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Irish Got Their Luck Back in Football When They Got Lou Holtz

November 22, 1987|Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Someone once said the three most visible jobs in the country are president of the United States, mayor of New York City and head football coach at Notre Dame. That may be giving the president and the mayor the best of it.

The best winning percentage in college football history belongs to Knute Rockne and the second best belongs to Frank Leahy, both head coaches at Notre Dame.

And Ara Parseghian would be right up there with them except that 13 years coaching outside Notre Dame lowered his percentage.

The current coach on the hot seat, Lou Holtz, may not match those records, college football being what it is these days, but you never know.

"I don't think there are many geniuses in our business, but I think Lou Holtz is one of them," Alabama Coach Bill Curry said before Notre Dames's 37-6 victory last Saturday.

Notre Dame fans certainly have become believers.

After five years under Gerry Faust that produced a 30-26-1 record, including two losing seasons, Holtz debuted a year ago with more of the same--a 5-6 mark. But five of the losses were by a total of 14 points.

And the 1987 Irish were rolling merrily along with an 8-1 record prior to Saturday's visit to Penn State and a No. 7 ranking in the Associated Press poll.

Did someone say dynasty? Not Holtz.

"I don't believe that you're ever gonna reach a point where you can dominate college football the way Notre Dame once did," Holtz said.

"I say that for two reasons. One, because of the limit on scholarships. With only 25 scholarships now that makes it exceptionally difficult. Two is the difficulty of our schedule."

Holtz is reluctant to criticize Faust, but the fact remains that if Notre Dame had been 11-0--or even 10-1 and 9-2--Faust would still be the coach.

"When I came here, I really didn't look at what was here, or the situation," Holtz says. "All I did was say regardless of where we are, what do we have to do to get where we want to go?

"Well, we had farther to go than I had envisioned."

And he got there quicker that he imagined.

"Being realistic, the results may be a little bit ahead of schedule," Holtz says.

"This season has been difficult because we've had to put the team together three different times," he said.

"When we started out, we were gonna try to win with defense . . . and a good kicking game, and not make mistakes on offense. We did that against Michigan and Michigan State. Then people stopped kicking to us; so much for the kicking game."

Then came injuries that forced Holtz to start a different defensive line for six straight weeks.

"So we felt, well, we're gonna have to open it up on offense, which we really didn't care to do because we had some problems there," he said. "And lo and behold, we lose our quarterback (Terry Andrysiak), so now e've got to go with a guy (Tony Rice) that never set foot in this office until August. Never.

"So we're really playing with two freshman quarterbacks and the defense is banged up and people won't kick to you. So we've gone the transition, and very seldom do you have to change in the middle of the stream and have any type of success."

Believe it or not, the quick-quipping Holtz, famous for his one-liners and magic tricks, has become something of an introvert, rarely making public appearances or granting private interviews.

Reminded that every Notre Dame coach before him has commented that you can't envision what the job entails until you're it, Holtz says:

"I would endorse that statement 1,000%. You have no idea of the magnitude of the demands on you, or the pressure that sort of goes with it. Not pressure that you've got to do this, but you just feel an awesome responsibility when you sit there."

If Holtz seems low-key, it's because he wants the media "to focus on our athletes. Consequently, I've given very few interviews when it comes to me personally because Lou Holtz is unimportant; the athletes are (important).

"I'm a little bit more reserved, not because somebody said you ought to be, but just because I feel my role in coaching has changed here. At other places I've been, for the most part--William & Mary, North Carolina State, Minnesota and even Arkansas to a certain extent--they needed to get people into the stands.

"Every place I've ever been, we had to build a football program. At Arkansas, we didn't have to build one; we just had to remodel it to a certain extent. But every other place we've had to build a football program, and usually from the ground up. And to do that, you also needed to get people in the stands, you needed to get attention."

At Notre Dame, which doesn't need to sell tickets (123 sellouts in the last 124 home games) and only has to blink to get on TV, Holtz can concentrate on winning.

"We've always had five goals at virtually every place we've been," he said. "Here, you have four. One, of course, is a winning season; two is to play in a bowl game, three is to play in a bowl game on Jan. 1 and four is to win the national championship. We had those four goals at most places, but another goal was to win the conference championship. Here you don't have that.

"I would hope that we would reach the point here at Notre Dame where we would only have two goals. One, to play on Jan. 1, and two, to win the national championship."

Both of those goals are possible in just Holtz's second year.

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