Going back to the basics also means back to simple, tough football. Asked by an assistant if he wanted any adjustments in the goal-line defense, Holtz snapped, "The only adjustment they need to make is their chin straps."
Not all athletes like to drill on fundamentals, and some Notre Dame players have been particularly resistant. Spending time one day on an extra-point formation, fullback Pernell Taylor was clearly unhappy to find himself called on for such mundane work. "What a great day to work," hollered Holtz. "Why, Pernell, you have a chance to make the All-America extra-point team." Taylor managed to look marginally enthusiastic.
?Strength and speed. Holtz wasn't just horrified to find out that only four players could bench-press 400 pounds (he says every man must—or be real good at a lot of other things), he was furious. Now there is a seriousness of purpose in the weight room. As for speed, there was no need for stopwatches, just egg timers. Still, the optimistic Holtz ("Hey, look, we're gettin' better. Eight guys did the right thing on that play") doesn't give up. He has brought in instructors to help with speed and running technique. "I think it helps," says quarterback Steve Beuerlein, no speedster himself.
?Solid coaching. Holtz promptly put himself in charge of the offense, and he took a major step in hiring former Pitt head coach Foge Fazio to handle the defense. The players also like the fact that Holtz is down on the field with them, not up in the tower as Faust was. Organization is improved. And Holtz knows what he is doing. "I'm impressed with him," says an obscure quarterback. O.K., so the QB is Skip Holtz, a senior who preceded his dad at Notre Dame.
?Rebuilding spirit. Laughing and little things are crucial. For example, Holtz made sure the athletes got nice winter workout outfits instead of being left to use whatever they could find. No big deal, but the athletes liked the new shoes and the shirts. And, as with real people, when athletes' spirits soar, so does their confidence. Wide-receiver coach Pete Cordelli concedes, "We learned you don't just crack out the gold helmets and win. Their confidence is a little shaken. They have to believe they can win again." Kovaleski says glowingly, "We have a lot of talent." Then reality creeps in: "And a lot of work to do." Yet, central to the rebuilding is the players' budding Holtzophobia. Says tight end Andy Heck, "We all have a fearful respect for Coach Holtz." That, too, is a big change.
?Recruiting. The first thing Holtz did was look for linemen. He found them: Sixteen of the 22 athletes he recruited play on the line. Having six QBs and only four defensive linemen on the team is history. And he says he will focus on northern urban areas as his natural recruiting grounds, abandoning the helter-skelter cross-country wooing of the Faust years.
Parseghian, for one, is sure Holtz is up to the challenge. "I predict that within three years he will have Notre Dame in a major bowl," he says. Some Notre Dame backers may expect such results sooner.
Meanwhile, Holtz's tongue rolls on. After a recent scrimmage he had this exchange with a reporter:
Q: What did you think of Beuerlein's arm compared to last year?
A: I don't know. I didn't bat against him last year.