Lou Holtz occupies a strange place in Notre Dame lore. I was recently thinking about him after debating Muffet McGraw’s place in the pantheon of Fighting Irish coaches while Holtz wasn’t even mentioned mostly due to the fact that he didn’t meet the qualifying 2 championship criteria. We’re now reaching the age where Holtz’ tenure at Notre Dame–coming up on 22 seasons without him on campus–is really starting to look dim in the rear-view mirror.
Holtz is certainly a legend but an odd one at that–I’m a bit curious about his stock as it stands in 2018. Here are a handful of things that either aren’t aging very well or haven’t helped Notre Dame in the years that have past.
Hard Schedules as the Norm
The strength of Notre Dame’s scheduled has been a debate as old as time. Nearly every day all year long you can find an argument somewhere on the web about the Irish schedules. While things may have devolved into a bit of a morass lately (I swear if I have to read another comment about Notre Dame not scheduling “to win”) there is no denying that some of Holtz’ schedules were insane.
I think for some those schedules were the norm (they weren’t) or rather they should be the norm (they shouldn’t). The landscape is a little different now with the playoffs and conference title games but holding the school hostage to some ridiculous schedules achieves nothing. Unless, college football starts handing out a National Championship for the toughest schedule?
Look at it this way, Holtz played 53 teams in the Top 20 in his 11 seasons at Notre Dame. The football program has played 69 teams in the Top 20 since he left. That’s craziness.
I’ve long made the complaint that a huge failed opportunity for Notre Dame was missing out on the offensive boom that came crashing into college football during the 1990’s. Kelly arrived a good decade after the first of the booming spread offenses and the Irish have been playing catch up with zero continuity (think Oklahoma from Stoops to Riley) ever since.
Lou Holtz ran an anti-modern offense during his tenure, then dabbled more in a soon-to-be aging I-formation offense, and ended his time with the Irish in a fog of mish-mash systems led by Ron Powlus at quarterback. He left behind zero legacy of a stable offensive system which makes it all the more strange when people claim Notre Dame needs to return to this era of offensive football to win again.
Uncool is Cool
Holtz’ legacy of making the uncool cool has reverberated for decades. In response to not wearing bowl game patches for the Fiesta Bowl against West Virginia he quipped he’d have players without numbers on their jerseys if he had his way. How gritty!
I’ve covered this ethos extensively in the past and it absolutely infected all things Notre Dame during the 1990’s where innovation died at the hands of stale tradition, teeth-clenching toughness, and an obsession with everything plain.
Love Thee Notre Dame
Lou Holtz really, really, really, really, really loves Notre Dame. Even if some of it has always been an act he symbolizes the hokey, over-the-top, sappy Notre Dame fan who wakes up singing the Victory March and inserts the Fighting Irish into any conversation possible.
There’s also a weird juxtaposition with Holtz being the no-nonsense task master behind close doors (see above) but who also has this soft underbelly infomercial personality about the greatness of Notre Dame and can’t shut up about it since leaving coaching.
Holtz’ decade-long run on ESPN and love/hate act with Mark May pretty much gave him an entire new persona in the world for thousands of college football fans who knew almost nothing about his coaching days at Notre Dame.
From this new media personality, to repeating the same Notre Dame stories and quips over and over and over and over again, to his spotlight during the 2016 Presidential election Holtz has been kind of a mascot that can make people cringe. Some people like it but you have to admit Holtz stands alone in this regard and is a complete 180 to the way someone like Ara Parseghian conducted himself post-retirement.