Lou Holtz is a Hall of Fame college football coach, bestselling author, ESPN television analyst and motivational figure. Yesterday, Holtz took some time to talk with SIOC's Ty Hildenbrandt about his popular television segments, his relationship with Mark May, his thoughts on a playoff system, his opinions on Notre Dame football and his involvement with the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
TH: Your "Pep Talk" and "Dr. Lou" segments have become quite popular among college football fans. Can you shed any light on how those originated?
LH: They've become exceptionally popular and the ratings are incredible. What happened was, a year ago, we were getting ready to do our first pregame show, and 15 minutes before we go on the air, [a producer] came up and said "What would you say to Stanford in the locker room before the game?" I said I'd rather play USC than UCLA because it's easier to spell. And he said, well, just say it on camera. And it took off. So this year they came and said, we'd like to do a segment called "Dr. Lou," where you get a chance to talk about your philosophy, your beliefs, a little bit of sense of humor -- it'll be a three-minute segment each week and we'll just see where it goes. And it has become unbelievable. As a matter of fact, an individual was saying to me yesterday, "You know, nobody knows you're a Hall of Fame football coach, they know you as "Dr. Lou" or the pep talk guy on TV. Most people don't even know you as the coach."
TH: Well with that said, can you please explain how you pulled off that newspaper trick before last year's Florida -- LSU game?
LH: I'm happy to tell you about how we did that newspaper trick that baffled everybody on TV. I wake up in the middle of the night screaming because I can't figure it out myself. It's unbelievable. It's the Anderson Tear Restore Newspaper Trick. And I did that on the Johnny Carson show many years ago. People feel that if I don't do that, it's sort of like Bob Hope not singing Thanks for the Memories.
TH: It seems like you're always at odds with Mark May over one topic or another. It's obvious you both have a great deal of respect for one another, but there's never a shortage of disagreement when you two are on camera. What's your relationship like with Mark off-camera?
LH: We have a marvelous relationship. Let me say this about Mark May: He's a very intelligent individual, he's hard-working, he's a true professional and he's exceptionally intelligent. Now, we have no rehearsal, we have no teleprompter, we have no script -- the disagreement that Mark May and I have is strictly because I look at everything as a coach and he looks at everything as a player. Every time Mark May says something it's "fire the coach!" He never once has said the players fouled up, the players are responsible. It's always the coach's job to motivate them.
TH: You've made no secret of the fact that you'd like to see some sort of playoff decide college football's national champion. Why don't we have one yet?
LH: I think the one argument that most people overlook is: Follow the money. Why don't ya' have a playoff? Well, all the money [in college football] from the bowls and TV goes to the conferences and the schools. The basketball TV money goes to the NCAA. And consequently, when that happens, they decide what happens with the money. And the athletic directors [and others] are not going to give up the revenue. You could have a playoff, that's not very complicated. You could do it a variety of different ways. I think it has to do with the money, but I wish there would be a playoff. But, you know, we had some great games this year, some great bowl match-ups. It makes it interesting.
You hear a lot of people saying "hey, we're national champs," but I hear more people saying "why aren't we?" And the same thing when I was at Notre Dame -- I thought we won two more championships, but we weren't afforded the opportunity to play for it on the field. And because of the NBC contract, there was a little bit of a backlash.
TH: There's no question Notre Dame football has not been the same since the end of your tenure in 1996. Since then, the university has gone through three coaches (if you count George O'Leary) and it's working on a fourth. Obviously, it'd be easy to blame all these coaches for falling short of expectations, but some of the responsibility should also fall on the decision-makers at the university. It's a two-way street. In your opinion, what mistakes did the Notre Dame administration make and do you think it's taken steps to correct them?
LH: I think whenever you hire somebody, you don't have an indication of who's gonna be successful. You might have a background, you might have a reputation, you might have a record. But coaching at Notre Dame is different than any other place. I haven't coached there for 11 years -- I know the problems and the difficulties, but I also know the assets and the positive things about Notre Dame which far outweigh the negative things. Not having been there, the one thing I always feel is that you have to put the faith and confidence in the administration, the trustees and the decision-makers at Notre Dame. And the people that maybe made certain choices are no longer at Notre Dame. You can't really pinpoint the blame or anything else.
I just think that you have two phases of football at Notre Dame. One is the performance of the players on the field. The last couple years, that's been a little bit disappointing, but they've had that before. The other thing you have to look at is the experience the football players are having at Notre Dame. One thing that Notre Dame does that nobody else does is they have a senior exit with all the players. When the players leave, they sit down with the athletic director for an hour and a half. And they're asked questions, and if you get a lot of negative feedback, that tells you, when you look at your performance on the field, the decisions you have to make.
TH: You're of the mindset that retaining Charlie Weis was the right move for Notre Dame. What would it take for you to change your mind and say, "You know what, it might be time to move on to another coach"?
LH: I just believe that, when in doubt, you do nothing. They showed progress this year, they're a young football team. Their schedule's even a little bit easier next year on paper. They should be better. If we're gonna err, let's err on the side of patience.
TH: You had great success as a college coach and amassed the eighth-most wins of any coach in Division 1-A history. But coaching, to you, was about more than just wins and losses -- it was a responsibility to instill values in student athletes. Talk about your focus as a head coach of a major college football program.
LH: I felt my job at Notre Dame or any other school was to prepare [my players] for life. To teach them how to win, to make sure they got an education, and to make sure they cared about other people and that they showed their love for other people and were involved in community projects. When I was at South Carolina, we got the whole team involved in picking up trash and trying to beautify the state.
I think we lose sight. Everybody wants to talk about "who's national champion." And when somebody does something bad or negative, that's what everybody wants to talk about. And that's what you read about. But there are so many good young men that do so many marvelous things for other people that we don't read about, we don't hear about. I think we lose sight of what college football should be about. It's not just about winning championships. Yes, that's important. But it's also about being productive citizens and if you are going to help other people at a younger age, you're going to continue to do that the rest of your life. And I hope it'll serve as an inspiration to other people who say, "I wanna be part of [something like] the Allstate Good Works Team, I think that's a greater honor, down the road, than maybe being All-America."
TH: You mention the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. You're currently serving as the team's spokesperson. Why align yourself with Allstate? Talk about your involvment.
LH: Allstate, which has had a marvelous relationship over the years with college football said, "Hey, we wanna recognize people who've really done some very heroic things."
I just believe that, being involved in athletics and coaching, when an athlete came to our school, the very very minimum he should expect was the best leadership and the best coaching in the country. And not just on the football field. But teaching him how to succeed in life as well. I always felt if people can trust you and if they know you're committed to excellence, you know they care about other people, that good things are gonna happen to you in your personal life, your professional life and your social life. That's what Allstate's trying to do. They're trying to make sure that there's an awful lot of good things being done, and let's focus on that.
I'm involved with it because I believe in it. Allstate's been a true friend of college football for many, many years. And I think college football's the greatest sport in the world. I was up at the Hall of Fame a couple of days ago where I was fortunate enough to be inducted. And I said at that time, this is the greatest game because it teaches about life, it teaches about unselfishness, it teaches you about teamwork. And I think that this team of Allstate Good Works people is what life's all about.