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Skip Holtz downplays his return to Notre Dame

Allan Joseph | Thursday, September 1, 2011

When Skip Holtz was hired as the head coach of South Florida in early January 2010, Irish fans immediately circled Sept. 3, 2011, on their calendars as the date on which a Holtz would once again be prowling the sidelines of Notre Dame Stadium. But if you ask Skip Holtz, his homecoming is just one of the many subplots in the season opener — and it’s no more important than any of the others.

“Having spent so much time as a student there, having played there, having played there and having coached there for four years and with the success my father had there, it is going to be a very exciting time for me,” Skip Holtz said in a press conference last week. “But Notre Dame playing South Florida is much bigger than Skip Holtz returning.”

Holtz’s roots in South Bend stretch back to his search for a college at a time when Gerry Faust coached the Irish and Skip’s father, Lou, was the head coach at Arkansas, yet to take the reins of the Notre Dame program. Holtz visited campus during high school as a prospective football and basketball player.

“[Lou] was giving a speech in Chicago, and then we went and took a day in South Bend and we met with coach Faust and [former Irish basketball coach] Digger Phelps and toured the campus,” Holtz said. “I fell in love with it and I said, ‘This is where I want to go to school.'”

While he was not admitted directly to the University, Holtz spent two years at Holy Cross before transferring to Notre Dame and walking onto the football team during his father’s first year at the helm. He spent one year on the team before graduating and spending time at Florida State as a graduate assistant and at Colorado State as the wide receivers coach.

In 1990, Holtz returned to Notre Dame Stadium as an assistant to his father in a position that would springboard him to his first head-coaching job at Connecticut. Nevertheless, Holtz credits his success to more than just his time at Notre Dame.

“Obviously we are who we are because of the experiences we have had,” he said. “Lou Holtz has been a huge influence in my life. He and [former Florida State coach] Bobby Bowden and [former Colorado State coach] Earle Bruce have shaped me.”

Now that he has the reins of his own BCS-conference program, however, Holtz said he plans to focus only on the aspects of his homecoming that will help his Bulls avoid being overwhelmed.

“I’ll talk about Touchdown Jesus and the traditional things on campus and explain what they’re walking into,” Holtz said. “It will be more of an educational purpose — I don’t want them to be oohed and aahed. … It will be more facts about the Stadium and the history than my personal experiences.”

With so much of his personal history tied up with Notre Dame football, Holtz admits he will have to maintain resolve in order to keep his emotions in check.

“I just need to keep in perspective that the game is much bigger for South Florida than it is for Skip Holtz,” he said. “I’ll have to put my enthusiasm in being back on the back shelf. We’ll start talking and addressing Notre Dame and [its] personnel and talking about playing at Notre Dame.”

No matter what emotions arise before the game, Holtz knows that kickoff will bring him into a familiar focus.

“It will be a very memorable day — a day I will always remember and a very emotional day for me,” he said. “[But] once the ball is on the tee, it’s time for the game.”