- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
WINS, LOSSES, AND LESSONS
by Lou Holtz
William Morrow, 318 pages, $25.95
Lou Holtz takes special delight, as he tells his life story, in referring to all the times he appeared on The Tonight Show--as if he still can't believe he was invited to be a guest. The reader is drawn to conclude, after the third or fourth mention, that the coach treasured those nationally televised moments with Johnny almost as much as he did his bowl game appearances.
That's not a criticism. Holtz is a born showman, which makes his autobiography an engaging read. Even as he outworked and outschemed opponents over a 33-year college head-coaching career--his lifetime winning percentage is .651--it was always apparent that this slight, lisping martinet was put on earth to entertain. When an irate Woody Hayes shouted, "Why did O.J. go 80 yards?" at the 1969 Rose Bowl, it was Holtz, Ohio State's defensive backs coach, who replied, "Coach, that's all he needed."
As a wispy youngster with a speech impediment, Holtz learned how to crack a joke in order to keep the bullies at bay. Some of the most eye-opening moments in this book detail his early years in Follansbee, W.Va., where the Holtz family lived in a two-room cellar. "I always knew I'd had plenty to eat," Holtz writes, "because when I asked for more, my father would say, 'No, you've had plenty.'"
We learn that Andrew Holtz served in the Pacific during World War II but never spoke of his time in harm's way. "Service was just something Dad's generation did," Holtz writes. "You didn't brag about it.... You did your job, and you came home."
That modesty "sparked my lasting distaste for excessive celebrations and 'look at me' exploits," Holtz writes. Here he strikes a slightly disingenuous note. After all, what were the sideline tantrums, the in-game ass chewings dispensed by Holtz, if not a kind of performance art that cried out, Look at me!
And that's O.K. It's true that Holtz made his share of enemies. It's also true that he was possibly the most charismatic coach of his generation. He made a lot of cool friends through the years. Here is Bob Hope, getting Holtz out of a little jam in Milwaukee in 1982. Here is the young attorney general of Arkansas, guy by the name of Clinton, getting Holtz out of an earlier, much bigger jam in 1977.