach youth soccer teams,” he said. “I also play tournament tennis and hope to continue to do that.”
Richard Bowers, associate dean of the College of Business, was the director of athletics when Holcomb was recruited to head the soccer program. Bowers said Holcomb, for whom a reception will be held in the Campus Recreation Center today at 1, has made a huge contribution to USF.
“We hired him in 1965. He was a fine professor of education. (He) Did a wonderful job in the classroom and was a very dedicated coach,” Bowers said. “(He was) a gentleman of the first order, well respected by his peers and by the students. The university is very fortunate to have had his services all these years.”
For Felix, Holcomb’s achievement in establishing the men’s soccer program cannot be overstated.
“He was a good man,” Felix said. “I have a world of respect for him, he was the one that started it all.”