Lou Holtz, the former Notre Dame coach and current ESPN studio analyst, is making the rounds talking about the Allstate AFCA Good Works team, which honors 112 student-athletes who “stand out for the positive influence they have in their communities.” In our 15-minute chat with Holtz, he talked about what college football programs he believes are clean, Joe Paterno’s exit, missing out on Randy Moss, the scheduling problem in college football, and the Republican party.
Q: The NCAA has investigated more than half a dozen schools this summer for a variety of reasons. USC was recently give two years of bowl probation. Do you think anyone’s clean? Do you think everyone in the Top 25 is dirty?
A: I honesty don’t believe people are trying to break the rules and cheat. The days where an alum can buy an athlete or pay an athlete are over … you go back to the mid-70s when I was in the Southwest Conference, and everybody except Arkansas and Rice was being investigated! Agents are the biggest problem now, and all the rules on contact and texting – those can be honest mistakes.
Q: So you really think many of the elite programs are clean?
A: I definitely do. I really feel that way in the bottom of my heart. I do not believe you can buy an athlete today and get away with it. Wherever there’s been any problems in college athletics in recent years, it’s not been because of money, unless the money came from an agent … an agent cannot help an athlete. He can’t do anything. What they try to do is get that athlete indebted to them by buying them [stuff] or by giving them spending money. They feel they can make a lot of money if they can get that [player to sign with them]. And these individuals don’t have a lot of money [when they are in college] and they take it innocently. ‘Well, it’s just a meal’ and then ‘it’s just $10’ and so on.
Q: What do you feel is the best strategy on how to deal with these unsavory agents?
A: That has to be addressed by the NCAA. I agree with some of the coaches – [the NCAA] has to get some help from the NFL as well. Maybe you can’t allow the NFL to come onto your campus.
Q: Joe Paterno is 13 years older than you and still coaching. He’s got too much pride to walk away. If you were running Penn State, what would be your move? Ask him to step aside, or just let him ride it out, regardless of what happens to the program?
A: The only way you can handle this is Joe Paterno has to go out on his own terms. I felt the same should have been given to Bobby Bowden. Joe Paterno put Penn State on the map. The stadium used to seat 50,000, it is located in the middle of nowhere, and now he’s got them in the Big 10 and the guy wins. In 1986, my first year at Notre Dame, Penn State won the National title. We had a great game with them. Before the game, you always talk to the other coach, and I had so much respect for Joe Paterno – best coach I’ve ever competed against – I asked him how many more years he was going to coach. He said four more years. Remember, it was 1986. The next year we go to play them and I said, ‘hey Joe, three more years, what are you going to do next?’ and he said, ‘well, 4 more.’ It’s always four more years because he doesn’t want you to use it against him in recruiting.
Just let the guy alone. He’ll know when to sit down. Joe Paterno has two things in his life – the Penn State family, and football. He doesn’t play golf or do other things. Same thing as Bear Bryant. He died, what, five years after he got out of coaching? Don’t force Joe out. It’d be the biggest mistake.
Q: Who would you say is the best coach in college football nobody knows about?
A: Great question. I’d say Chris Petersen at Boise State – of course, he’s not under the radar. Everybody’s talking about [Kevin Sumlin] at Houston, and June Jones at SMU. There are a lot of young coaches who were just hired from non-BCS schools – like Turner Gill from Buffalo – so we’ll find out. I remember when Urban Meyer wanted the Bowling Green job. He was an assistant at Notre Dame (I’d hired him) and I knew two friends on the board there and we got him the job. He called me and said, “I’m not going to take the job.” I said, “What?” He said, “I don’t think it’s a good job.” I said, “Urban, good jobs don’t open up. Only bad jobs open up. You take a bad job, make it a good one.”
Q: Can you think of a recruit that you totally missed on who turned out to be a star, or perhaps a recruit you didn’t think would become a star, but did?
A: Randy Moss. He was the best high school football player I’ve ever seen. We recruited Moss and signed him to a grant and scholarship. He was admitted to the University of Notre Dame. He signed the national Letter of Intent. We were all set, I was excited. He got in a fight his senior year, and Notre Dame took away his admission. We helped him get to FSU and he ended up at Marshall. If we ended up with him at Notre Dame … you look at that 1993* team how close we came … he would have made a difference. Best player I’ve ever seen.
Q: Nobody’s scheduling anyone out-of-conference. How much does that hurt the sport?
A: That drives me up a wall. Wherever we went, we always played people. Today, everyone schedules for bowl games. It’s hard to find a good non-conference game. There’s maybe a total of 12 of them this year. That’s why I am partial to the Pac-10. When they went to 12 teams, they added another conference game. Look at the Big East – Rutgers has seven conference games! Rutgers goes 5-0 and wins one game in conference and is bowl eligible. Go play people outside the conference.
If it was up to me, I’d say ‘the 2nd Saturday in September, we’re going to have conference vs. conference games’ and you rotate it every two years. Then, you can evaluate who the best conference is.
Q: You’re big into politics, and have donated to Republican candidates in the past. Who do you see the Republicans putting up as a candidate for President in 2012?
A: After November, you’re going to see who’s going to come out. I think Mitt Romney will be there, I think Newt Gingrich will probably run, [Mike] Huckabee may run, and we may even see the Governor of Indiana [Mitch] Daniels, run. We have some problems in this country and we got to get them corrected. Whoever is going to be elected, he better have a plan and he better make people feel good about themselves … and [people need to] start to hold themselves accountable for the decisions they make and not look to the government for everything, because that’s not the answer. We can’t get this jobless problem solved unless the free enterprise system takes care of it.
Q: No mention of Sarah Palin. Not a fan?
A: I think she would definitely run for President but I think it’s a question of whether she runs in 2012 or 2016.
* I believe Holtz meant 1995. Moss graduated high school in 1995 and that Fall’s Irish team went 9-3, losing to Florida State 31-26 in the Orange Bowl. They lost to Northwestern by 2, and were smoked by Ohio State. [photo via Getty]