WINS, LOSSES, ANDLESSONS
by Lou Holtz
William Morrow, 318pages, $25.95
Lou Holtz takesspecial delight, as he tells his life story, in referring to all the times heappeared on The Tonight Show--as if he still can't believe he was invited to bea guest. The reader is drawn to conclude, after the third or fourth mention,that the coach treasured those nationally televised moments with Johnny almostas much as he did his bowl game appearances.
September 24, 2006
That's not acriticism. Holtz is a born showman, which makes his autobiography an engagingread. Even as he outworked and outschemed opponents over a 33-year collegehead-coaching career--his lifetime winning percentage is .651--it was alwaysapparent that this slight, lisping martinet was put on earth to entertain. Whenan irate Woody Hayes shouted, "Why did O.J. go 80 yards?" at the 1969Rose Bowl, it was Holtz, Ohio State's defensive backs coach, who replied,"Coach, that's all he needed."
Asked to comment onthe oranges flung onto the field after his 1977 Arkansas team earned a berth inthe Orange Bowl, Holtz quipped, "Thank God we didn't get invited to theGator Bowl."
As a wispyyoungster with a speech impediment, Holtz learned how to crack a joke in orderto keep the bullies at bay. Some of the most eye-opening moments in this bookdetail his early years in Follansbee, W.Va., where the Holtz family lived in atwo-room cellar. "I always knew I'd had plenty to eat," Holtz writes,"because when I asked for more, my father would say, 'No, you've hadplenty.'"
We learn thatAndrew Holtz served in the Pacific during World War II but never spoke of histime in harm's way. "Service was just something Dad's generation did,"Holtz writes. "You didn't brag about it.... You did your job, and you camehome."
That modesty"sparked my lasting distaste for excessive celebrations and 'look at me'exploits," Holtz writes. Here he strikes a slightly disingenuous note.After all, what were the sideline tantrums, the in-game ass chewings dispensedby Holtz, if not a kind of performance art that cried out, Look at me!
And that's O.K.It's true that Holtz made his share of enemies. It's also true that he waspossibly the most charismatic coach of his generation. He made a lot of coolfriends through the years. Here is Bob Hope, getting Holtz out of a little jamin Milwaukee in 1982. Here is the young attorney general of Arkansas, guy bythe name of Clinton, getting Holtz out of an earlier, much bigger jam in1977.
That was the yearHoltz suspended three Razorbacks players days before Arkansas met Oklahoma inthe Orange Bowl. Wholly justified, the suspensions were nonetheless enormouslyunpopular. Even though Holtz's family was harassed, and he was left twisting inthe wind by university officials, Holtz never wavered. Without the threeplayers, who had scored three quarters of the team's touchdowns that season,Arkansas rolled to victory 31--6.
The title is Wins,Losses, and Lessons. The coach can be a trifle ham-handed in dispensing thoselessons. "An unwavering commitment to your goals," we are told,"will turn today's tragedies into tomorrow's triumphs." What is themost important thing you can teach children? That would be "respect forauthority." Why pray with your family? Because "a family that praystogether stays together."
If the authorsometimes crosses the line between homespun wisdom and tiresome bromide, well,so do guys like Robert James Waller and Nicholas Sparks, and they've sold ahell of a lot of books. As will the coach.