Retired legendary football coach and now ESPN analyst Lou Holtz held hundreds in the palm of his hand Monday (Sept. 23) as he addressed the NWA Touchdown Club luncheon hosted by the Springdale Rotary.
Holtz spoke fondly of his seven years as head football coach of the University of Arkansas and said he never picks against the Razorbacks, South Carolina or his beloved Notre Dame.
Through humor and honesty the 76-year-old Holtz delivered a simple message about what really matters in life. He said the three rules he lives by work equally well, on and off the field.
No. 1: Do what is right and if you have any doubt look in the Bible for direction.
No. 2: Do everything to the best of your ability, because you never have the right to claim someone’s failure as your own.
No. 3: Show people you care.
“Life doesn’t have to be complicated, neither does football. There are just five colors in the rainbow and look what Michelangelo did with them. There are only seven musical notes and look what Beethoven did with them,” Holtz said.
Coaching seven years at the University of Arkansas, Holtz had nothing but kind words for Frank Broyles, who he said fired him following the 1983 season.
“I remember it was a Sunday morning and I was called into the office. I was told to resign or be fired and not given any reason. … I was upset but my wife told me that we would not ever say a negative word and we picked up and moved on,” Holtz said.
He told the group his wife would not let him hold any grudges, a core principle he broadly recommends others follow as well, especially in a world where injustice is going to happen. Holtz said two years later he got a call from Notre Dame about the head coaching job. It turned out Broyles had given him a solid recommendation.
“I got that job because I had been fired and I didn’t hold any grudges,” Holtz said. He wasn’t ready to leave Fayetteville at the time, but he added “if you want to make God mad, tell Him your plans.”
He spent 10 seasons at Notre Dame, winning a national championship in 1988, and amassing an impressive record of 64-9-1 with nine straight Jan. 1 bowl appearances. Holtz said the one regret he has in his coaching career is that during his time at Notre Dame he spent too much of it trying to maintain the successes they had achieved.
“I wasn’t tired of coaching when I left there, I was tired of maintaining. There is no reason to celebrate when all you do is maintain success. Every organism in this world is either growing or dying, that goes for football programs as well.” Holtz said. “Don’t maintain anything in your life.”
He said if he could go back and coach today, he would spend more time with the players, and less time worrying about outcomes.
“The great teams are those filled with love and care, nurtured with discipline and focus,” Holtz said.
In a room full of football fans, Holtz talked about the Southeastern Conference, and said while it’s full of great teams, it’s no better than the old Southwest Conference Arkansas played in during the 70s to mid 80s.
“We had six teams in the top 20 when I was here. How about Texas? SMU was the best team money could buy. How about Houston and Texas A&M and Grant Taft at Baylor. It was difficult but’s what was good about it,” Holtz said.
He said Coach Bilema is a good fit for Arkansas and stands to be quite successful here in what he considers one of the best jobs in the country. Holtz adds that the first year always has its challenges under a new coaching regime, but it starts with believing.
“The one thing holding Arkansas back from a national championship is the belief that it can be their’s,” Holtz said. “It will happen for Arkansas one of these days.”
Program Host Bo Mattingly made mention of the next four weeks in Arkansas’ schedule some of the toughest match-ups in the country with Texas A&M this weekend, then Florida on the road, South Carolina at home and then No. 1 Ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Holtz said the worst thing coaches and players can do is think about four weeks in advance.
“They only play one game per week and there is no reason to look ahead. Taking the focus off this week’s game is a critical mistake made too often,” Holtz said.
He recalled the 1978 Orange Bowl game where his underdog Arkansas Razorbacks beat an Oklahoma team coached by Barry Switzer and vying for a National Championship.
Holtz said one of the first days in Florida he didn’t call a practice, but he took them to an alligator farm. He said they did not believe they could win because all they had heard all week was how good Oklahoma players were and how Arkansas wasn’t ready.
“I asked them to tell me something good about our team. Charles Clay stood up and said that we had the No. 1 defense in the country and we weren’t going to get beat nearly as bad as everybody thought. That wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear but it was a step in the right direction,” Holtz said.
He said before the team left that meeting they had discussed all the great aspects they would bring to the field, such as a strong quarterback in Ron Calcagni, a great offensive line along with the best punter and place kicker in the country with Steve Little.
“We focused on why we could win that game, not what others were saying about how we couldn’t. This happens so many times in life and you have to focus on assets you have to make it happen,” Holtz said.
After winning the Orange Bowl game in 1978, Holtz said the fans began throwing oranges on the field.
"I was just glad we weren't playing the Gator Bowl," he said.
Several members of that 1978 Orange Bowl team attended Monday’s luncheon in Springdale. Holtz said he came all this way to have a good time, even ribbing some of his former players who didn’t seem to mind in the least as they were among the first to their feet honoring Holtz with a standing ovation.
He closed his speech with the following advice about finding happiness in life:
If you want to be happy for an hour, eat a steak;
• For a day, play golf;
• For a week, take a cruise;
• For a month, buy a car;
• For a year, win the lottery;
• For a lifetime, let other people know how much you care about them.