SOUTH BEND, Ind. - He is the only man to lead six universities to bowl games. Still, Lou Holtz never considered coaching his primary calling. He had a lot more to teach than X's and O's.
'I coached life. The same thing that would enable you to be a good player would enable you to be a good student, a good father, a good business person, et cetera,' he said.
Holtz, who led Notre Dame to its last national championship in 1988 and also coached William & Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota and South Carolina during his 33-season career, will be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. He will be joined by fellow coaches John Cooper, the only coach to win a Rose Bowl with both a Pac-10 school (Arizona State) and Big Ten school (Ohio State), Jim Donnan, who coached at Marshall and Georgia, and former Missouri Valley coach Volney Ashford.
Former UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman, 1959 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon of LSU and former Oklahoma State tailback Thurman Thomas head the class of 17 players being enshrined during two days of festivities today and Saturday.
Despite all the star power, Holtz will be the main attraction as he returns to the city where he enjoyed his biggest successes, bringing Notre Dame back to power after five lean seasons under Gerry Faust.
Who would have thought that the frail-looking kid who graduated 234th out of a class of 278 at East Liverpool High School in Ohio would have become a standout coach and master motivator? Certainly not his high school guidance counselor, who once told Holtz: 'A lot of people don't know what's going on, but you don't even suspect anything's going on.'
Holtz proved her wrong. There always seems to be something going on when the wisecracking, bespectacled man with lisp is around. He led every team he coached to a bowl game by his second year on campus and led the Fighting Irish to a national championship in his third season en route to a 100-30-2 record in 11 seasons at Notre Dame. That gives him the second most wins in Irish history, just behind Knute Rockne's record of 105-12-5.
Holtz ranks eighth all-time in number of victories by Football Bowl Subdivision coaches, 11 ahead of Ohio State's Woody Hayes, a mentor. Holtz was the defensive backs coach for the Buckeyes when they won the national title in 1968.
What he learned from Hayes was not to worry about being popular with his players.
'Your obligation is to make them the best you possibly can and to have high standards, not lower the standards, and to believe in people,' Holtz said.
Former Notre Dame split end Derrick Mayes said the key to Holtz's success was his ability to inspire.
'Let's face it, it wasn't the X's and O's,' Mayes said. 'There were many times he'd throw the playbook out the window and say, 'We're going to hit them in the mouth, knock them in the dirt.'
Holtz's greatest trait was his ability to rally players and get them to believe in one another, Mayes said.
'It transcended the talent level. I don't think he always had the most talented team. He had teams that played together, worked together and often times those are teams that win more. I think that's his genius,' he said.
A year ago, former players of Holtz formed 'Lou's Lads.' Mayes said the nonprofit organization initially wants to raise money for former Holtz players who can't afford to send their children to college, but hope to expand the scholarship program to others and get involved in community service.
The idea is to follow in the footsteps of 'Leahy's Lads,' a group of former Irish players who played under coach Frank Leahy from 1941-43 and 1946-53 who decided to raise money for a statue of their coach. They later raised money for scholarships.
'Coach Holtz says the resources we need in life are right under our noses. But it's up to us to cultivate and maintain those relationships,' Mayes said. 'That's really the vision behind it all.'
Holtz loves the idea, saying he tried to teach his players they owed something for what they'd been given.
'I tried to teach them that where they can't always repay people, they can certainly pay forward to other people,' he said.