Lou Holtz, head coach of the University of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish football team from 1986 to 1996, spoke about the “Game Plan for Success” at the season’s final program of the Sinai Forum at the DSSAC on Dec. 2.
Holtz’s speech on success related stories from his career to his message of achieving goals and maintaining a positive self-image.
His career spanned 34 years; he never coached a team for more than two seasons before taking it to a “bowl” game.
At the college level, since 1969, Holtz has also coached the William and Mary Tribe, the North Carolina State Wolfpack, the Arkansas Razorbacks, the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the South Carolina Gamecocks. He coached the NFL’s New York Jets in 1976. He retired from coaching in 2004 and has been in the College Football Hall of Fame since 2008.
Holtz said he felt defeated when he was laid off from assistant coaching until he started writing down his goals. He decided his professional goals only came in fourth place on his list, behind goals for his family, for his faith and for his finances.
He said personal success does not have to mean sacrificing professional success. He also put down a list of goals for personal experiences, such as jumping from a plane, going white-water rafting and running in Pamplona, Spain, preferably in front of a slower person.
“I’ve done everything I mentioned except run with the bulls,” Holtz said.
After achieving success at Notre Dame, he thought that he did not want to coach anymore. But after taking two years off, Holtz said he realized he had only been tired of maintaining the team at the same level and was ready to start over with a new team.
“You’re either growing or you’re dying,” Holtz said.
He advised people, when they get out of bed, to make a practice of asking themselves what is important to do that day. This will help them avoid destructive habits, because people must admit that a particular goal cannot be achieved if they give in to temptations, Holtz said.
“You’re always going to have problems. The whole thing is how we handle the problems,” Holtz said.
Holtz said that future success comes from within.
“Everything starts with self-image,” Holtz said.
He gave three rules for a good self-image: do right; do the best you can; and show others you care.
People should choose to do right even when they want to be bitter, he said. He had to make this choice when he was fired, from being head coach at the University of Arkansas, despite a history of success and without being told the reason. Holtz said his wife convinced him not to be bitter and try to get revenge on the people who fired him. One of those people ended up helping him become head coach at Notre Dame.
“The most important choice you make every day is about the attitude you’re going to have,” he said.
Regarding the second rule, accomplishing goals might take a team effort, Holtz said that all each person can do is commit to excellence and let all the little things add up.
“Great teams do little things the right way,” he said.
One season, his team was doing poorly, and he went into the locker room only to hear each player complaining about the others. They decided to stop worrying about abilities they did not have and concentrate on what they did have. They scored 18 points in the next nine minutes and won 80 percent of games after that.
“There comes a time when you stop making excuses,” he said. “I just think a commitment to excellence is critical.”
For the third rule, he recalled a season at South Carolina in which the team members were complaining about broken trust. He had all the players write down instances when trust was broken. They dug a hole and buried the papers in it and resolved to maintain each other’s trust.
People only miss others being around if those people were trusted and caring, he said. People might be happy for a short time if they play golf or go on a cruise, but making people miss you if you are not there is how to be happy for life.
‘The only people you miss are those who add value to other people,” he said.
Chancellor Thomas Keon said the address was inspirational and aligned with what he believes are the three parts of strong leadership: striving to improve the institution one is leading, giving clear directions of what needs to be done for improvement and loving what you are doing.
“That commitment to self-success is really what makes everything happen,” Keon said.
Dr. David Bankoff, son of Sinai Forum founders Milton and Sylvia Bankoff, worked for Notre Dame sports medicine for 30 years and was football team physician when Holtz was coach. He said Holtz may have changed a little since they worked together, but he believed the same things, like trust and a commitment to excellence.
“He was always very tough, very demanding; but he was very fair,” David Bankoff said.