SIDNEY — Sidney Daily News Localife Editor Patricia Ann Speelman sat down with Lou Holtz for an exclusive interview, Thursday, April 28, during the legendary coach’s visit to Sidney to participate as keynote speaker of the Game Plan for Financial Access, a forum presented by Eikenberry Retirement Planning.
They talked about coaching, life lessons and the taste of grass.
SDN: If you were going to coach today, would your coaching methods change, given that everything that happens on and off the field hits social media?
Holtz: I would be a better coach today than I’d ever been before. I’ve learned a lot about patience. But I would not change my overall philosophy or what I expect of players. I try to teach them to make good choices. That’s what life’s about. If you do drugs, drop out of school, join a gang, get tattoos, you’re choosing to have difficulty in life. You never criticize the performer, but you must criticize the performance.
SDN: What will be the future of football given all the pressure about concussions, CTEs, suicides?
Holtz: Something has to be done about the concussions. The most important thing you can do about that is take the face mask off the helmet. When people think they’re better looking than they are, they won’t use their head as a weapon without a face mask. Why don’t people in rugby have an awful lot of head injuries? They don’t wear a helmet; consequently they protect their head. As long as coaches teach people to use your head as a battering ram to tackle or block, we’re going to have problems. We absolutely have to worry about the health of the athlete. Two things: you never use your head and you never duck your head. All spinal injuries occur because you duck your head.
SDN: What do you think makes football great? What should coaches, players and officials do to keep it great? And how good of a job are they doing now?
Holtz: What makes football great is that it’s a microcosm of life. You’re going to get knocked down, you’re going to have difficulty. You have to bounce back up. You’re going to put in an awful lot of work and effort and end up with a loss. You think, “Maybe all my efforts are in vain.” The most important thing you learn is your obligation to other people. In the military … you teach the obligation to fulfill your duty so you don’t jeopardize the health and welfare of your fellow soldier next to you. I think the same thing on the football field. You have a right to fail. You don’t have a right for your teammate to feel because you don’t fulfill your obligation. In the game of football, you learn about camaraderie, you learn about sacrifice, you learn about tolerance, you learn about sportsmanship. Like everything else, we might find people trying to take shortcuts, trying to violate the rules, trying to abuse players. Everybody’s got problems and difficulties. How can I influence (a player) to make good choices? That’s all I try to teach them: make good choices.
SDN: What do you think about the pay for play issue? Should colleges and universities that make lots of money from TV deals, sponsors and donors pay players more than they already get to cover tuition, books and room and board?
Holtz: I think a football player should definitely be paid if he works at McDonald’s, but he should not be paid because he plays football. You come to college to play football, but that’s secondary. You come there to get an education. And the value you’re going to get from playing that game of football is tremendous. And when you leave college, you’re not going to leave with a $100,000 debt that you’ve got to work to pay off the rest of your life. Besides that, who pays for women’s soccer? Who pays for men’s golf? Who pays for the facility? Who pays for all the weight-lifting equipment, the video equipment? Coaches are far overpaid. At Notre Dame, the most I ever made was $135,000. The most Woody Hayes made was $25,000. Why did salaries go up? Because athletic directors have such inferiority complexes they’re afraid they’re going to lose their coach. I feel this way very, very strongly.
When I was in college, I didn’t have any money. People would tell me, “You need a haircut. Go look in the mirror.” I don’t look in the mirror. I look in my wallet. My wallet told me whether I needed a haircut or not. I grew up during the Depression. I know what it’s like to be poor.
SDN: When you look back over your whole coaching career, if you could change one moment, one play in just one game, what would it be?
Holtz: Two plays that stand out. Last game I coached at Notre Dame, with a minute to go, we’re up by 8, and we missed an extra point, which allowed them to score in the last minute and beat us in overtime. The other one is the dropped interception against Boston College. We were ahead 41-39 at the time and we ended up losing that 42-41. Or possibly the 108-yard punt return by Rocket Ismail that was called back on a phantom clip. It wasn’t a clip unless the player was wearing his face mask on the back of his helmet.
SDN: Did you ever have a favorite player?
Holtz: Did you ever have a favorite child? Players stay in touch with me. I told the players, “You give me everything you have for four years; I’ll be there for you for 40.” And I mean that. You don’t have a favorite player. You just hope you treated each of them fairly. You don’t treat them equally but you try to treat them fairly.
SDN: You have inspired a lot of people. Who inspires you?
Holtz: My wife. We’ve been married 56 years. She’s a cancer survivor. Very religious. She had a 13-hour surgery, three radiation treatments, a 10 percent chance to live. She never complained. She sees good in everybody. She’s thankful for every day and opportunity she has and she’s always looked at how she can help other people. She’s kind. She’s considerate and she has a lot of qualities that I have to work on.
SDN: One last question: Which grass tastes better, North Carolina, South Carolina or Indiana?
Holtz: (with lots of laughter) I don’t know how that started, but I just got in the habit of pickin’ grass and chewin’ on it. I tell you what was frustrating was when we’d go play on Astroturf and I’d try to pick the Astroturf. It’s a habit. I still do it today on the golf course. I cannot explain why but old habits are hard to break.
To see a video of this interview, visit www.eikenberryretirement.com.