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Holtz talks candidly about life at the top of Notre Dame

Dec 20, 2012, 1:09 PM EDT

Lou Holtz AP

For most of the younger generation, especially those suiting up and playing football, Lou Holtz isn’t known as a football coach, but as Dr. Lou, the funny old fella on ESPN that’s got a catchy phrase for just about everything. While the ESPN Holtz has become almost a caricature of himself, and the mantel piece as one of the nation’s true cheerleaders for the Fighting Irish, he’s also one of the only people in the world that can talk to Brian Kelly about life at the top as a head coach at Notre Dame.

So while most of us are used to seeing Holtz spar playfully with Mark May or give pep talks in fictional locker rooms in Bristol, Holtz the former coach had plenty of interesting thoughts to share yesterday as he discussed Notre Dame, Brian Kelly, and the Irish’s hopes to upset Alabama.

It’s no surprise that Holtz told Kelly that life at Notre Dame is different than anywhere else either coach had been. It’s a lesson he learned from Ara Parseghian. And that change only grows when you find yourself at the top of college football.

“When I went there Ara Parseghian said this place is different than any other and you’ll have to learn how to handle all the media, all the distractions, everybody pulls you in a different direction you time’s not your own,” Holtz said yesterday. “He said after you win a national championship the coaching position will change again. He’s absolutely right. Once you win a national champions at Notre Dame, your life is never the same again after that.”

The parallels between Kelly and Holtz entering their championship season (at least Kelly’s opportunity at a championship) are downright scary. Take a look at a few of the tidbits’s Lou Somogyi points out:

* Both 51 years old.
* Both had 10 losses entering season three.
* Both bet their seasons on an unproven dual-threat QB from South Carolina.
* Both beat Michigan State in September 20-3.

Season three has been the magical season for many Notre Dame coaches. Holtz talked about that and ventured a few guesses why.

“Why the third year? Because by that time you’re comfortable with it,” Holtz said. “The players have bought in to your system. You’ve been able to recruit to your system. You’ve been able to build a camaraderie and a trust between the players and the coaches.”

That camaraderie and trust has been so evident this season, as Kelly delicately balanced a tricky quarterback situation and built a unity on this team that hasn’t been seen in a long time. And if Kelly is able to defeat Alabama, Holtz spoke candidly about the next challenge that faces Notre Dame’s head coach: Elevated expectations.

“When you win it, everybody puts you on a pedestal,” Holtz said. “Once you’re on the pedestal, no matter what you do, it ain’t good enough. We finished second in the country, everyone called me an idiot. The guy who finishes last in medical school, they call him doctor.”

Holtz also talked about the dangers of not setting your goals high enough, something you never thought possible for a motivator like Holtz.

“You get on top, you say this is pretty good, let’s not change anything.  But if you don’t change anything, you don’t have anything you’re trying to aspire to,” Holtz said. “When I left Notre Dame, I thought I was tired of coaching. I was not tired of coaching. I was tired of maintaining.

“We should have set standards that nobody thought were possible. That’s the thing I regret. Don’t maintain. We maintained it well. But that was a mistake.”

  1. dudeacow - Dec 20, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    Don’t forget that the two best receivers in school history left the year before the championship! (Tim Brown’s final year was ’87, Floyd’s was ’11)

  2. yogihilt - Dec 20, 2012 at 2:39 PM

    Good one Dude…..Eerie… let’s hope it ends the same this year as well! Go Irish.. to the woodshed.

  3. florida727 - Dec 20, 2012 at 2:39 PM

    I’m not a Notre Dame fan, but I love Lou Holtz. Always have. There used to be rumors floating around that ND would never allow another head coach to pass Knute Rockne’s win total at the school. They said that’s why Ara left, even though he had many quality years left in him. Same for Lou. They simply got too close to a revered mark. I hope that’s not true, and both left simply because they chose to.

    I was also told a story about how Steve Spurrier ended up at South Carolina that’s directly tied to Holtz. Apparently when Spurrier learned of Holtz’s wife having cancer, he called the head of oncology at Shands Hospital in Gainesville. (That particular doctor was, according to the story, the foremost authority on the particular form of cancer afflicting Holtz’s wife.) The doctor then called Holtz and set an appointment for him to bring his wife in immediately. Holtz never forgot that, and when he left South Carolina, he recommended Spurrier be his replacement. Spurrier, obviously, has made South Carolina football relevant again. Assuming the story is true, it says a lot about both guys that we otherwise would never find out about.

    • mcirish27 - Dec 20, 2012 at 2:53 PM

      I wouldn’t put too much stock in that rumor.

      Great story about Spurrier – can’t say i’ve ever been a fan of the ol’ ball coach but that’s certainly an agreeable tale.

  4. fw190wuerger - Dec 20, 2012 at 5:32 PM

    Another interesting column, Keith. Any chance you can get your Friday column posted early? If certain Mayans are correct, it might be the last. So I would like to read it before the end of time.

    Although I would rather the apocalypse hold off tomorrow, if it does come, there is one big positive: Notre Dame goes into perpetuity ranked #1.

    ND, number 1 forever — a lot of poetic justice in that!

    • ndgoldandblue - Dec 20, 2012 at 10:15 PM

      You know, that actually would be kinda’ cool. Although, I’d probably meet some Alabama fan in heaven who’d claim that the Tide would have won the game.

      • papadec - Dec 21, 2012 at 10:28 PM

        ndgold – Nahhhh, ain’t gonna be any sec fans there! Well that’s probably not true – just no sec Trolls.

    • papadec - Dec 21, 2012 at 10:25 PM

      fw – looks like the Mayans were wrong, and the Hopi too.

  5. irishdodger - Dec 20, 2012 at 7:07 PM


    I heard that rumor about Holtz not wanting to pass Rockne. Based on the relationship between Lou & the administration towards the end, I tend to believe he just wore out his welcome & both sides agreed it was time for a change.

    As far as Ara, I always understood his reason of retiring young was the unbearable stress of being the HC of ND. Back then it was a pretty heavy burden. The fact he never took another coaching gig says a lot. He also has devoted a lot of his time & money to a rare disease that afflicts his grandchildren….I think it’s called Nieman Pycks (sp?).

    The Spurrier story is true & a nice gesture on both parts. That doesn’t change the fact that Spurrier is no fan of ND…but that’s ok, he’s an SEC guy…I get it. He’s good for CFB, too.

  6. yogihilt - Dec 20, 2012 at 8:49 PM

    No way that supposed rumor would stand in this day and age. If BK was to continue on this path.. Knute would be looking in the rear view mirror.. and we would all welcome it.

    • ndgoldandblue - Dec 20, 2012 at 10:25 PM

      I agree. Frankly, I hope Brian Kelly goes down as the greatest Notre Dame coach of all time. That would mean more than four championships. Impossible? I wouldn’t go that far. For me, I’d be happy if they won it all this year, and that’s it.

      • papadec - Dec 21, 2012 at 10:34 PM

        ndgold – no, re-read the post – the whole Holtz point was to not sit & maintain – BUT aspire to more. FOUR NC at a minimum!

  7. yaketyyacc - Dec 21, 2012 at 12:46 PM

    thanks for a great interview about another ND legend. Lou Holtz continues to inspire and motivate.
    Do we have another in the making? you betcha!

  8. wisner74 - Dec 21, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    One difference between Kelly and Holtz is that it looks like Alabama is expected to be a bigger challenge than West Virginia was expected to be, and in fact turned out to be. I’m sure the Irish were favored to win that game.

    • papadec - Dec 21, 2012 at 10:35 PM

      wis – it doesn’t matter who is favored to win – only who does win!

  9. 9irish - Dec 23, 2012 at 12:46 AM

    I think Lou was burnt out, as was Ara, after 11 seasons. I think it’s funny how people perceive him now, because he was a real SOB taskmaster as the head coach! It’s even worse now, with the 24/7 internet news cycle…constant…pressure. I think the whole Rockne thing was a convenient benefit to what was going to happen anyway.

    People also forget that Lou should’ve won THREE Nat’l Championships, if not for a field goal (and a bias towards a team they beat) and a mysterious penalty on a runback for a touchdown. Ara was, with a few turn of events, close to winning FOUR. Nat’l Championships are very hard to come by.

    Go Irish

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