I had the uplifting experience of hearing Lou Holtz speak Wednesday night.
Holtz is a man who comes from humble beginnings (Follansbee, W. Va.) who has stared adversity in the face and come away a better man both on and off the football team. He takes great pleasure in sharing his experiences and eloquently advancing the power of positive thinking.
He appeared at the Bristol Central High School, courtesy of the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame, which surely is one of the oldest and best of its kind in the state.
Holtz, who turned 70 in January, interjected his unique sense of humor, some of it self-deprecating, and kept the audience in stitches. He finished the evening with a magic trick, tearing apart a copy of USA Today that incredibly became whole again right there in his hands. He did the same trick Saturday on TV in his latest endeavor as ESPN analyst.
He bluntly mentioned several times that he was not lecturing or preaching – in fact, he refused to stand behind the lectern – but he admonished the young athletes in the crowd, of which there were many, about the relationship between talent, motivation and attitude.
He stressed the meaning of teamwork, indicating that individuals cannot possibly win football games. He used the euphemism, “What’s Important Now,” to illustrate how an athlete should put him or herself in a positive frame of mind.
Among those in the audience were new Central Connecticut State University women’s basketball coach Beryl Piper and an attentive group of young ladies soon to wear the Devils’ blue.
“I just hope they listened,” Piper said.
Holtz’s message was sincere, thorough and totally honest (he let us know ahead of time when he embellished one story).
Holtz has written five books, including New York Times bestseller, “Winning Every Day,” published in 1999. Quick to point out that he wasn’t the best of students, he quipped, “I may be the only person to have written more books than I’ve read.”
One local sportsperson who shall remain nameless crossed paths with Holtz at one of his collegiate stops and referred to him as Lou Bolts. Indeed, Holtz will be remembered for taking difficult jobs, rebuilding programs and seeking other challenges. He is the only football coach in NCAA annals to guide six different programs to bowl games and four to final top-20 rankings.
His favorite resuscitation act must have been South Carolina. He ended his first retirement from coaching in 1999 to take over the 1-10 Gamecocks. He led them to an 8-4 record in 2000, a season culminated with a win over prohibitive favorite Ohio State in the Outback Bowl.
He coached at Notre Dame from 1986-96, when he walked away from a lifetime contract for reasons he never disclosed. His beloved wife, Beth, had been diagnosed with throat cancer at the time, yet is doing well.
Holtz looked at his watch and told the assemblage that he’d like to talk all night but had to leave.
“I’m dog tired,” he said. “And Beth and I have this thing where we think about each other every night at 10 o’clock.”
That’s the kind of man Lou Holtz is, and the Bristol Hall of Fame deserves a lot of credit for making such a wonderful speaker available to local fans and student-athletes. I’d like to toss out special kudos to Dave Mills, former Bristol Eastern coach who provided a stirring introduction and concluding remarks, and longtime Bristol sportsman Bob Kalat, who was nice enough to offer me an opportunity that I will remember and cherish always.
The BSHOF presented a check to Bristol Hospital in the name of Beth Holtz as a token of their esteem for the coach’s time.
But the most important facet was expressed by Piper, who wondered if the young athletes took Holtz’s messages to heart. Far too often kids will fidget and fail to pay heed. Those who didn’t will recall Holtz’s words sometime in the future and wish that they did.