Arkansas FootballCoach Lou Holtz was driving through the streets of Fayetteville recently at hisspeed limit, which is to say approximately twice as fast as the signs say thelocal police consider their speed limit. Suddenly, Holtz made a left turn intothe teeth of oncoming traffic. Asked by his passenger if he felt that what hehad done had been prudent, Holtz sniffed. "Goldurn it, I don't judge when Ishould turn by the traffic," he said, "I judge by my watch—and we'relate." While this outlook sometimes disconcerts those who conductthemselves in a more conventional manner, it is classic Lou Holtz.
Holtz, 41, is, forsure, his own man. He describes himself as "a guy 5'10", 152 pounds,who wears glasses, talks with a lisp and has a physique that looks like I'vehad beriberi and scurvy." He's a wonderfully erratic whirlwind, spoutingone-liners one minute, exploding with rage the next. "I don't want anybodyto ever do a story of my life and call it Ruts" he says. Holtz starts everyday hopelessly overscheduled, then adds to it. "I work from dawn toexhaustion," he says. "If there's not a crisis, I'll create one."All of which makes him consistently late.
When Holtz getsinto a car or an airplane, he inevitably asks how long it will take to get towherever it is he's going, then asks why the time can't be cut in half. Hepoints out that a delay is sure to mean the loss of a tackle prospect to Texas,or that the booster-club membership will be working on Turns by the time hesits down as guest of honor. Holtz invariably twists his watch to the side ofhis wrist, having concluded that in this awkward position he can see it morequickly, without having to turn his arm. He recalls with dismay the first timehe took Frontier Airlines Flight 670 out of Fayetteville. "I didn't knowthat was how many times we stopped before I got where I was going," Holtzsays. Once, when he was behind schedule in Richmond after a night flight fromColorado Springs, he demanded of a startled driver, "Gawdawg it, why areyou stopped at this red light?"
Holtz takesExcedrin for his head, Captain Black for his pipe and 25 cups of Lipton per dayfor his throat. If you talked as much and as fast as Lou Holtz, your throatwould need constant lubrication, too. And while Holtz would be talking like atape recorder set at fast forward even if he didn't have anything to say, thisyear he does, because many experts believe that the Razorbacks have anexcellent chance of winning their first-ever undisputed national championship.And what does Holtz expect from Arkansas? "I expect to be paid."
September 10, 1978
Last year, Holtz'first at Arkansas, the best anyone expected was a break-even season. ExceptHoltz, who figured on a national championship. Consequently, he directed theHogs to an 11-1 record and the No. 3 ranking. The highlight of the season was a31-6 upset of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. This result was particularlyshocking because three offensive players, who among them had scored 23 ofArkansas' 39 touchdowns, were left off the traveling squad, a fourth(All-America Guard Leotis Harris) was hurt in practice before the game and didnot play, and a fifth (Free Safety Howard Sampson) went out early in the game.The victory was a demonstration of one of Holtz' maxims: "Don't tell me howrocky the sea is. Just bring the goldurned ship in."
Annihilating theSooners was especially gratifying for a man who had been a conspicuous failure12 months earlier. In his first and only season as head coach of the New YorkJets, Holtz had a 3-11 record, and was so mortified he just up and quit. Hehates to even talk about his stint in the pros. "The few talents God gaveme are better suited for college," Holtz says. "I didn't have thebackground for that job and I didn't find that I enjoyed it."
Holtz knew he wasin trouble from his first day with the Jets when he wanted to phone hisquarterback, Joe Namath, and was told he'd have to clear the call throughNamath's agent. He was briefly heartened when Linebacker Greg Buttle told him,"I want to play so badly I'll play for free." "That's commendable,son," said Holtz. Said Buttle, "But if you want me to practice...."When none of the Jets would sing the team song that Holtz had written, the NewYork media portrayed him as some kind of rube cheerleader. Still, Holtz isquick to say, "The people in New York were great to me. The only thingwrong with that whole situation was me."
Immediately afterHoltz quit the Jets, Frank Broyles, Arkansas' athletic director and footballcoach, called him. Holtz could not have been more receptive. Says Broyles, whostepped down as coach after 19 years in favor of Holtz, "Pro ball was sostrange to Lou that he even missed the alums." Holtz hates cold weather;before accepting the Arkansas job he was told by Broyles that on many occasionsin January he wouldn't need a coat in Fayetteville. "He was right,"says Holtz. "I needed a parka."
Once in Arkansas,Holtz found that everybody was for him, that everybody wanted to help him.Before his first game, a minister giving the invocation offered gratitude for"our new coach, new players and new plays." Whereupon, Holtz backed himup by calling a pass on Arkansas' first play from scrimmage to show thatwide-open football was the new order of the day. "We threw it clear down tothe eight-yard line," Holtz recalls. "It was exciting. I would havepreferred, of course, that we had caught it."
This year, theprayers are even more grateful. At a Little Rock banquet, Father George W.Tribou explained to the Lord, "Lou now wears the mantle of divinity inArkansas and gets more hosannas than You do. I know You will give him anothergood season as a reward for cleaning up his language." Holtz is trying tocontrol his cussing—thus his frequent goldurn-its, gawdawg-its and other SnuffySmith expressions. He backslides but explains, "The good Lord allows justso much profanity on a team and I use up our entire quota."
But while mostArkansas fans worship at Holtz' feet, they did require a few adjustments fromhim. Early on, Lou decided to make the Hog emblems on the helmets bigger andput stripes down the middle of the headgear. Nope, Lou, came the letters frommore than 300 fans. At an early game, he wore a green sweater (he won't admitit was a Jet sweater but concedes "it did come from New York") and anavalanche of Razorback-red sweaters began arriving in the mail the next day.Then he did an air-conditioner commercial and endorsed a political candidate.Nope, Lou, don't do that. Grumps Holtz, "Being head coach at Arkansas islike being a state park."
But it can also belike being President. As Holtz was racing for an airplane recently, the metaldetector went off as he passed through on the double. "Oh, go ahead,"shouted the guard. "Anybody who beat Oklahoma 31-6 isn't gonna blow up noairplane."
Indeed, it was theOklahoma game that made Holtz a folk hero. Despite an excellent season in whichthe only loss was to No. 1-ranked Texas—by four points—Arkansas was a 12½-pointunderdog in the early line for the Orange Bowl. Then, 13 days before the game,Holtz announced that three of his best players—all of them black, including BenCow-ins, a Heisman candidate this year—would not be on the traveling squadbecause of a dormitory incident involving a girl. There were threats oflawsuits and of a boycott by black players. Holtz held fast. The game wasbriefly taken off the boards and when it went back on, the spread was 17.
This season thethree players Holtz disciplined showed up for practice in peak physicalcondition. Cowins, who was the Southwest Conference's second-best rusher in1977, says, "I can't accept what he did but I respect it. It took a lot ofcourage. And I can't really say he has been unfair." Immediately after theOrange Bowl game, Holtz started receiving an average of 72 speaking invitationsa week. He also got 12,000 letters in support of his firm discipline and inpraise of his victory over Oklahoma.
Spring practice atArkansas is particularly arduous. Last year Holtz gave out T shirts that said,SPRING 1977 SURVIVOR. This year the shirts read, SPRING 1978 WAS A BIG HIT.Holtz says his practices are "no worse than your ordinary death march,"but he never forgets one of the underpinnings of his philosophy: "Don'tever ask a player to do something he doesn't have the ability to do becausehe'll question your ability as a coach, not his as an athlete." After onerecent arduous session, Holtz was asked what had been accomplished. "Weestablished who is going to coach this team," he said.
At practice, Holtzranges from tyrannical to hysterical to hilarious. "In the first few days,you want to set the tempo," he says, "get everybody's head out of theclouds and onto football." Holtz grabs players by their face masks andshakes them; he flails at them with his hat; he throws his hat in disgust; hesmacks players on the rear with his omnipresent manila folder. "Once thingsget going, then you begin to build confidence," he says. "You praiseloudly and criticize softly."
Holtz once brokehis hand when he slammed it through a blackboard. Film cans and projectors havebeen thrown when Holtz and his offensive coordinator, Larry Beightol, have beenin the same projection room, though both unconvincingly say they haven'texactly thrown them at each other. When he is displeased with practice, Holtzhas been known to turn his watch back and start over. "We're gonna get intwo good hours," he told his troops recently, "even if it takes sixhours."
Assistant CoachPete Cordelli says, "Lou has an uncanny knack for knowing when to tear youdown and when to build you up. He insists that the players come up to his levelbecause he's sure not coming down to theirs." Holtz has few rules, but eachis pragmatic. For example, players can play their stereos as loudly as theywant in the dorm—as long as the guy in the next room can't hear it.
Yet Holtz seemsunmercifully tough on his quarterback, the superlative Ron Calcagni. Holtztells him, "I yell at you so much in practice that the game will be easy.You'll be glad for it to come, because I can't be out there with you and therewill be so much noise you can't hear me." When, in a pressure situation,Holtz asks Calcagni what play he thinks might work, Ron invariably suggests onein which he runs with the ball. Holtz likes Calcagni's spunk. He equates itwith the idea that anybody can walk 50 feet on a one-foot-wide board if it'stwo inches off the ground, but put it up 200 feet and few people dare try."See, we never think about failure when the goal is low," says Holtz.Every year, his goals are win the conference, go to a bowl and win the nationalchampionship. Says one friend, "He even thought he could win a nationalchampionship when he was at William & Mary."
Holtz' dicta areno turnovers, no missed assignments, no foolish penalties, a superior kickinggame and perfect goal-line play. Just like every coach in the country. But hisfire, his dedication and his personality (often he'll pause during practice anddo a magic trick for his players in order to illustrate a point) weave a kindof spell over the Razorbacks. True, he can be corny, he can even be wrong, buthe is always positive and outspoken.
And unorthodox.Last year he advertised in the school paper for someone who could snap the ballon punts. A number of people showed up to try. One was good enough to make theteam. But just before the Oklahoma State game, the player called Holtz andsaid, "I can't take the pressure. I'm gonna quit. What if I make a badsnap?" Whimpered Holtz, "What if I get fired?"
Unlike manycoaches, Holtz always plays his second offensive unit for at least one seriesof downs each half. He even did it in the Texas loss. "It's not hard tounderstand if you've been a second-teamer all your fife," he explains. Andhow does he motivate offensive linemen? "I tell them the offensive line isthe last stop before the bus stop."
Whether Arkansaswill be Holtz' last coaching' stop is, of course, not known, but there iswidespread speculation that when Woody Hayes retires at Ohio State, Holtz willbe a prime candidate for the job. Holtz was a defensive backfield coach underHayes in 1968 and recalls O. J. Simpson's 80-yard touchdown run against theBuckeyes in the Rose Bowl. Hayes screamed, "Why did he go 80 yards?"Said Holtz, "Coach, that's all he needed."
Holtz begancoaching as a senior at Kent State after a knee injury and an operation endedhis career as a 152-pound center and linebacker. "I was not a good footballplayer," he states unequivocally. At graduation time, Lou wanted only tomarry Beth Barcus and settle down with the high school coaching job he had beenoffered in Euclid, Ohio. But Kent State Coach Trevor Rees persuaded Holtz totake a job as a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa, where Holtzreceived his master's degree in 1961.
Following hisassistant job at Iowa, he held similar positions at William & Mary,Connecticut, South Carolina and Ohio State. In 1969, Lou finally landed a headcoaching job, at William & Mary, and in 1972 he took over at North CarolinaState. "I'm not a magician," he told the Wolfpack fans. "There's nosuch thing as magic." Then he'd do some of his magic tricks. But there maybe such a thing as magic: NC State went to four straight bowls under Holtz.
Once, trying tomake ends meet, Holtz signed up to sell cemetery plots. "You can't sellanything," Beth chided. "She was wrong," Lou says. "By the endof the summer, I'd sold our stereo, our car and our television."
Being at Arkansaswith a national championship contender and slavering adulation is very headystuff for a scrawny kid from Follansbee, W. Va. "I loved that state,"says Holtz. "I stayed there until the age of reason." The Holtz familywas not all that poor, but Lou did develop the habit of "looking in mywallet, not the mirror, to see whether I needed a haircut."
Later his familymoved to East Liverpool, Ohio, which, he says, "is on the river, exceptevery spring when it's in the river." At East Liverpool High he was a103-pound blocking back and pulling guard. On Saturday night after a game, thebig deal for Lou was to go down to the Golden Star Dairyland on Route 30 andcount the cars and the girls.
When he marriedBeth, whom he met when she was dating a mutual friend in East Liverpool, Louhad a booklet of car payments and $6 in his pocket. His mother-in-law sent Betha dress and Lou promptly returned it with a note, "When it gets to where Ican't clothe my wife, I'll keep her in the house."
Beth wishes Louwould slow down some so he could spend more time with his family. Says Holtz,"I know the names of three of our four kids." He does not, however,know his address, but he can get his home phone number correct within onedigit. Why does Beth put up with his erratic schedule and temperament?"She's easily satisfied by the very best," says Holtz.
Holtz is awalking, nonstop one-liner. "I think that they come out of the lack ofhaving anything else to say," he suggests. "Sometimes I say somethingserious and everybody laughs, which doesn't help my self-confidence a lot."Holtz just thinks funny, which makes it possible for him to get away withsaying almost anything. At a roast for Arkansas Governor David Pryor, M.C.Holtz said, "There are two sides to every issue and we're fortunate to havea governor who takes both sides." But because people expect him to be Mr.Laffs, it can be a jolt when he's not. Like when things were going lousy beforethe Orange Bowl and all anyone wanted to talk about was the absent players. Loustormed into his required interview and said, "Our practice was extremelypoor. I feel we'll play extremely well. Are there any questions? Thankyou." But that, too, is typical of another, less obvious, side of Holtz. Headmits to higher peaks and deeper valleys than most people.
Thus far Holtz hasa good relationship with Broyles, the Arkansas legend. "My office is 87steps from Broyles'," says Holtz, "87 giant steps." The lines ofauthority are clear. When Holtz is asked about rumors that Arkansas, the onlynon-Texas school in the Southwest Conference, might join the Big Eight, hesays, "Administrators administer, coaches coach, players play. AskBroyles." Broyles concedes it is a possibility. And if Holtz is publiclymum on the subject, his son K.R., 12, is not. He wears a T shirt that says,ARKANSAS BIG EIGHT CHAMPS 1980.
Late the otherevening, Holtz was in the Town Club, a private spot overlooking the Ozarks,putting up with adoring fans. One said, "Lou, if you never do anotherthing...." Holtz interrupted, "I probably won't." Somebody elsetold him of the guy who came there for lunch and had 23 martinis. "Goldurnit," said Holtz, "if I hadn't gotten served a meal by then, I wouldhave walked out."
Finally, leftalone, he mused that "I really only ever wanted two things. First, I neverreally wanted to be rich. Second, I never really wanted to be poor." Withan income of around $100,000 a year (including salary, television, speaking anda housing allowance), Holtz certainly is comfortably off. Then Holtz utteredyet another one-liner, this one not intended to draw a laugh. "Actually,all I ever genuinely wanted," he said, "was to be the best in myfield."
To learn what makes Holtz' Hogs No. 1, and who will challenge them, turn pagefor scouting reports on the Top 2