Holtz coached Gamecocks to three bowls

Updated: November 22, 2004, 6:08 PM ET
Associated Press

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 football program reportedly is ready for Steve 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.

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."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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