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Notre Dame Football Throwback Thursday: The Echoes of Coach Holtz

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“I can’t believe that God put us on this earth to be ordinary.”

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Photo by Bernstein Associates/Getty Images

With the current absence of (most) live sports, I’ve been watching a lot of old Notre Dame Fighting Irish football games... the majority of which were coached by Lou Holtz. Watching him in action reminds me of what a tremendous head coach he was during his years at Notre Dame. Since I began writing about Notre Dame football, I have collected quite a few Coach Holtz stories, and once again I am toying with the idea of continuing to cultivate this collection and turn it into a possible book. What say you? Would you enjoy such a book? Or is there too much Coach Holtz material already out there?

Today for my Throwback Thursday post I’d like to lead with a couple of my favorite Coach Holtz quotes, and then share a few of the stories his lads have shared with me. I hope this brightens your day!

In the words of Coach Holtz...

“Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.”

“Adversity is another way to measure the greatness of individuals. I never had a crisis that didn’t make me stronger.”

“Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.”

“You don’t go to Notre Dame to learn something, you go to Notre Dame to be somebody.”

“Those who know Notre Dame, no explanation’s necessary. Those who don’t, no explanation will suffice.”

“I can’t believe that God put us on this earth to be ordinary.”

In the words of his lads ...

Alvin Miller

Each young man who crossed Coach Holtz’s path was influenced in such a way that they will never forget the impact he left on their life. Coach Holtz made sure that the players he coached had the support network they needed to become the best young men possible. He prepared them for what they would experience on the field as well as what they would experience in life after football. His words of wisdom, however, often came with a little Holtz humor.

Here are Alvin’s memories of Coach Holtz in his own words, “During Coach Holtz’s first year at Notre Dame, we were in a 4th down situation with two yards to go and Coach Holtz called a time out. He was trying to figure out whether or not we could get these two yards. The offensive line was already pretty pumped up and so first Coach Holtz asks the right tackle, ‘Can you beat your man?’ And he responds with a resounding, ‘Yes!’ Then he asks the guard, ‘Can you push your guy back?’ And he answers with a resounding ‘Yes!’ He asks the entire line, ‘Can you do it?’ And in unison they say, ‘Yes!’ And then Holtz says, ‘Okay, let’s punt.’”

Allen Rossum

Coach Holtz did a great job at preparing his players for what they would encounter on game day. What that often translated into was that practices were a nightmare and game days were a breeze. His players did everything they could to avoid Coach Holtz’s attention, but many of their favorite memories are of such moments. Here are a few of Allen Rossum’s favorite Coach Holtz Moments.

“I would have to begin with my memories of him teaching me to catch punts. Hilarious! Even though I never returned a punt or a kickoff before, Coach Holtz asked me if I could return one kickoff per game for him. The funny part was, him attempting to catch them. He swore he also taught Rocket Ismail and Tim Brown the same thing.”

His next favorite Lou Holtz memory came the night before the first game of the 1996 season. “Coach Holtz had us all in the indoor facility, lying down on the field, all the lights were out and he’s talking us through the game that would occur the next day. ‘Sophomore Allen Rossum is going to take the opening kickoff. You guys are going to block for him and he’s going to score.’ Thanks for the pressure coach, I thought. Well, as it so happened, Purdue kicked the opening kickoff to me and I ran 99 yards and scored a touchdown. I was so excited that I was just jumping up and down in the end zone. After that I would return one kickoff per game and scored twice more that year.”

“Another favorite Coach Holtz memory occurred during my sophomore season while we were in Washington playing the Huskies. Toward the end of the game Derrick Mayes scored the go-ahead touchdown and we led by 2, I think. All we needed to do was hold them for the win. They were putting together a big drive to win the game when I intercepted the ball with only the need to take a knee for the win. Well, I had other thoughts as I raced up the sideline. Lou was screaming at me, ‘Get down, get down!’ He was saying other things that are rated R but after I crossed the 50-yard line he changed his tune (and said) ‘Run, Run, RUN!’ I wound up scoring the touchdown that sealed the game. He went from cursing me out to cheering me on to score.”

Bobby Brown

The images of Coach Holtz dragging a player off the field and yelling into his helmet were commonplace in the late 80s and early 90s, but what may have appeared as coach being mean was simply him expecting more of his players. Bobby Brown tells some of his favorite memories of the legendary Coach Holtz.

“People always ask me, was Coach Holtz really that mean? He demanded the absolute best out of everyone, and that can come across as mean, but he asked more of you than you could ever have asked of yourself. In doing that, he was changing the level of expectation you had for yourself. He knew how to build you up as well as break you down. He had a special way of treating each player because he took the time to get to know what made you tick. He knew who to push and how hard to push, but he also knew when you needed a hug and to be built up. It was a constant roller coaster, but he was great at what he did.”

From the moment they stepped on campus, Coach set his expectations for Bobby and his class, and held them accountable the entire time they were at Notre Dame. “When Lou Holtz had his first meeting with my freshman class, we thought we were pretty hot (stuff). We were the consensus No. 1 recruiting class that year. The freshmen and the coaches who recruited us were all sitting in this big meeting room waiting for Coach Holtz. As we are sitting there waiting we are all talking, bragging about all of the things that we accomplished in high school, and the buzz is getting louder and louder. When Coach Holtz walks in, the noise quiets down some, but apparently not as much as he had expected. Coach Holtz says, “I’m going to walk out of this room, and when I walk back in, you’re going to be sitting quietly with your shoulders back, heads up tall, and your hands on your knees.” I didn’t even know I possessed that kind of posture. But he said it with such conviction that we all knew that we had to be sitting perfectly and quietly when he came back in. When the upperclassmen came in a few days later, he walked into the room and they did it automatically. We were all in awe at the respect that he demanded … and received. Just like that.”

“Every year there is one player who has the classic Coach Holtz accent, who is the token Coach Holtz impersonator. That was me. At the end of the season the freshman put on the skits at the bowl game. I got to do the Holtz impersonation at the Orange Bowl and I was so nervous that Holtz would see it. In my best Lou Holtz accent, talking about me: ‘When I recruited you from Florida, they said you were fast. Your film must have been in fast forward, I don’t see speed. Can you hit fast forward please!’”

“I think he practices his pep talks at night. There is no way someone can say the witty things that he does without practicing. He is a brilliant man. Even when he’s being condescending and making you feel like a gnat he does it in a brilliantly witty way.”

This is just a fraction of the Coach Holtz lore I’ve collected. What do you think? Do you want to see more of this?

I’ve got some new interviews coming your way including a former Notre Dame softball player who was on the first ND varsity team. What other stories would you like to see?

Cheers & GO IRISH!