Coach Lou Holtz was driving through the streets of Fayetteville recently at his
speed limit, which is to say approximately twice as fast as the signs say the
local police consider their speed limit. Suddenly, Holtz made a left turn into
the teeth of oncoming traffic. Asked by his passenger if he felt that what he
had done had been prudent, Holtz sniffed. "Goldurn it, I don't judge when I
should turn by the traffic," he said, "I judge by my watch—and we're
late." While this outlook sometimes disconcerts those who conduct
themselves in a more conventional manner, it is classic Lou Holtz.
Holtz, 41, is, for
sure, his own man. He describes himself as "a guy 5'10", 152 pounds,
who wears glasses, talks with a lisp and has a physique that looks like I've
had beriberi and scurvy." He's a wonderfully erratic whirlwind, spouting
one-liners one minute, exploding with rage the next. "I don't want anybody
to ever do a story of my life and call it Ruts" he says. Holtz starts every
day hopelessly overscheduled, then adds to it. "I work from dawn to
exhaustion," he says. "If there's not a crisis, I'll create one."
All of which makes him consistently late.
When Holtz gets
into a car or an airplane, he inevitably asks how long it will take to get to
wherever it is he's going, then asks why the time can't be cut in half. He
points out that a delay is sure to mean the loss of a tackle prospect to Texas,
or that the booster-club membership will be working on Turns by the time he
sits down as guest of honor. Holtz invariably twists his watch to the side of
his wrist, having concluded that in this awkward position he can see it more
quickly, without having to turn his arm. He recalls with dismay the first time
he took Frontier Airlines Flight 670 out of Fayetteville. "I didn't know
that was how many times we stopped before I got where I was going," Holtz
says. Once, when he was behind schedule in Richmond after a night flight from
Colorado Springs, he demanded of a startled driver, "Gawdawg it, why are
you stopped at this red light?"
Excedrin for his head, Captain Black for his pipe and 25 cups of Lipton per day
for his throat. If you talked as much and as fast as Lou Holtz, your throat
would need constant lubrication, too. And while Holtz would be talking like a
tape recorder set at fast forward even if he didn't have anything to say, this
year he does, because many experts believe that the Razorbacks have an
excellent chance of winning their first-ever undisputed national championship.
And what does Holtz expect from Arkansas? "I expect to be paid."
Last year, Holtz'
first at Arkansas, the best anyone expected was a break-even season. Except
Holtz, who figured on a national championship. Consequently, he directed the
Hogs to an 11-1 record and the No. 3 ranking. The highlight of the season was a
31-6 upset of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. This result was particularly
shocking because three offensive players, who among them had scored 23 of
Arkansas' 39 touchdowns, were left off the traveling squad, a fourth
(All-America Guard Leotis Harris) was hurt in practice before the game and did
not play, and a fifth (Free Safety Howard Sampson) went out early in the game.
The victory was a demonstration of one of Holtz' maxims: "Don't tell me how
rocky the sea is. Just bring the goldurned ship in."
Sooners was especially gratifying for a man who had been a conspicuous failure
12 months earlier. In his first and only season as head coach of the New York
Jets, Holtz had a 3-11 record, and was so mortified he just up and quit. He
hates to even talk about his stint in the pros. "The few talents God gave
me are better suited for college," Holtz says. "I didn't have the
background for that job and I didn't find that I enjoyed it."
Holtz knew he was
in trouble from his first day with the Jets when he wanted to phone his
quarterback, Joe Namath, and was told he'd have to clear the call through
Namath's agent. He was briefly heartened when Linebacker Greg Buttle told him,
"I want to play so badly I'll play for free." "That's commendable,
son," said Holtz. Said Buttle, "But if you want me to practice...."
When none of the Jets would sing the team song that Holtz had written, the New
York media portrayed him as some kind of rube cheerleader. Still, Holtz is
quick to say, "The people in New York were great to me. The only thing
wrong with that whole situation was me."
Holtz quit the Jets, Frank Broyles, Arkansas' athletic director and football
coach, called him. Holtz could not have been more receptive. Says Broyles, who
stepped down as coach after 19 years in favor of Holtz, "Pro ball was so
strange to Lou that he even missed the alums." Holtz hates cold weather;
before accepting the Arkansas job he was told by Broyles that on many occasions
in January he wouldn't need a coat in Fayetteville. "He was right,"
says Holtz. "I needed a parka."
Once in Arkansas,
Holtz found that everybody was for him, that everybody wanted to help him.
Before his first game, a minister giving the invocation offered gratitude for
"our new coach, new players and new plays." Whereupon, Holtz backed him
up by calling a pass on Arkansas' first play from scrimmage to show that
wide-open football was the new order of the day. "We threw it clear down to
the eight-yard line," Holtz recalls. "It was exciting. I would have
preferred, of course, that we had caught it."
This year, the
prayers are even more grateful. At a Little Rock banquet, Father George W.
Tribou explained to the Lord, "Lou now wears the mantle of divinity in
Arkansas and gets more hosannas than You do. I know You will give him another
good season as a reward for cleaning up his language." Holtz is trying to
control his cussing—thus his frequent goldurn-its, gawdawg-its and other Snuffy
Smith expressions. He backslides but explains, "The good Lord allows just
so much profanity on a team and I use up our entire quota."