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Holtz coached Gamecocks to three bowls

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- As South Carolina coach Lou Holtz left the
game he's cherished for 33 seasons, he couldn't resist poor-mouthing himself one last time.

"What am I qualified to do? I don't know, maybe carry the
cord" of the coach's headset, he joked Monday.

Holtz, who could make playing Navy sound tougher than playing
the Dallas Cowboys, stepped into retirement and cleared the way for
the Gamecocks to introduce Steve Spurrier as his replacement Tuesday.

The 67-year-old Holtz goes out with 249 victories, eighth most
in Division I-A, and a reputation for turning stumbling programs
into winners. At each of his six schools -- William & Mary, North
Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame and the Gamecocks --
Holtz went to bowl games by his second season.

His greatest accomplishment came in 1988, when he led Notre Dame
to the national title only three seasons after the disastrous Gerry Faust era ended.

"Lou Holtz has been one of the great coaches in college
football history," said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, the
winningest coach in Division I. "He has brought a lot to the game
and has coached some great teams. It will seem strange without
him."

His latest reconstruction project at South Carolina was nearly
as remarkable. He came out of retirement in 1998 at 61 to rebuild
the Gamecocks. After going 0-11 his first season in Columbia, Holtz
brought South Carolina to its best two-year mark in history (17-7)
and won consecutive Outback Bowl victories.

"I don't know where I'm going to go. I don't know what I'm
going to do. I have faith in the Lord to let him lead me. As long
as my family's with me, everything else will be OK," Holtz said.
"But I do feel confident leaving here that the football program is
on a firm foundation."

And reportedly ready for Spurrier. The South Carolina Board of
Trustees planned to meet Tuesday morning at Williams-Brice Stadium
to discuss what the university it described as a contractual matter
in the athletic department.

Holtz didn't mention Spurrier by name, but said his replacement
"was a very well known, proven winner ... that I play golf with."

The two have played at Augusta National, home of The Masters,
where Holtz is a member.

Holtz worried that his reputation would be damaged by his last
game, a 29-7 loss to Clemson that included an ugly brawl. South
Carolina officials said Monday the Gamecocks would not accept an
expected bowl bid because of the fight, which Holtz was in the
middle of trying to restore order.

"Isn't it a heck of a note, Lou Holtz is going to be remembered
along with Woody Hayes for having a fight at the Clemson game,"
Holtz said.

Hayes' career ended after punching Clemson linebacker Charlie
Bauman at the Gator Bowl in 1978.

It's more likely Holtz will be remembered as the wiry, little
general, whose diminutive size didn't stop him from being a
commanding leader.

The lingering picture of Holtz for many will be of him leading a
Notre Dame player off the field during a game by the facemask. Or
of his woe-is-us news conferences, where he would make his opponent
out to be unbeatable and his team out to be hopeless.

Coaching success only eluded Holtz in the NFL. He coached the
New York Jets in 1976 and his rah-rah style didn't cut it with the
pros. He went 3-11 and returned to college ball the next season
with Arkansas.

In his first three seasons with the Razorbacks, he went 30-5-1.
He left Arkansas for Minnesota in 1984, then two years later he was
hired by Notre Dame.

He spent 11 seasons at Notre Dame, compiling a 100-30-2 record
and making the Fighting Irish perennial national title contenders
in the late 1980s and early '90s.

When Holtz left South Bend, Ind., in 1996, he thought he was
finished coaching. But at 61, he was lured to Columbia to replace
fired Brad Scott.

Holtz suffered through a miserable first season in 1999. His
wife, Beth, had a recurrence of throat cancer; his son and top
assistant, Skip, had a mysterious illness that hospitalized him
early that football season; his mother, Anne Marie, died right
before the Florida game; and a university plane carrying Holtz on a
recruiting trip crashed after dropping the coach off, killing the pilot.

But Holtz put the tragedies aside and revived South Carolina. He
finished his six-year stint with the Gamecocks 33-37.

And he hasn't ruled out another try at coaching.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Holtz said. "But when
my wife puts me on a suicide watch, then watch out for a
challenge."