I am a Notre Dame graduate, class of 1991, and I say all the time that I owe at least seven of the ten best memories I have from college to Lou Holtz.
Holtz was the head football coach at Notre Dame while I was there. He arrived in South Bend in 1986, a year before I got there. (Hint: One of us arrived to massive fanfare. The other arrived with a case of beer and a poster of Miss Elizabeth.)
Also, to be fair, I make the same "seven out of ten" crack when anyone mentions Tim Brown, Raghib Ismail, or Tony Rice (all on-field staples of the Holtz Era), so my "out of ten" math doesn't really work, but my point should be well taken -- Notre Dame football whooped ass while I was a student there from 1987 through 1991, highlighted by a national championship in 1988.
And Holtz was the man behind it all.
So the little fella with the wire rimmed glasses and the signature lisp was and always will be kind of a big deal to me. So when I saw that Coach Holtz (Law of Coaching: Even when you're a television personality, your title is still "Coach".) was planning on 2014 being his last season as part of ESPN's college football coverage, that saddened me a little bit.
At age 77, Holtz is not angling for another head coaching job (although if anyone has the energy to give it a go, it's probably him). My guess is that it's finally time to play a lot of golf, hang with grandchildren, and be a full time husband. (It has to be mentioned that Holtz's wife, Beth, has bravely battled throat cancer over the last several years.)
There will be another time and place to reflect on the coaching career of Lou Holtz, who was the master rebuilder, getting his teams to bowl games by his second year at all of his stops along the way, without fail. But for now, let's briefly reflect on the television character that was "Dr. Lou" and pay tribute.
When it comes to college football coverage on ESPN, I think Holtz will be fondly remembered (ok, maybe not fondly by everybody) for certain "bits," some of which were slathered in the one thing he will truly be remembered for -- his faux adversarial relationship with former Pitt and Washington Redskin offensive lineman Mark "May Day" May, as the two seemed to find new ways each week to call the other one "stupid." For some, it got old, but as long as you knew it was shtick (it was shtick, right?), it was pretty harmless.
As for the Holtzian bits, here are the ones that will likely retire along with the coach, or at least never be the same if they choose to keep those segments:
COACH HOLTZ PEP TALK If I'm not mistaken, this bit was born the week after Michigan lost to Appalachian State at home to open the 2007 season. The Wolverines had to follow up the biggest upset of the modern era with a game against the Oregon Ducks, and Coach Holtz gave a pep talk to Michigan with presumably what he would tell them before bursting out of the locker room to throttle the enemy. Here was that pep talk...
For the record, Michigan obviously didn't watch the Holtz video, as they lost 39-7 to the Ducks again at home.
My personal favorite Holtz faux pep talk was this one for undefeated Kansas back in 2007 as they readied themselves for a border skirmish with Missouri. My favorite things about this one are 1) Holtz's setting a catchphrase per second ratio that would make The Rock's head spin, and 2) Holtz's citing actual Kansas history from centuries ago in a pep talk to 18 year olds...
My only disappointment with this speech? That he didn't wear the clothes of actual Kansas head coach Mark Mangino (pushing 400 pounds at the time) in making this speech. It would've looked like Holtz was wearing a big, blue parachute.
DR. LOU Eventually, Holtz made the on-air jump from pep talking head coach to football psychiatrist, taking phone calls from various college football personalities and solving their personal and professional problems by spraying them with some more metaphors and catchphrases, all of which oddly made sense to anyone who spoke fluent Holtz-ese....
My only critique: These segments would have been funnier if it were players with actual problems calling the doctor. "Coach, this is LeGarrette Blount. I just sucker punched a guy in the face and now I'm suspended for the season. Do you have any suggestions on what to do with my free time?"
COLLEGE FOOTBALL COURT These segments were the height of the May vs Holtz rivalry, where the producers would bottle up all the grudge and have it play out in a mock courtroom environment, which got real dicey for two "litigators" whose arguments were based more on calling the other guy an idiot than on, y'know, real facts! This one below is easily the best episode, as Counselor Holtz goes gangster on his lectern at the very end....
NOTRE DAME BIAS And if you think I'm ignoring the most obvious (and for many of you, infuriating) facet of the Holtz television persona, his love (ok, bias) for Notre Dame, I am not. Look, I get it. Holtz was in the minority when he picked Notre Dame to beat Alabama, for largely esoteric reasons based in Irish hocus pocus more than anything....
...but he wasn't alone. Many experts thought Notre Dame had what it took to pull off the upset.
Now, Holtz probably was the only one picking the 2007 Irish as a sleeper top ten team that season...
That year, Notre Dame finished 3-9, their worst season since the 60's.
So maybe Dr. Lou was a little bit off. Hell, cut him some slack. Lou Holtz wasn't a real doctor anyway! He's the Coach! And he will be missed.
SO SAYS ME!!!
(In Holtz's honor, here is where I angrily flip over my desk and storm out of the room, cursing Mark May the entire time.)
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