Louis Leo (Lou) Holtz (1937–)

Louis Leo (Lou) Holtz is a former football coach and television sports analyst who also became a popular public speaker known for his quips on television talk shows. Along with serving as the head football coach at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) from 1977 to 1983, he also held coaching positions at the College of William & Mary, North Carolina State University, University of Minnesota, University of Notre Dame, and University of South Carolina, compiling a career record of 249–132–7. In professional football, he coached the New York Jets of the National Football League (NFL) in 1976, where his record was three wins and ten losses. Holtz is known for successfully leading the 1988 Notre Dame football team, netting a 12–0 season and winning the Fiesta Bowl, making Notre Dame the national champion by consensus. He is the only college football coach to lead six different programs to bowl games and the only coach to guide four different programs to the final top-twenty rankings. Throughout his career, he authored several books including The Kitchen Quarterback (1980), published while he was head coach at UA.

Lou Holtz was born on January 6, 1937, in Follansbee, West Virginia. His parents were bus driver Andrew Holtz and nurse Anne Marie Tychonievich Holtz. His father claimed descent from German and Irish forebears; his mother’s family immigrated to the United States from the Ukrainian town of Chernobyl.

Holtz grew up in East Liverpool, Ohio, near the West Virginia border. He graduated from East Liverpool High School, going on to attend Ohio’s Kent State University. There, he was a member of Delta Upsilon fraternity and joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), earning a commission as a field artillery officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. He graduated with a degree in history in 1959.

In 1960, he was given a graduate assistantship in the athletics program at the University of Iowa, receiving his master’s degree in 1962. He married Beth Barcus in her hometown of East Liverpool in 1961; they remained married until her death in 2020.

During his early career, Holtz served as assistant football coach at William & Mary (1961–1963), Connecticut (1964–1965), South Carolina (1966–1967), and Ohio State (1968). For his first job as head coach, Holtz returned to the College of William & Mary in 1969, leading the team to the Southern Conference title and a spot at the Tangerine Bowl. In 1972, he went to North Carolina State University, where his 1973 team won the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) championship. In 1976, he left North Carolina State for his sole head coaching job in professional football, leading the NFL’s New York Jets. Holtz resigned from the Jets in less than a year after thirteen games and a 3–10 record.

He returned to college football by joining the University of Arkansas in 1977, following Frank Broyles as head coach, as Broyles had become athletic director. Holtz would coach the Razorbacks through 1983. There, he earned a 60–21–2 record. He led UA to six bowl games starting with his first season at Fayetteville, when the Razorbacks played in the 1978 Orange Bowl. A controversy arose when Holtz suspended several players just before the bowl game for disciplinary reasons. However, the underdog Arkansas team went on to win 31–6.

During his seven years at UA, Holtz led the Razorbacks to the Orange Bowl (1978), Fiesta Bowl (1978), Sugar Bowl (1980), Hall of Fame Bowl (1980), Gator Bowl (1981), and Bluebonnet Bowl (1982).

Following a 6–5 season in 1983, UA athletic director Frank Broyles stated that Holtz was resigning because he was burned out. In later years, Holtz claimed that he had been fired, but that he was not given a reason by Broyles. Reports circulated that Holtz was alienating Arkansas fans due to his actions, including missing UA events to make speeches elsewhere. Other reports noted political advertisements Holtz is said to have taped from the coach’s office at the University of Arkansas supporting North Carolina’s right-wing politician Jesse Helms at a time when Helms led the effort against Martin Luther King Jr. Day becoming a national holiday.

After his time at UA, Holtz went on to be head coach at the University of Minnesota (1984–1985), where the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) gave a citation to his program for alleged recruiting violations; Notre Dame (1986–1996), where the NCAA placed Notre Dame on two years’ probation for benefits provided to players; and South Carolina (1999–2004), where he accumulated a 2–4 record against Arkansas, beating the Razorbacks in 2000 and 2004. In 2005, the NCAA imposed sanctions on South Carolina for alleged violations under Holtz.

He then went on to serve as a college football analyst for CBS Sports and ESPN. While with ESPN, he came under fire for a 2008 on-air comment regarding a college football coach, stating, “Hitler was a great leader, too.” The next day, Holtz apologized for the comment.

After leaving ESPN in 2015, Holtz devoted his time to public speaking and writing books. Among other honors and awards, Holtz was elected to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1983 and the 2008 College Football Hall of Fame, joining Hugo Bezdek, Frank Broyles, and Bowden Wyatt as other former University of Arkansas head coaches to be inducted.

For additional information:
“Former Razorback Head Coach Lou Holtz Elected to College Football Hall Of Fame.” Arkansas Razorbacks.com, November 7, 2014. https://arkansasrazorbacks.com/former_razorback_head_coach_lou_holtz_elected_to_college_football_hall_of_fame_1456290/ (accessed December 22, 2022).

Holtz, Lou. The Kitchen Quarterback. Little Rock, AR: Parkin Printing, 1980.

———. A Lifetime of Love: A Game Plan for Marriage and Family Life. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2022.

———. Three Rules for Living a Good Life: A Game Plan for after Graduation. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2021.

———. Winning Every Day: The Game Plan for Success. New York: Harper Business, 1999.

———. Wins, Losses, and Lessons: An Autobiography. New York: Harper Entertainment, 2007.

Scott, Brian. “Lou Holtz: From Legend to Laughingstock.” Sports News, October 22, 2008. https://bleacherreport.com/articles/71895-lou-holtz-from-legend-to-laughingstock (accessed December 22, 2022).

S.I. Staff. “Time To Wake Up the Echoes.” Sports Illustrated, December 9, 1985. https://vault.si.com/vault/1985/12/09/time-to-wake-up-the-echoes (accessed December 22, 2022).

“Sports People: No Politics for Holtz.” New York Times, December 24, 1983. https://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/24/sports/sports-people-no-politics-for-holtz.html (accessed December 22, 2022).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society


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