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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 BlueandGold.com’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.”

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