Dr. Louis L. Holtz arrived to a brassy introduction, gliding down the aisle inside Leighton Concert Hall in an elegant blue gown with gold lining, greeted by a chorus of trumpets from the band and “Looouuuuu” chants from the adoring crowd. He took his seat on a bright red chair on a lighted stage, ready to enlighten and entertain.
The doctor was most certainly in.
On Saturday afternoon, the football coach whose statue sits outside the stadium where he coached for more than a decade, served as the principal speaker for the commencement ceremonies of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), also receiving the Notre Dame Prize for Catholic Education alongside his wife, Beth.
Holtz was introduced by Fr. Tim Scully, the co-founder of ACE, who wasted little time in drawing connections between the beloved coach and the chosen profession of his audience.
“From the sidelines to the broadcaster’s table to the locker room to his public speaking, he is indefatigably optimistic, entertaining and insightful,” Scully said. “Much more than a coach, Lou Holtz is a master teacher.”
And in a nearly 17-minute address, the 78-year-old Holtz — his golden hair parted to the side, those signature glasses resting on his nose — didn’t hesitate to teach on a variety of subjects.
Privilege: “My wife would say that we’re very fortunate. We have a beautiful home, lovely furnishes, all kinds of memorabilia. My wife would say, ‘Everything we have belongs to God.’ Twelve days ago our house burned to the ground. I looked up and said, ‘God, you don’t take good care of your property.’”
Faith: “I can’t tell you how many times I prayed when Michigan had the ball on our 3-yard line.”
Education: “You’re looking at the only guy in the world who has written more books than he has read.”
Perseverance: “My wife is a very special person. We’ve been married 54 years. We’re as different as night and day. When we first started dating, we had a loving relationship. I loved her. She hated me. But we overcame that, and we have four wonderful children.”
Priorities: “My wife is also a Stage 4 cancer survivor. She left me a note a few months ago that said, ‘Lou, I can’t please everybody in the world, so I’m going to stop trying. I’m going to focus on pleasing one person a day. Today’s not your day, and tomorrow doesn’t look real promising.’”
Leadership: “When you’re in education, you have to be a leader. Fr. Ted Hesburgh said when he hired me here at Notre Dame, ‘I can name you the head football coach at Notre Dame. I’m going to announce it to the world that you’re the head coach, but what I can’t announce to the world is you’re the leader.’”
Expectations: “We finished second in the country, and everybody called me an idiot. ‘That idiot finished second.’ When somebody finishes last in medical school, they call them, ‘Doctor.’”
And pride: “We didn’t have great facilities when I was here. Notre Dame didn’t want ‘em. But I’m going to tell you, if you walked into our locker room, you could tell, every helmet had a special place, every shoulder pad. You could tell there was pride in that locker room.”
And on Saturday, there was an abundance of pride on that stage. After Holtz thanked the crowd and basked in the shower of flashing cameras and clapping hands, 83 ACE teachers and 25 Remick Leadership Program graduates streamed across the stage, a few taking detours to shake Holtz’s hand before flipping the tassle on their graduation cap from one side to the other. Later, Lou and Beth stood together and beamed while accepting separate trophies for the Notre Dame Award for Catholic Education.
Once the ceremony concluded, Holtz — he of the 100 Notre Dame wins, one national championship and countless impassioned speeches delivered from dingy locker rooms or ESPN sets — left the same way he arrived, striding out of the concert hall in a single file line while the brass band saluted his departure.
The doctor sported a smile, paused for a picture then proceeded out of the door.
Until next time.