ALONE AT THE TOP

Once, Holtz told about the first time he saw Raghib Ismail, known as "The Rocket," on the Notre Dame campus.

"The Rocket" was probably the fastest runner ever to play for Notre Dame and became one of the great kick returners in college football history.

"I saw him playing tennis and I went right home to tell my wife how impressed I was," Holtz said.

"What's so great about that?' she asked. It was then that I told her he was playing by himself."
Holtz always tells the story about how when he was coaching at Arkansas, they created a special stamp with his face on it after his team beat Oklahoma.

"That impressed me," he says, "but they had to retire the stamp the next year after Arkansas lost to Texas.

"People were spitting on the wrong side of the stamp," Holtz says.
In the book, which also documents Holtz's greatness as a coach, an exceedingly unattractive portrait of his personality nevertheless emerges.

He is a tyrant and a cheapskate.
Former lineman Joe Allen tells the story to Yaeger and Looney about Holtz having a kid in his office go out every day for a double cheeseburger with mustard from Wendy's. It cost $2.48, and Holtz gave him the exact change every day. "One day the kid comes back and he forgot the mustard on it. Holtz threw the hamburger against the wall and sulked in his office the rest of the day."

Holtz is generally hated and feared by his assistant coaches, whom he bullies and embarrasses, even in front of the players. For this reason, Notre Dame has the highest ratio of turnover among assistants of any big-time program in the country.

George Marshall, a former defensive tackle, explained why to the authors.
"He has no understanding of respect," Marshall said. "When we're on the football field, he suddenly steps in. He's the smallest guy out there. He doesn't hesitate to push a coach aside and say: 'This is the way it's supposed to be done.' Even if it's not. With him blasting an assistant coach, who am I, as a player, supposed to listen to?"
One time, Irish defensive coordinator Gary Darnell, who had coached the best defensive unit in the country at the University of Florida, fell under Holtz's wrath.

Scott Kowalkowski, a former defensive end, remembered the incident, which occurred during a game against Tennessee in 1990.

"We had time-out on the field. The game was on national TV and the cameras were right there. Coach Darnell was trying to tell us something and Holtz comes in and shouts at him: 'Listen, you just shut up,' and then he told us what to do."
The one assistant coach who does not speak badly of Holtz is the team's offensive coordinator, Skip Holtz.

Lou Holtz hired his son for a job which was coveted by every young coach in the country, despite the fact that his credentials consisted of one year as an assistant under Bobby Bowden at Florida State and another year at Colorado State under Earl Bruce--both jobs his father helped him get.

Dan Devine, a former Irish coach who won a national championship in the Seventies, told the authors how highly he regards Holtz as a coach.

Then Devine adds:
"Well, his reputation with other coaches is not good. They think he cheats and they think he's hypocritical. They don't think he's a good winner. He's just an unpopular guy. I guess I would say that he is perceived by his enemies as being ruthless and by his friends as being determined. Lou's strength is in selling Lou Holtz. And the one thing I know for sure is that he can get from here to there as well as anyone."
The detestation for Holtz is almost unanimous among his former players and faculty associates.

Dr. Robert Hunter, who was the trainer at the University of Minnesota when Holtz was there, summed him up thusly:

"Lou is a repellent. Nobody can stay around him for too terribly long. He either moves or others move away. That is his personality."
One former player, Chris Lacheta, recalled what happened to him at Holtz's hands:

"It was spring practice in my freshman year, and I had had knee surgery just before I came in. Then I got mono and my weight went down from 240 to 220. I had no strength. I was running with the first team and I made a lot of mistakes."
At the end of practice, Holtz began shouting at Lacheta in front of everyone. He called him a coward and told him not to come back in the fall.

"First, he grabbed me by the face mask and shook it. Then he just spit on me."
Holtz often says that the greatest insult you can heap upon someone is to spit on him. He has spit on players often through the years.

I thought of all those things last Saturday when I saw Holtz storm out onto the playing field and drag one of his own players to the sidelines, cursing at him all the way.

We are both mesmerized and ultimately deceived by success. Woody Hayes, the old Ohio State coach, was fired from his job for behavior like this.

I need not remind you what happened to our own sainted Frank Kush.

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