True Legends Never DieBy Dylan Barmmer
|Lou Holtz ranks with the very best.|
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- When Lou Holtz stepped foot on the Notre Dame campus as the University's 27th head football coach back in November of 1985, he brought something very important with him. A winning attitude.
"I'm intense," said Holtz when asked to describe his attitude several years ago. "I think if you are going to do something, you ought to try and do it as well as you can. I don't take losses very well - I admit that. I really and truly don't."
While that attitude was intangible, unable to be grasped the way a quarterback grips a football, it was also something else. It was contagious.
And it was exactly what Notre Dame football needed. Holtz, who had previously resurrected programs at N.C. State, Arkansas, and Minnesota, was hired with the intention of returning Notre Dame to the pantheon of great college football programs, an elite group which they had been denied membership to over the previous five years under the lovable, yet incompetent Gerry Faust, who compiled just a 30-26 record in his five seasons under the Golden Dome.
Holtz did just that, needing only two full years to put the Irish back into a major bowl game for the first time in seven seasons, and achieving the ultimate accolade in college football when he led the Irish to a 12-0 record and their eighth national championship the following season.
He also did something else. He became a Notre Dame legend, whether he wanted to or not.
"When I was hired, I said I didn't come here to be a legend, but to merely serve Notre Dame," said Holtz in his prepared resignation statement last Tuesday. "It is up to others to ascertain whether I accomplished this or not."
While Holtz's legendary status was practically cemented during his team's improbable title run in 1988, he didn't let up after achieving glory so soon in his Notre Dame career. He didn't rest on his laurels. Instead, he forged ahead in spectacular fashion, winning 11 straight games in 1989 to give the Irish their longest ever winning streak of 23 games, and compiling a remarkable 86-19-2 mark over the last nine seasons.
Along the way, Holtz also achieved numerous other accolades, including his 200th career coaching victory against Purdue last season, a school record five bowl victories, finishes of sixth or better in the final Associated Press polls in five of the last eight seasons, a school record nine straight bowl appearances, and a school record three wins over top-ranked teams.
Holtz also passed Rockne on the all-time games coached at Notre Dame list with his 123rd appearance on the Notre Dame sidelines in a 35-0 shutout of Purdue earlier this season, and against Rutgers this weekend, Holtz earned his 100th victory as a Notre Dame head coach.
Had he continued on at the helm of the Irish next season, he would have almost certainly passed Knute Rockne on the all-time victory list. But Holtz decided not to return for a 12th season, saying that his resignation was simply "the right thing to do," and adding, "I have no desire to become the all-time winningest coach at Notre Dame. The record belongs to Knute Rockne or some other coach in the future."
Throughout his 11 seasons at Notre Dame, amidst all that he accomplished and all the setbacks he overcame, Lou Holtz always remained humble. In fact, he downplayed his achievements over the past 11 years as much as he habitually played up the abilities of every team he ever faced, whether it be perennial powers such as Penn State or frequent doormats such as Rutgers.
Holtz's comment when asked what it meant for him to win his 200th game last season typifies this approach.
"If you win 200 football games, it tells me three things," said Holtz. "First, it tells me that I've had a lot of great players and assistant coaches. Second, it tells me that I've lost a lot of games. Third, it tells me that I've been in this game a long, long time."
And Holtz's comments at the announcement of his resignation were no different.
"When I said it's up to other people to ascertain what I did, I meant as to whether I served the University of Notre Dame ably and always put it first and foremost in everything I did," said Holtz when asked how he feels he ranks "with the Leahys and Parseghians."
"That's all I meant by that. As far as a legend is concerned, legends are special people. I was just proud to have served here. And I don't look at my legend or how I will be remembered or anything else. Just to have held the same position as Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian and others is reward enough for me."
Holtz's love for Notre Dame is well documented. Holtz grew up in a Catholic home surrounded by relatives who loved and respected Notre Dame, and his earliest encounters involved the University and its storied history.
"I went to St. Aloysius grade school, and we were taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame," said Holtz when asked to recount his early exposure to Notre Dame. "At lunch, at recess, and at dismissal, we marched out to the Notre Dame Victory March. The impressions I formed about Notre Dame came about because the people I respected so much - my mother, my father, my grandparents, my other relatives - held Notre Dame in such high esteem."
And there can be no doubt that Holtz did too. On Tuesday, he talked about how hard it would be to leave "the best job in the world, the most rewarding," and insisted in his prepared statement that "I am sure there will be many coaches in the future here at Notre Dame, but I feel confident when I say none will be any prouder than I was to represent this University or more loyal to its beliefs or more grateful for the opportunity."
When all is said and done, Lou Holtz will be remembered as a true Notre Dame man, which is exactly what he would desire.
"I will always cherish the fact that I had the opportunity to be a representative of Our Lady's school, both on and off the field. To a Catholic such as myself, no man could ask for a more important role in life."
But there is one additional role which Lou Holtz has played, and will continue to play, whether it is important to him or not. Legend.
Lou Holtz will always be considered a legend, regardless of whether he views himself as one or not. His accomplishments are simply too great, his personality too strong to categorize him as anything less.
"I don't think there's any question that Lou Holtz will be right at the very top of the legendary coaches who have been with Notre Dame, along with Knute Rockne and Ara Parseghian," said Athletic Director Michael Wadsworth following Holtz's announcement. "He has just represented the University in every way in which we could possibly hope and as a result I think that will be recognized well into the future and will qualify him as one of the great legends of the University."
True legends never do die, and Holtz is one of those legends. His memory will live on at Notre Dame long after he himself has left.