This article first appeared in the Oct. 15, 1994 program for the Notre Dame-BYU game. It has been reprinted here with permission of its author, Karen Heisler. Beth Holtz died Tuesday at the age of 82.
At a glance, Beth Holtz seems the exact opposite of her more famous husband.
She’s brunette; he’s blond.
She favors tennis for camaraderie and friendship. He plays golf with intensity, passion and a penchant for winning.
She savors her anonymity and ferociously guards her family’s privacy. He accepts, at times welcomes, the spotlight of the public arena.
She sits calmly in the stands, enjoying the game, the atmosphere and the antics of the crowd around her, while he often stalks the sidelines of Notre Dame Stadium like a caged leopard.
Yet, the two are more alike than not, sharing a strong belief in God, family and hard work. And that, along with a healthy sense of humor, has held the pair together for more than three decades.
“What’s wonderful about a life is that you build it together over the years,” says Beth. “You just grow closer and closer. You think that when you’re married, you know what love is, but when you’ve experienced it for 35 years, you realize you were just beginning. And you look back and you think the best time is now.”
As a young woman, Beth certainly couldn’t have imagined where life would lead her when she started dating her future husband after graduating from East Liverpool (Ohio) High School. She had no idea she would move nearly a dozen times, give birth to four children in just as many states, travel throughout the United States, visit foreign countries and eat dinner at the White House. Nor did she think she’d be married to the most visible college football coach in the country.
“I’m sure one of Lou’s goals was to coach at Notre Dame, but we never sat around and talked about what it would be like to coach at Notre Dame,” says Beth. “I was so busy raising four children and trying to be a decent mom and wife, just trying to maintain the life we grew up with. Where I grew up with mom and dad really taught me a lot about the value of family, hard work, caring about other people and doing for other people. I just think that if you spend your time doing that, your life works out. There is a plan to it.”
Beth admits to knowing little about the game of football when she and Lou were married in 1961.
“Lou would bring film home to watch at night and do his work,” she recalls with a grin. “He sat and taught me what he was watching. I’d ask him questions. I was a pretty cheap date. I’d pop popcorn and he’d sit and show movies. And that was about all we could afford on his first assistant’s job, too.”
In the early days of Holtz’s career in coaching, Lou and Beth moved every two years as he earned his stripes in assistant positions at William & Mary, Connecticut, South Carolina and Ohio State. But if anyone was prepared to pack and unpack, pick up and put down roots, it was the easy-going, even-keeled, always optimising Beth.
“I feel really fortunate because we were able to meet so many wonderful people throughout the whole country,” says Beth. “And you find that people is what it’s all about. I was just as happy as the wife of an assistant coach at Ohio State as I was at any point as a head coach’s wife. It doesn’t matter. It’s really about being around family and people you care about.”
Family, not football, has always come first in the Holtz household. Although she owned her own business, a tennis apparel shop in Fayetteville when Lou was head coach at the University of Arkansas, her husband and children were her number-one mission.
“Not working outside the home has enabled me to keep things on a very even keel around here,” says Beth. “And that’s one thing I do work very hard at because I feel it’s important for Lou. His life at the office is so chaotic, and I think he needs a very quiet, tranquil place where he can get away from that. Nobody can keep up that pace 18 or 20 hours a day.”
But things did get a little wacky when the children — Luanne, Skip, Kevin and Liz — were growing up. Both Beth and Lou went to great lengths to see that their children had a normal, happy childhood by instilling in them the same values of faith, family and responsibility that they themselves were taught. While dad may not have been around the house as much as mom, the children always knew they were both parents’ pride and joy and top priority. One night a week was designated “family night,” and no game plan ever interrupted that get-together.
“Our children feel they were raised in a normal, healthy home environment because they knew they came first with our time,” explains Beth. “When Lou was gone so much, it wasn’t because he wanted to be gone, but because he had the time demands on him. The children always understood. And as Skip has said so well in interviews he’s done at Connecticut, ‘Yes, I would have liked for my dad to have been there, but it was the quality of time he spent with us, not the quantity.’ They really believe that; it’s not just a pat phrase. They know how important they are to us. And Lou was there for many, many Little League games and other activities. He couldn’t be the coach, but he was very supportive and always in the stands. What he was doing was really secondary to his family relationship, and I think we both learned that from our backgrounds.”
This marks the first football season that at least one Holtz child has not been living in South Bend. Luanne resides in Houston with her husband Terry and daughter Lindsey; Skip left in February with wife Jennifer and son Trey to take the head coaching job at the University of Connecticut; Kevin, a Notre Dame law school graduate, works in Dallas for the Cowboys; and Liz, who married fellow Notre Dame grad Mike Messaglia in June, lives and works in Indianapolis. With the exception of Skip, who rarely has a free Saturday this time of year, all get home for as many Notre Dame games as they can.
And the family still takes an annual vacation in the summer and manages to spend Christmas Day together.
“If you’re home for Christmas, that means you haven’t had a good season,” says Beth with a laugh. “But we do spend the day together and then travel to the bowl site. Last year we were all in Orlando for Thanksgiving, which was wonderful. But I had to find out if I could still cook a turkey after all these years!”
Although she does look forward to the day Lou quits pacing the sidelines, she enjoys football season as much as anyone.
“I just think football season is great because our life has such structure during that time,” she says. “We eat our meals together every night. Dinner may be at 8 or 9 p.m., but we do eat together and that’s important for both of us. Plus our family tries to get here on weekends. And being with the family after a ballgame is how Lou relaxes.”
But she still doesn’t get jittery?
“I don’t get nervous because I can’t affect the outcome,” says Beth. “I just don’t have any anxiety and I think a lot of that I attribute to my strong faith. I really have such a strong personal relationship with the Lord and I feel I give it all over to Him. I’m probably one of the calmest people in the stands. Ask anybody who sits with me. I’ve never been a person who had a lot of highs and lows.”
Although she describes herself as “plain vanilla — stable and boring,” she’s an essential ingredient in a loving, close-knit family that has weathered the highs and lows of a high-profile, yet very private life. Her warmth and genuine kindness have won her friends and admirers at every stop along the way. And her down-to-earth, relaxed manner has served her well in both happy and trying times.
So while some may see the pair as salt and pepper or cream and sugar, Beth and Lou Holtz are a perfectly matched set.