football Edit

Happy Birthday Lou Holtz: 1986-96 Notre Dame Head Coach

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Notre Dame won a school record 23 straight games in 1988-89 under Holtz. (Fighting Irish Digital Media)

Lou Holtz celebrates his 82nd birthday today. Two other Notre Dame coaches in history are at least 80 years of age and still with us: Gerry Faust (1981-85) turns 84 May 21. Terry Brennan (1954-58), who was only 25 when hired, will celebrate 91 on June 11.

From 1986-96, Holtz immortalized himself into Notre Dame lore with a consensus national title in 1988, a school record 23-game winning streak, two near-misses of another title in 1989 and 1993, an amazing 5-1 record in major bowls from 1988-93, a 9-1-1 ledger against arch rival USC, and a proclivity to have his teams at their best when the stage was brightest.

A new generation knew him as “Dr. Lou” while dispensing wisdom with wit as an ESPN analyst. Today, we share some of his “Holtzisms” through the decades. Although popular belief holds one should save the best for last, two of the most enduring Holtz quotes are the first two, which contains far more wisdom than any wit:

On the four cornerstones needed in life:

“You need something to do, someone to love, something to believe in, and something to hope for.”

On happiness:

“If you want to be happy for a day, go out and play golf. If you want to be happy for a week, go on a cruise. If you want to be happy for a month, get a new car. If you want to be happy for a year, win the lottery.

“But if you want to he happy for a lifetime, make sure you add value to everyone you come in contact with.”

Holtz has added plenty of value with some of these gems and life-long lessons:

On what makes him a good motivator:

“Motivation is easy. You eliminate those who aren’t motivated.”

On self-pity:

“Don’t tell people about your problems, because 90 percent don’t care and the other 10 percent are glad you hurt.”

After being told that saying “Southern Cal” is politically incorrect. It should be either USC or Southern California:

“I am glad you brought it to my attention. I was not aware of that. I am not trying to be offensive to anybody. To the Southern Cal people, I apologize.”

On why students select USC instead of UCLA for school: “It’s easier to spell.”

On comparing recruiting hype to Pike’s Peak, the 14,110 foot mountain near Colorado Springs:

“There are 18 mountains taller than Pike’s Peak, which shows you the advantage of publicity. You don’t hear about the others, but you hear about Pike’s Peak. Somebody publicized it.”

On making himself the enemy to players in order to unify them:

“If I was ever murdered, they’d have to cancel the investigation because there would be too many suspects.”

On fans pelting the football field with oranges in a victory that led to an invitation to the Orange Bowl:

“I’m glad we aren’t going to the Gator Bowl.”

On Notre Dame’s preseason rankings:

“If they think we’re going to be good, they’ll put us in the top 3. If they think we’re going to be decent, they’ll put us in the top 6. If they think we have a chance to be good, we’ll be in the top 10. If they think we’re not going to be that good, they’ll put us in the top 15. And if they think we’re going to be horrendous, they’ll put us somewhere between 15 and 20.”

On pressure after winning 23 straight games:

“The pressure mounts each and every game. I was thinking about how Frank Leahy was here for 11 years and Ara Parseghian was here for 11 years. But Frank Leahy was here for three years (1941-43) and then went to war (1944-45). I think sometimes that would be a welcome relief.

“I’d be less than honest if I didn’t tell you this is not the type of job you can keep for 11 years…Sometimes you win too early. I think the best thing you can do is go 5-6, 6-5, 7-4, 8-3, 9-2, 10-1, 11-0, 10-1 and 12-0. If you can do it that way, you can last 11 years. The other way is a little bit more difficult.”

On expectations:

“When I first started, everybody said they just wanted us to be competitive. That first season in 1986 we went 5-6 and lost five games by a total of 14 points. But people said, ‘No, when we said competitive, we meant we want you to win.’

“So the next year we were 8-4 and played in a New Year’s Day bowl. But they said, ‘No, when we said we want you to win, we meant win them all.’

“So the next year we did win them all. We went 12-0 and won the national championship. But they said, ‘No, you don’t understand, we meant we want you to win big.’ ”

On preseason hype:

“Here at Notre Dame, everybody has a tendency to get too excited too early. Most of the time, when people celebrate too early, it’s because they don’t think they’ll celebrate later.”

On final polls:

“When I was in college, I always thought I did pretty well coming out of an exam. Man, I was expecting a B in a course. And you know what? Very seldom did I ever get a pleasant surprise and get an A. I remember I was expecting a B in a class and I got a D. And I was shocked. So the first thing I did was I went to see the professor. I walked into his office and he said, ‘I need to talk to you about my grade.’ And he said, ‘I knew you were going to come and thank me. Only by the grace of God did I not give you an F.’

“So that’s the way I look at the polls. If you aren’t No. 1 at Notre Dame, it’s nice to finish in the top 5 and let’s move on.”

On the importance of repetition and fundamentals:

“It was Tchaikovsky who said, ‘If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the experts know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, everybody knows it.’ ”

On Speed:

“If you have speed with intelligence, you have an unbeatable combination. Speed with a lack of intelligence will get you in trouble. I’d rather have a slow guy going in the wrong direction than a fast guy going in the wrong direction. At least the slow guy won’t be as far out of position as the fast guy.”

On Depth:

“If you have a real good team you never have much depth. Woody Hayes used to always say that if you have three teams of equal ability, you have three third teams.”

On coaching rival Jackie Sherrill, when they lived 40 miles apart near Pittsburgh:

"Jackie once told me to come by for a visit. I did just that one morning, at 3 a.m. Not sure that I was at the right address, I honked the horn. Mrs. Sherrill appeared at the front door. I said: 'Is this where Jackie Sherrill lives?' She said: 'Yeah. Just bring him in and lay him down in the hall, like everybody else does.' "

On Lady Luck after winning the Michigan State game in 1990 on the “Immaculate Deflection.”

“I believe there’s a spiritual feeling at this school. I believe there’s a spiritual feeling of peace. I think this school’s very lucky and I think good things happen to this school and the people who attend it.

“Now I know you’re going to say God doesn’t care who wins. I say that’s true, but I believe His Mother does. I firmly believe this school has been blessed. When men ask why this school is great, they’ll need only to look at the Lady on the Dome.

“I told them that some things would happen that we would not be able to explain how or why they happened. It’s like describing the mystique of Notre Dame. You can’t – but you can feel it.

“If you go to Notre Dame and say, ‘Okay, if there’s a mystique here, I want to feel it,’ you aren’t going to feel it. But I tell our players that if you believe in Notre Dame and the mystique, you will feel it. …

“If you’re a senior and you’ve really bought into Notre Dame and tried to live within the parameters of Notre Dame, you feel something special. Even when I talk about it now, I get chills. Believe me, there’s a mystique there, and it’s not in helping you win close games. It’s the development within your life.”

On Great Backs/Running Games

“If he is a great runner, you will discover that the rest of the team blocks better. The reason for this is the offensive linemen don’t have to block their men very long. The poorer the back, the longer you must block the defense, and this is difficult to do.”

On the cerebral, disciplined manner of offensive linemen:

“They’re the kind of people who know exactly what classes they will take two semesters from now, they tend to marry at a younger age than the average player, and very rarely will you read in a newspaper about an offensive lineman stealing a motorcycle or car like you would about a defensive lineman or player, who tends to be more wild.”

After the loss to Miami in 1989: “At least General Custer didn’t have to look at the film.”

Why patience is sometimes necessary while sticking with a plan: “It takes nine months for a woman to have a baby, no matter how many men you put on the job.”

On why a new coach isn’t always the answer: “If an engine in a car is dead, it won’t run just because you change drivers.”

On how revenge motives can be distracting on the mission at hand: “You will never get ahead of anyone by trying to get even with them.”

On his summer of 1964 visit with Texas legend Darrell Royal when Holtz was a struggling assistant at UConn:

“I asked him what do you do if a guy quits. And he said, ‘Give thanks. I’d rather have them quit now than when somebody is on our three-yard line.’ He said you just close ranks, march on and somebody just picks up the rifle and goes.”

On having a good coaching staff:

“The Bible says Abraham died by leaning on his staff. That wouldn’t be a bad way for me to go.”

On judging his football teams:

“If everybody would evaluate his own life with the same criteria he evaluates the Notre Dame football teams, the world would be a much better place.”


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