At 82, Lou Holtz has a bad back but still a keen mind, quick wit and active lifestyle.
The former N.C. State football coach was back in Raleigh on Wednesday as the guest speaker in the Art of Good Living Series at The Cardinal at North Hills. A large crowd gathered at the continuing care retirement community to hear Holtz regale it with stories, with his message of setting personal goals, accepting challenges and achieving them.
“It doesn’t have a thing to do with age,” he said. “It has everything to do with trying to have a good, healthy mind, body and spirit. ... Everything is about attitude. If you have the right attitude good things are going to happen.”
A lot of good things have happened to Holtz as the years have flashed by. He won an ACC championship at N.C. State. He won a national championship at Notre Dame. Turning to television after coaching, he became a regular college football analyst on EPSN.
Holtz coached his last game at South Carolina in 2004 and was 67 when he retired from coaching. In an interesting twist, Mack Brown has returned to North Carolina to rebuild the program at 67.
“I don’t think it’s how old you are. It’s your mental frame of mind, your energy level and your ability to relate to people,” Holtz said. “I think Mack Brown will do well. I don’t think age has a thing to do with it.”
As for the state of college football, Holtz can only shake his head at coaches like Clemson’s Dabo Swinney making more than $9 million a year or coordinators getting multi-million dollar contracts.
“When I went to the University of Notre Dame they told me the policy was the head coach was not allowed to make more than the president,” Holtz said. “And the president was a priest who took the vow of poverty.”
For the record, Holtz said his salary was $95,000.
“The salaries have escalated and gotten out of hand,” he said. “I can understand why players are upset that they’re not getting part of that money. If you can pay a coach seven or eight million dollars ...”
Holtz would like to see an expanded college playoff -- either six or eight teams. With eight, he said the champions of the Power Five conferences should receive automatic bids, leaving three at-large spots for the most worthy teams.
“I think that is what people want,” he said.
While Notre Dame was always Holtz’s dream job and 1988 became a dream national championship season, he hasn’t forgotten his days at N.C. State, or before N.C. State.
Coaches never forget. Not the losses. Certainly not the tough losses.
Before his speech, Holtz recalled being the head coach at William & Mary in 1971, of a 36-35 loss at North Carolina and a few calls that, well, didn’t go his way in the game at Kenan Stadium.
“They went 60 yards on an incompletion,” Holtz said of the Tar Heels, then coached by the late Bill Dooley. “The quarterback, a left-hander, Paul Miller, it’s third and 10, we’re ahead 35-28 and he scrambles and throws it. The ball bounced twice on the 50, right in front of me. Mixed (refereeing) crew. The guys from the Southern Conference said incomplete and the ACC ref rules it complete.”
Holtz, clearly delighted in telling the story, noted he then received two 15-yard penalties, saying, “I never use profanity, so that’s hard to do.” UNC scored and Holtz said the Heels’ Lewis Jolley won it with a two-point conversation catch, adding dryly, “A pass we deflected.”
No, coaches don’t forget. Not the details. A year later, Holtz had been hired by the Wolfpack. Playing UNC in early September 1972, the score was tied 27-27 late in the game and ...
“Our punter drops the snap, picks the ball up and tries to kick it, they block it back to our 1-yard line and score with 50 seconds to go,” Holtz said. “But we hit Pat Kenney on a go route in the corner for a touchdown. We go for two and don’t make it.
“We walk off the field and everybody is yelling ‘Moo U’ and ‘agriculture’ and I walk into the press conference and say, ‘I want everybody here to understand that agriculture is better than no culture.’ No exaggeration.’”
Holtz has long been an amateur magician and his work at N.C. State bordered on magical. Taking over a program that was 3-8 in 1971, Holtz and the Pack went 8-3-1 in ‘72, won the ACC championship the next year and went to four straight bowl games.
His duels with Dooley were intense. Dooley had built a championship program at UNC, winning with a more conservative, stick-to-the-fundamentals approach and in came Holtz with his high-flying veer offense and imaginative play-calling that set N.C. State offensive records.
Holtz quipped that Dooley might also have had some outside help. “Three straight years when we played Carolina I was called for jury duty.” he said, smiling again. “Did you ever try to get out of jury duty? They had all the judges, all the sportswriters, everything.”