Lou Holtz: Trust, commitment, and love

As the Presidential Guest Speaker at the Annual Meeting yesterday, legendary college football coach Lou Holtz distilled his personal philosophy into a five-point plan he said could be applied to anyone’s life.

Presidential Guest Speaker Lou Holtz

“Point number one is the attitude you choose,” he explained. “Point number two is the passion to succeed. Number three, stay focused on your purpose. Number four, be a dreamer, and number five, build meaningful relationships with other people.”

Best known for his 11 years as head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Mr. Holtz compiled a 243-127-7 career record over 26 seasons as a collegiate head coach for six different programs. He is also the only coach in the history of college football to take six different teams to a bowl game. In 2008, he was selected for the College Football Hall of Fame.

Your attitude; your choice
According to Mr. Holtz, having a positive attitude is of primary importance.

“Wherever we are today—good, bad, or indifferent—is due to the choices we make,” he said. “Life is a matter of choices. The most important choice we can make is the attitude we’re going to have.

“What is your attitude when you have adversity?” he asked. “When you’re down, you’ve got two choices: either you stay down or you pick yourself up. You can’t count on anybody else. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I had to give myself a pep talk about believing that there was a solution to a problem before I went into a staff meeting or a team meeting.”

Mr. Holtz turned directly to the audience to speak of passion and sacrifice.

“I appreciate the sacrifices you and your families have had to make—the financial burden to go to med school, the financial burden to start an office, the demands on your time, and the many times you have to put the patient first instead of your family.”

Focus is the third step in Mr. Holtz’s philosophy.

“It’s my understanding you only have two mandates,” he said. “To try to cure patients and to try to be productive and profitable. As a football coach, I had two mandates: graduate athletes and win. That’s it. Everything else was irrelevant. To do one without the other was not successful. To cure patients without being profitable is not very smart.

“I understand your concerns over health care,” he continued. “I have the same concerns. But I do know this: if enough people care, we can solve anything in this world. If we have enough people who genuinely care, we can solve sexism, racism, spouse abuse; we can solve the healthcare issue.”

Be a dreamer
Mr. Holtz also spoke of the importance of dreams and the need to keep striving to improve. He invoked Dr. Martin Luther King to point out that one man’s dream could help change an entire nation for the better.

“You need four things in your life,” he said. “Everybody needs something to do, something to love, something to hope for, and something to believe in. Don’t make the mistake I made. I went to the University of Notre Dame and took the program out of the bottom to the very top. And for 9 straight years, we went to a New Year’s Day bowl game: the Sugar, the Cotton, the Orange, and the Fiesta. Nobody had done it before and nobody’s done it since. We took it to the top and we maintained it. That’s all. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever done and the thing I regret. There’s a rule in life: you’re either growing…or you’re dying.”

Finally, Mr. Holtz emphasized the importance of meaningful relationships with others.

“There are only two types of people,” he said. “Those who lift up and those who pull down. You cannot lift other people up if you aren’t positive yourself.

“I used to be insanely jealous of my wife,” he continued. “The problem was with me. I would feel so inferior…we’d be at a cocktail party and she’d be talking to another man. He was always better built, better looking, and I’d say why would she end up with me? I would unfairly try to pull her down until she’d reach a level where she’d feel she was lucky to have me as a husband. That’s a prime example of pulling down rather than lifting up.”

Three simple rules
“I have only three rules: do what’s right, do everything to the very best of your ability, and show people you care.”

He explained that his wife had cancer and told an interviewer that the one thing she learned was how much her family loved her.

“We didn’t love her more because she had cancer,” he said. “We just showed it more. And I thought to myself…how ridiculous. She has to have cancer before she knows how much we love her and appreciate her? We have a tendency to take loved ones for granted.

“At Notre Dame, they built a statue to me,” he said. “They probably needed a place for the pigeons to land...I don’t know. If you go there, look at the pedestal. There are three words: trust, commitment, love. I believe that’s what life is all about.”

Lou Holtz career highlights

As a head coach:

  • The College of William & Mary 1969-1971
  • North Carolina State University 1972-1975
  • New York Jets (NFL) 1976
  • University of Arkansas 1977-1983
  • University of Minnesota 1984-1985
  • University of Notre Dame 1986-1996
  • University of South Carolina 1999-2004

As an analyst:

  • CBS Sports 1997-1998
  • ESPN 2005-current

As an author:

  • The Grass Is Greener (1974)
  • Holtz’ Quotes (with Donald Dugan, 1978)
  • The Offensive Side of Lou Holtz (1978)
  • The Kitchen Quarterback (1980)
  • The Fighting Spirit: A Championship Season at Notre Dame (1989)
  • Winning Every Day: The Game Plan for Success (1998)
  • Quotable Lou: The Wit, Wisdom, and Inspiration of Lou Holtz, College Football’s Most Colorful and Engaging Coach (with Monte Carpenter (2002)
  • A Teen’s Game Plan for Life (2002)
  • Don’t Flinch: Barry Alvarez, the Autobiography (with Barry Alvarez, et al; 2006)
  • Wins, Losses, and Lessons: An Autobiography (2006)

2008 Inductee to the College Football Hall of Fame

Prepared by Peter Pollack, staff writer for AAOS Now.