January 15, 2010

Lou Holtz Offers Laughs, Inspiration to Laxers

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

BALTIMORE -- Over 2,000 lacrosse coaches, officials and enthusiasts packed the ballroom of the Baltimore Convention Center to whisk words of wisdom from a legendary college football coach Friday, and nothing was lost in translation.

Lou Holtz, the only coach in the history of college football to lead six different teams to bowl games, dazzled the lacrosse crowd with Rodney Dangerfield-like one-liners and sobering stories of his past as the keynote speaker at the US Lacrosse National Convention, presented by Champion.

"Coaching is coaching," said Holtz, following obligatory references to lacrosse's growing stature, its place at Notre Dame under Kevin Corrigan and NFL great Jim Brown's roots in the sport. "You help other people be successful. That lasts a lifetime."

Holtz's son, Skip, announced Thursday he was leaving East Carolina University to become the new head football coach at the University of South Florida.

"He asked me what he should say to his new team for the first time," Holtz said. "And I said you tell them that you will become us. We will not become you. And that's based on five assumptions: you want to graduate; you want to be a champion; you want to be a great performer; you want to have respect for your teammates; and you want to contribute positively as a member of our society."

Holtz's anecdotes resonated like the chill of genius, causing goose bumps in every row.

Like that of Chris Zorich, whom in Holtz's second season at Notre Dame was a linebacker-turned-lineman who never played because he wasn't fast enough. When the Irish lost in the Cotton Bowl, Holtz returned to the locker room to find Zorich as the only player left crying. From that point on, Holtz said, "I didn't care how fast you were or how big you were, I care about how much you care. We won championships under [Zorich's] leadership." Zorich would wind up winning the Lombardi Award as the nation's top defensive line player.

Or that of his South Carolina football team, the one that went 0-11 in Holtz's first campaign there (after a brief retirement). "Records can be deceiving. We weren't as good as our record indicated," Holtz quipped. It was a difficult year, he admitted, one in which his wife had major cancer surgery for the second time, his son Skip fell into a coma when the Gamecocks were playing Georgia and his mother died when they were playing Florida.

Just before the team's first meeting the subsequent season, Holtz learned that two former players from that 0-11 team were arrested for selling drugs. "I was so mad because I wanted to know why those players didn't trust me," Holtz said. "Nobody said anything. And then Jonathan Martin stood up and said, ‘Coach, I trust you. A lot of my teammates trust you. But I look around and see some people I don't trust.'  And then Andre Dixon said, ‘I've got to lock my locker when I take a shower.'

"I told them to go home and write for me in three columns, things I don't like about myself that I can't change, things I don't like about myself that I can change and everything I did last year I regret. We ordered a tombstone and met the next day, and we buried those papers. We made the commitment that we would trust our teammates, on the field and off the field."

South Carolina would go on to post the third-best single-season turnaround in college football history, going 8-4 in Holtz's second season and defeating vaunted Ohio State in the Outback Bowl.

Trust was a prevailing theme of Holtz's on Friday, as was teamwork, appropriate for the thousands of lacrosse coaches in Baltimore hoping to launch their 2010 seasons in a winning fashion.

Holtz's humor was the catalyst. The slender, bespectacled 72-year-old and current ESPN analyst recalled telling quarterback Steve Beuerlein he wouldn't throw seven interceptions in a season, "cause once you throw six, you ain't playing anymore," and a retort he had for a wisecracking waiter who said the difference between Cheerios and Notre Dame is that Cheerios belong in a bowl and Notre Dame doesn't - "What's the difference between Lou Holtz and a golf pro? Golf pros give tips."

For all his quick wit, Holtz had plenty of insightful tips, keynoting the 2010 US Lacrosse National Convention in grandiose style.

Follow Lacrosse Magazine's live blog from the 2010 US Lacrosse National Convention, presented by Champion.

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