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And unorthodox. Last year he advertised in the school paper for someone who could snap the ball on punts. A number of people showed up to try. One was good enough to make the team. But just before the Oklahoma State game, the player called Holtz and said, "I can't take the pressure. I'm gonna quit. What if I make a bad snap?" Whimpered Holtz, "What if I get fired?"
Unlike many coaches, Holtz always plays his second offensive unit for at least one series of downs each half. He even did it in the Texas loss. "It's not hard to understand if you've been a second-teamer all your fife," he explains. And how does he motivate offensive linemen? "I tell them the offensive line is the last stop before the bus stop."
Whether Arkansas will be Holtz' last coaching' stop is, of course, not known, but there is widespread speculation that when Woody Hayes retires at Ohio State, Holtz will be a prime candidate for the job. Holtz was a defensive backfield coach under Hayes in 1968 and recalls O. J. Simpson's 80-yard touchdown run against the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl. Hayes screamed, "Why did he go 80 yards?" Said Holtz, "Coach, that's all he needed."
Holtz began coaching as a senior at Kent State after a knee injury and an operation ended his career as a 152-pound center and linebacker. "I was not a good football player," he states unequivocally. At graduation time, Lou wanted only to marry Beth Barcus and settle down with the high school coaching job he had been offered in Euclid, Ohio. But Kent State Coach Trevor Rees persuaded Holtz to take a job as a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa, where Holtz received his master's degree in 1961.
Following his assistant job at Iowa, he held similar positions at William & Mary, Connecticut, South Carolina and Ohio State. In 1969, Lou finally landed a head coaching job, at William & Mary, and in 1972 he took over at North Carolina State. "I'm not a magician," he told the Wolfpack fans. "There's no such thing as magic." Then he'd do some of his magic tricks. But there may be such a thing as magic: NC State went to four straight bowls under Holtz.
Once, trying to make ends meet, Holtz signed up to sell cemetery plots. "You can't sell anything," Beth chided. "She was wrong," Lou says. "By the end of the summer, I'd sold our stereo, our car and our television."
Being at Arkansas with a national championship contender and slavering adulation is very heady stuff for a scrawny kid from Follansbee, W. Va. "I loved that state," says Holtz. "I stayed there until the age of reason." The Holtz family was not all that poor, but Lou did develop the habit of "looking in my wallet, not the mirror, to see whether I needed a haircut."
Later his family moved to East Liverpool, Ohio, which, he says, "is on the river, except every spring when it's in the river." At East Liverpool High he was a 103-pound blocking back and pulling guard. On Saturday night after a game, the big deal for Lou was to go down to the Golden Star Dairyland on Route 30 and count the cars and the girls.
When he married Beth, whom he met when she was dating a mutual friend in East Liverpool, Lou had a booklet of car payments and $6 in his pocket. His mother-in-law sent Beth a dress and Lou promptly returned it with a note, "When it gets to where I can't clothe my wife, I'll keep her in the house."
Beth wishes Lou would slow down some so he could spend more time with his family. Says Holtz, "I know the names of three of our four kids." He does not, however, know his address, but he can get his home phone number correct within one digit. Why does Beth put up with his erratic schedule and temperament? "She's easily satisfied by the very best," says Holtz.