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Holtz Has Irish Eyes Laughing : But Comedic Coach Knows Losing Isn't a Joke at Notre Dame

September 13, 1986|RICHARD HOFFER | Times Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The book on Lou Holtz has long been touchdown toastmaster, kind of a coaching comic, a wag with a whistle. His football shtick is so famous by now, in fact, that you'd think he'd been coaching in the Catskills all these years.

Notre Dame, his new employer, has even gone so far as to print five pages of "According to Holtz" in its media guide. Some of the material is enough to make you smile, which is nice, considering that the media guide costs $7.

According to Holtz: "I think it's important anywhere in college football to have good weight training facilities. If we win a big game, I'd like to think our players will be strong enough to carry me off the field."

So you're thinking, great, the school that once gave us the Four Horsemen presents the Three Stooges. Miami 58, Notre Dame 7. "Hey, seriously folks, you been a great crowd, but I wanna tell ya. . . . "

Don't think it. Notre Dame, which struggled manfully for five years under the well-intentioned and serious Gerry Faust--including that humiliating loss to Miami--has not hired a stand-up comic to replace a joke. Just because Holtz once listed, among 107 career goals, the burning desire to appear on "The Tonight Show" does not mean that Notre Dame will take on the look of a game show.

No, football is serious business here. And Lou Holtz knows it. Here's some more according to Holtz, from the unabridged version:

At Thursday's practice, Holtz became mightily displeased with the way his team was running its two-minute offense. Finally, he told the team to get out of his sight, find some other football field and "don't come back until you think you can beat Michigan."

The troops trooped away, leaving Holtz sitting sullenly in his golf cart, a light rain contributing to the late-afternoon gloom. It was some time before they returned. A practice that was supposed to last just one and a quarter hours, in preparation for today's game with Michigan, lasted three hours.

Pretty funny, huh? Life is not necessarily a cabaret, after all.

Likely Holtz, who was hired to "wake up the echoes," according to Athletic Director Gene Corrigan, will be doing more of that particular kind of monologue this season. There is nothing funny, even according to Lou Holtz, about another 5-6 season.

The Irish had two of those under Faust and nothing better than 7-4, pretty desultory by Notre Dame standards. Not since 1980 has a Notre Dame team finished in anybody's top 20. When a football coach leaves his office here, he sees likenesses of Ara Parseghian, Frank Leahy and Knute Rockne. They usually get the picture. It took Faust five years.

Holtz, who has coached at eight schools in eight states and finished a winner in every one of them, is mindful of his role here in a gallery of coaching immortals. "The unique thing about Notre Dame is they expect you to win," he says.

Holtz has won everywhere he's been, most recently at Minnesota, where his patter helped fill the stands in his two years there and, moreover, where his coaching turned the Gophers into winners. Since his first head coaching job at William and Mary, in 1969, Holtz has a 116-65 record, and his teams have been in 11 bowl games, six of those while at Arkansas. It doesn't make anybody here forget the Rock, but there are more recent memories to obliterate.

Faust, a legend in high school coaching, was apparently in over his head here. His legacy, besides losing more games in Notre Dame history than any other coach, is something of an ongoing shambles. Holtz was aghast to find six quarterbacks on the roster, for example.

The corrective coaching has been obvious, even though Holtz downplays any changes. He says it's all a matter of fundamentals, anyway--tackling, blocking, you know.

Nevertheless, he juggled his 13 returning starters like Indian clubs, turning linebackers into defensive tackles and tight ends into offensive tackles.

Other changes have been less apparent. But it is said that under Holtz, the program is somewhat more regimented. Players sit up straight, are not late to meetings and are somewhat better groomed. This evidently is his attack on mental sloppiness that allowed the Irish to be penalized 603 yards last season, twice that of their opponents.

The workouts are tougher, too. The so-called quickness and agility drills, which were held at 6:15 a.m. during the spring workouts, had an emetic effect on many of the players. With Holtz, there are gags and then there are gags.

With Notre Dame's schedule, which includes Michigan State, Alabama, Penn State and LSU, it may be some time before Holtz's coaching philosophy becomes entirely apparent. That is, he won't win big. At least not immediately.

But if he doesn't, it won't be for lack of trying. He says he gets up at 5:30 a.m., has his first meeting at 7 and, between practices and film watching, doesn't get home until 10 p.m. "And then until 12, I get ready for the next day's meetings," he says.

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