But while most
Arkansas fans worship at Holtz' feet, they did require a few adjustments from
him. Early on, Lou decided to make the Hog emblems on the helmets bigger and
put stripes down the middle of the headgear. Nope, Lou, came the letters from
more than 300 fans. At an early game, he wore a green sweater (he won't admit
it was a Jet sweater but concedes "it did come from New York") and an
avalanche of Razorback-red sweaters began arriving in the mail the next day.
Then he did an air-conditioner commercial and endorsed a political candidate.
Nope, Lou, don't do that. Grumps Holtz, "Being head coach at Arkansas is
like being a state park."
But it can also be
like being President. As Holtz was racing for an airplane recently, the metal
detector went off as he passed through on the double. "Oh, go ahead,"
shouted the guard. "Anybody who beat Oklahoma 31-6 isn't gonna blow up no
Indeed, it was the
Oklahoma game that made Holtz a folk hero. Despite an excellent season in which
the only loss was to No. 1-ranked Texas—by four points—Arkansas was a 12�-point
underdog in the early line for the Orange Bowl. Then, 13 days before the game,
Holtz announced that three of his best players—all of them black, including Ben
Cow-ins, a Heisman candidate this year—would not be on the traveling squad
because of a dormitory incident involving a girl. There were threats of
lawsuits and of a boycott by black players. Holtz held fast. The game was
briefly taken off the boards and when it went back on, the spread was 17.
This season the
three players Holtz disciplined showed up for practice in peak physical
condition. Cowins, who was the Southwest Conference's second-best rusher in
1977, says, "I can't accept what he did but I respect it. It took a lot of
courage. And I can't really say he has been unfair." Immediately after the
Orange Bowl game, Holtz started receiving an average of 72 speaking invitations
a week. He also got 12,000 letters in support of his firm discipline and in
praise of his victory over Oklahoma.
Spring practice at
Arkansas is particularly arduous. Last year Holtz gave out T shirts that said,
SPRING 1977 SURVIVOR. This year the shirts read, SPRING 1978 WAS A BIG HIT.
Holtz says his practices are "no worse than your ordinary death march,"
but he never forgets one of the underpinnings of his philosophy: "Don't
ever ask a player to do something he doesn't have the ability to do because
he'll question your ability as a coach, not his as an athlete." After one
recent arduous session, Holtz was asked what had been accomplished. "We
established who is going to coach this team," he said.
At practice, Holtz
ranges from tyrannical to hysterical to hilarious. "In the first few days,
you want to set the tempo," he says, "get everybody's head out of the
clouds and onto football." Holtz grabs players by their face masks and
shakes them; he flails at them with his hat; he throws his hat in disgust; he
smacks players on the rear with his omnipresent manila folder. "Once things
get going, then you begin to build confidence," he says. "You praise
loudly and criticize softly."
Holtz once broke
his hand when he slammed it through a blackboard. Film cans and projectors have
been thrown when Holtz and his offensive coordinator, Larry Beightol, have been
in the same projection room, though both unconvincingly say they haven't
exactly thrown them at each other. When he is displeased with practice, Holtz
has been known to turn his watch back and start over. "We're gonna get in
two good hours," he told his troops recently, "even if it takes six
Pete Cordelli says, "Lou has an uncanny knack for knowing when to tear you
down and when to build you up. He insists that the players come up to his level
because he's sure not coming down to theirs." Holtz has few rules, but each
is pragmatic. For example, players can play their stereos as loudly as they
want in the dorm—as long as the guy in the next room can't hear it.
Yet Holtz seems
unmercifully tough on his quarterback, the superlative Ron Calcagni. Holtz
tells him, "I yell at you so much in practice that the game will be easy.
You'll be glad for it to come, because I can't be out there with you and there
will be so much noise you can't hear me." When, in a pressure situation,
Holtz asks Calcagni what play he thinks might work, Ron invariably suggests one
in which he runs with the ball. Holtz likes Calcagni's spunk. He equates it
with the idea that anybody can walk 50 feet on a one-foot-wide board if it's
two inches off the ground, but put it up 200 feet and few people dare try.
"See, we never think about failure when the goal is low," says Holtz.
Every year, his goals are win the conference, go to a bowl and win the national
championship. Says one friend, "He even thought he could win a national
championship when he was at William & Mary."
Holtz' dicta are
no turnovers, no missed assignments, no foolish penalties, a superior kicking
game and perfect goal-line play. Just like every coach in the country. But his
fire, his dedication and his personality (often he'll pause during practice and
do a magic trick for his players in order to illustrate a point) weave a kind
of spell over the Razorbacks. True, he can be corny, he can even be wrong, but
he is always positive and outspoken.