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Holtz speaks to full house on competition, Catholicism

Megan O'Neil | Monday, April 3, 2006

Greeted on stage by a hearty “Lou, Lou” chant, the man who coached the Irish to their most recent national football championship told his audience in Stepan Center Friday night that Catholics must approach their faith life with the same dedication and perseverance as an athlete on a field.

As individuals in the roughly 300-member audience snapped pictures, Lou Holtz said both faith and athletic pursuits require “total commitment.” He encouraged his listeners to let go of past mistakes and focus on the possibilities of the future.

“I don’t worry about the past because God forgives the past … and I don’t worry about the future because I know what is going to happen if I [live my] life the right way,” Holtz said.

Addressing the theme of the evening – Catholicism and competition – Holtz said he does not see a conflict but rather a strong correlation between the two. Becoming a successful athlete and a Catholic takes sacrifice and discipline, Holtz said.

“You are going to do without things other people do,” Holtz said.

Holtz described how on the eve of Notre Dame’s 1988 matchup against rival USC in Los Angeles he suspended his two biggest offensive threats, Ricky Watters and Tony Brooks, for disciplinary reasons.

“The next morning we put them on the plane. I told myself, ‘Lou Holtz, that was a mistake. Next time I will put them on the bus.’

“That’s Notre Dame. Notre Dame stands for something. When they say something they mean it. It all goes back to discipline.”

In 1987, as the team prepared to open the season against Michigan, Holtz became incensed at his players’ lack of effort. They were just “going through the motions,” Holtz said.

“We all face that as Catholics,” Holtz said.

He responded by putting them through the most physically rigorous practice of their lives. They won 26-7.

When he arrived at Notre Dame, Holtz said the pre-game team Mass was held in the Dillon Chapel. He asked and received permission to move the Mass to the Basilica.

“Then what happened was people found out we were on our way to the Stadium and they started lining up … and that is how the team walk started,” Holtz said.

At the most difficult moments of his career, Holtz said, he turned to his faith to sustain him. He described having to enter a room of assistant coaches and conduct a meeting after a difficult loss or string of losses.

“I had to get down on my knees and pray for courage … and pray for the correct words,” Holtz said.

“Just because you’re Catholic, because you have faith, does not mean you aren’t going to have adversity. … What it does do is give you the courage to handle it.”

Catholics must pay attention to the “little things” in their faith lives, such as attending Mass and confession, just as football players must pay attention to the fundamentals of tackling and blocking, Holtz said.

Holtz praised Notre Dame for being an institution at which he could discuss his faith along with his love of football. The emphasis within the Notre Dame football program has always been on the team, not the individual standout, he said.

“When you did something great, which was often, it was because of the team. You turned and there they were. … It’s the same way with Catholicism. It’s not about you, it’s about us, about you willing to help others.”

One of his most disappointing experiences was during the last game he coached at Notre Dame, Holtz said. His players lost their sense of team and instead focused on individual goals and individual accomplishments.

“The whole attitude that week was ‘Here I am’ because I wasn’t their coach anymore,” Holtz said.

It is critical for an individual to set high goals and then to pursue them, Holtz said. His only regret in life is having taken Notre Dame football to the top of the national rankings and then simply trying to maintain that standard, he said.

“There is a rule in life,” Holtz said. “You are either growing or you’re dying. … I honestly thought I was tired of coaching. I never thought I would return to coaching, ever … [but] I wasn’t tired of coaching, I was tired of maintaining.”

What he should have done, Holtz said, was establish and work toward standards that “no one thought possible.”

Everyone has the obligation to his follow individuals to do the best he can, Holtz said, and to give back to the community in som capacity.

Holtz offered audience members an easy means to test whether they are on the right track.

“If you didn’t go home, who would miss you and why? If you didn’t go back to the dorm, who would miss you and why? If you didn’t show up in the classroom, who would miss you and why? … If no one missed you, you need to examine your life.

“If people know you are interested, know you are committed, know you care, they’ll miss you.”

After his talk, a student asked Holtz what he thought of current football coach Charlie Weis. Holtz lauded Weis’ ability as a coach and praised him for his parenting of his special-needs daughter, Hannah.

“Notre Dame is about representing this University and he has done it exceptionally well,” Holtz said.