Holtz Comes Full Circle

Former coach newest member of College Football Hall of Fame

Former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 2009.

May 1, 2008

By Adam Caparell



Caparell is CSTV.com's football editor and national football writer.

NEW YORK - Imagine if they had not taken a break. Then where would Lou Holtz be?


When Holtz, the venerable college coach, was courting his wife 48 years ago, the two decided to spend some time apart. It was 1960 and Holtz, not too far removed from graduating Kent State, had been thinking about settling down, starting a family and maybe coaching high school football in Ohio.


But as fate would have it, Holtz's new single status afforded him the opportunity to broaden his horizons. He accepted an offer to be a graduate assistant at Iowa that year, parlayed that into a position as an assistant with William & Mary, and the rest is history, history that led Holtz far from his hometown of East Liverpool, Ohio all the way to the famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel Thursday afternoon.


That's where it was officially announced that Holtz, along with former Ohio State coach John Cooper and 13 players, was one of the newest inductees into the College Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2008.


It was a fitting honor for the only coach to lead five teams to a Top 25 ranking and six teams to a bowl game, the last coach to lead Notre Dame to a national title and the coach as well known for his small stature and glasses as his pep talks.


The part-time college football analyst and part-time motivational speaker was at his best when he took the podium, dropping inspirational one-liners throughout his thank you speech. He made the assembled crowd laugh with his wit in between the time spent genuflecting on his 33-year college coaching career.


"I think you have to ask yourself one question, whether you're in the media or in sports or you're a parent:  if you didn't show up, who would miss you and why?" Holtz said.


If Holtz had never showed up in Fayetteville, would Arkansas ever have qualified for six straight bowl games and four Top 10 finishes, unprecedented success for the Razorbacks? If Holtz had never showed up in South Bend, would Notre Dame have won 100 games in 11 seasons and the 1988 national championship? If Holtz had never showed up in Columbia, would South Carolina have won back-to-back bowl games for the first time in the program's 100-plus year history?


Probably not. He was the right man, at the right time and place and pushed the right buttons on some talented players. And just as Holtz will tell you that it takes more than talent to make a good football player, he'll just as quickly tell you it takes more than the ability to teach x's and o's to be a good coach.


"You have to have the ability to communicate," Holtz said. "They can name you the head coach, but they can't name you the leader. Titles come from above, leaders come from below. You have to have a vision of where you want the program to go. You have to have a plan of how you're going to get there. You have to lead by example. You have to hold people accountable. You have to make sure everybody shares the same core values and coach fundamentals. That's it."


Fundamentals, and a whole lot more, got Holtz 249 wins, a .640 winning percentage and 22 bowl games.


"When you start looking back on your career, and to never inherit a winning team, but take six teams to a bowl game by the second year, to win a bowl game with five, it just means you have good athletes and I never thought I'd be here," Holtz said.


He could still be coaching right now if he really wanted to. Holtz, at age 71, says he has more energy than ever and actually entertained the idea of getting back into the game last year. A BCS school approached him to gauge his interest in taking over the program, but ultimately Holtz declined.


"You miss the relationships, you miss the camaraderie," Holtz said.


But apparently not enough to get back into it. His legacy in the game is secured and he's got his ESPN gig and motivational speaking engagements. And after having made his family move 16 times during his career, he likes where he's at.


"Everybody needs something to do, everybody needs someone to love, everybody needs something to hope for and everybody needs something to believe in," Holtz said. "The one thing about coaching is you have a lot of things to hope for."


Pat Fitzgerald, the Northwestern coach and newly minted Hall of Famer who was also on hand, can only hope to replicate the career Holtz had. Holtz, of course, will forever be remembered for the 11 years he spent at Notre Dame. He left South Bend five wins shy of Knute Rockne's record all the while endearing himself to the Irish faithful with his sideline demeanor and penchant for winning.


Now, in the same town where he'll forever be remembered, Holtz will officially be enshrined next summer in the same building where he used to have his Friday night recruiting dinners. To a degree, Holtz has come full circle.


"It's my wife's fault," Holtz joked. "Had she not broken up with me I would have been in high school."


And if that had been the case, chances are he probably wouldn't have found his way to South Bend the first time. Or next summer.


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