Friday, April 11, 2008

Profiles In Plagiar-Ageism: Lou Holtz

Profiles In Plagiar-Agism is an offseason series being run to examine the history of exit plans. We will be analyzing some of the greatest football coaches of all time and determining any parallels between their final days and those that are facing Joe Paterno.

(Previous episodes: Paul William "Bear" Bryant)

Lou Holtz

Coaching Years: 1969-1971 William & Mary, 1972-1975 North Carolina State, 1976 New York Jets, 1977-1983 Arkansas, 1984-1985 Minnesota, 1986-1996 Notre Dame, 1999-2004 South Carolina

Mythical National Championships: One*, 12-0 1988 Irish

Conference Championships: 3 in 22 years of coaching teams in a conference (excludes, of course, all seasons with Notre Dame)

Backstory: Holtz had a bit of a strange rise in the coaching world, filled with very dramatic ups and downs. He built up the William & Mary program but then left for North Carolina State. HE compiled a 31-11-2 record there, but only finished the season ranked once in four years.

After that relatively bland record at a major college program, he was hired as HC by an apparently desperate New York Jets franchise. He didn't make it though his first season, pulling a Bobby Petrino** with one game left to play. Under his control the team managed 3 wins in 13 games.

He then moved on to Arkansas with mild success but was eventually let go. This led him to one short season at Minnesota, where he gained a rare bowl invitation but did not coach in it because he had accepted an offer from Notre Dame in December.

At Notre Dame he faired quite well. After two mediocre season he went on to finish in the top six of the polls five times, including the above mentioned 1988 Mythical National Championship. He left a couple years later but no one seems to be quite sure why. Some mention a job in the NFL (that never happened), there were rumblings of non-specific 'ethical' motivations, and then there was this:

Maybe he exasperated his new bosses. Holtz is a famous pain. Even in the celebratory moments after his last game at South Bend, a 62-0 victory, Boo Hoo Lou whined about the TV network deal. He said it created "a backlash" that inspired teams to play superbly against Notre Dame and might have "cost us" a national championship or two.

Maybe he told his bosses that if they didn't like the way he worked, it might be time to get a new man. And maybe they agreed.

Wow, that's some stupid shit. Anyway, Lou eventually ended up at South Carolina. He didn't win a game in his first year. In six years, he managed just two bowl appearances.

Burn Out or Fade Away? Ummm....

Current Legacy: This is billed as a series about how the greats quit and that might mean Lou doesn't really belong. But hey, the guy looks the part of an old man, like our own coach, so he gets an invitation. While he is easy to discredit, he coached at Notre Dame and did well there (back when Notre Dame actually played a decent schedule none the less). The school had been playing .500 ball for half a decade until Lou showed up and make them a consistent top ten team.

Lou isn't well respected anymore. The USC thing was him walking away with his tail between his legs. He is paraded like a clown on ESPN. Despite bringing their program back to life, Notre Dame fans tend to shit on him for 'losing the big games' even though he won an MNC there. They haven't even been close since.

So what did we learn? Well, to start, and especially with Paterno, it is impossible to know exactly how a program is run and what kind of internal respect the HC is generating. After last summer's fight, the Hub Brawl, Quarless' repeated alcohol offenses, and now this knife thing with Bell, it's hard to say how much of the old disciplinetarian (I know, not a word, but look at the title of the post) is showing up to practice anymore. While I'll admit it is all speculation, it's a dangerous and slippery slope when you show cracks in the armor.

So here comes the conclusion: sometimes you just get too old to coach. I know that sounds retardedly obvious, but I think the simple concept gets lost in our over analysis.

Is Joe too old? I honestly don't know. I really don't. Maybe all these off the field incidents mean he isn't respected in the club house. Maybe he is respected in the club house but they are choosing to recruit character issue players. Maybe it's just bad luck; even coaches that most agree are in control (guys like Stoops and Tressel) aren't above these things happening to their teams. It's just the reality of the sport now.

I do know that Lou was too old. It's clear from the video of the bowl-brawl. I also know that it's not going to be the same age for everyone, and so that makes the question one that you can't really answer until it's too late.

* Yes, they were voted #1 in the polls, but Notre Dame Sucks has this to say about their win over eventual #2 Maimi (who's only loss that season was to ND):

With Miami trailing 31-24 and facing a critical fourth-and-7 from deep in Irish territory midway through the fourth quarter, Walsh connected with Miami running back Cleveland Gary streaking across the middle of the field at the Irish 11-yard line. Gary picked up the first down and turned up-field but was tackled at the Notre Dame 1-yard line. The ball came loose at the end of the play and the ball was recovered by Notre Dame linebacker Michael Stonebreaker. But that play has become one of the most innacurately remembered and described plays in college football history. Even major accounts of the greatest games in college football history routinely botch the description. Lou Holtz got it wrong in his autobiography, calling it a fumble. Gary was ruled down at the one yard line. It was not ruled a fumble. But the split crew of referees mistakenly believed it was fourth and goal, not fourth and 7. Incredibly, the ball was given to Notre Dame on downs. Jimmy Johnson can be seen on the tape of the game, coming out onto the field and motioning first down, while saying "first down, it's a first down." The placement of the ball verifies the officials got it wrong, since the ball is placed where it was when Gary's knees went down, not where the ball was when Stonebreaker recovered. Here is a section of an article in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel from October 18, 1988: "In my mind, I believe we probably made a mistake in giving Notre Dame the football," the official told the News. "There was confusion as to whether there was a fumble or not, but there was also a great question about giving Notre Dame the football over on downs. That's why they got the football."

** The quitting part, anyway. Based on what I can gather, he didn't recieve the Arkansas job until after he had officially resigned.

No comments: