What It Means To Be A True Winner:

Coach Lou Holtz

by Charles White





Any list of great coaches in the history of sports would certainly be incomplete without the name of perhaps the most outstanding among all who have ever coached college football: Lou Holtz. His extraordinary accomplishments and incredible talent have long since earned him this distinction. Yet, remarkably, football does not define this man; football is simply what he does. Lou Holtz does not measure his life’s accomplishments or define his "personal success" according to yardage gained, winning seasons, championships, titles or any other accolades. Instead, he perceives professional success as attributable to one’s character and integrity, and he ascribes any personal success in his life to his wife and his children.

Lou was born on January 6, 1937, in the sleepy little town of Follansbee, West Virginia. While attending the local Catholic school he was introduced to football, and fell in love with the game that would become a premier part of his life for the next 50 years. Lou’s family relocated to East Liverpool, Ohio, where he continued his education and played football at school. While in high school, Lou caught the coaching bug. "After we scored a touchdown in the middle of one game, I got up from the bench, watched the extra point and then strolled up nonchalantly to our head coach. Acting as though I were one of his paid assistants, I casually told the coach that if we scored another touchdown, he should call for a two point conversion. When we scored again, he tried the play and it worked."

Lou found enormous satisfaction in thinking that his advice had helped his team, a feeling of encouragement and affirmation that would eventually help propel him into coaching.

"It is funny. I might have been a great player, known a few hours of glory, and then been terrible at coaching. I realize now that God knew what to do with me, and has guided me and provided me the greatest thrills of my life as a coach."

During a successful career that has so far spanned more than three decades, Lou has been named National Coach of the Year in 1977, 1988 and 1998. He has been designated the Walter Camp Football Foundation "Man of the Year" three times during three different tenures - at North Carolina State, Arkansas, and Notre Dame. He has led teams to national top-20 finishes, many bowl victories, and he has attained the singular distinction of having two of his Notre Dame teams achieve the nation's highest graduation rates among college athletes. Lou Holtz ranks eleventh on the NCAA all-time win list for Division 1-A coaches, and he still ranks fourth among all active coaches

We might expect Lou Holtz to name among his greatest accomplishments some award or particularly difficult victory in a challenging game; we would be wrong. Lou counts as his greatest accomplishments his marriage of 39 years and his relationship with his and his wife’s four children. He also believes that even the most outstanding deeds and accomplishments matter little, do not last, and, in and of themselves eventually and inexorably fade into obscurity. The things that do last are a trustworthy character and unimpeachable integrity. Without character and integrity, happiness is also elusive, for happiness and genuine joy in living come not through titles and awards, but by remaining true to who you are. Lou asserts: "Do what’s right, do the best you can, and show people you care. Then you will be truly happy. People will trust you and will want to be associated with you."

Character and integrity do not just automatically arise within a person, but they must be taught and nurtured. Two important, high priority dimensions of Lou’s life are his faith and his family. He is firmly grounded in his faith and deeply rooted in his family. "The priorities by which we’ve always tried to live by and teach our children are faith, followed by our family, and then our profession or academics."

"Success is a fleeting thing. Nobody’s successful all the time, but nobody fails all the time either. [People must] give everything that they have of their talents and their abilities to a certain cause and pursue that cause through to ultimate achievement."

"I don’t know how we could possibly handle everything, both the good and the bad, if it was not for a strong faith in God. Sometimes, when you get very disoriented or disillusioned during the course of your life, it is your faith that enables you to keep a proper perspective in life."

Reflecting on his own life, Lou offers this piece of advice. "Don’t dwell on failure; focus on your goals. Nothing is as good as it seems and nothing is as bad as it seems, but reality falls somewhere in between. If your philosophy of life is based on faith, then you will be able to get through the difficult times."

Lou is certainly a giant on the football field, but what makes him a giant of a person is not accomplishment in the sport, but how he lives his life. In this day and age of "what’s in it for me" mentality, it is refreshing and inspiring to find a man like Lou Holtz whose deep commitment to faith and family and his emphasis on character and integrity are what make him a great man.