The long-ranging conversation with Lou Holtz continues and finishes with Part III, when Holtz waxes philosophic on hiring current Florida coach Urban Meyer, when he was first hired at Notre Dame and how schedules work. This is on top of Part II, when he chatted about offensive line play and Part I, which breaks down the Japan Bowl.
Question: Last year you came back to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a national championship. Does it feel like 2009 should be the 20th anniversary of another national championship? Does that one still stick with ya?
LH: "I think you've got to be lucky to win a national championship. '93 we were a little unlucky. '89 we were a little unlucky. But you know, of course, that NBC contract created a little bit of a backlash. But even in '88, a last-second pass is deflected. '93, that field goal starts off to the left and comes back. '89, 3rd-and-42 on their 9. So you've got to be lucky but a lot of things have to fall into place. We didn't even think about a national championship any year I was here. You look at our schedule, what, seven out of 12 years we had the toughest schedule in the country. So when you got Tennessee and Texas and Miami of Florida and Michigan and Washington, all you're trying to do is get by each week. But I think you look at it and I don't believe there is any team on Notre Dame's schedule this year that they aren't capable of beating. You look at Michigan, having problems at quarterback, defense is in disarray. Southern Cal losing (Mark) Sanchez, losing so many of their defense, playing Southern Cal here. Boston College has their third coach in (four) years and lost much of their defense. Purdue, with a new coach, is really struggling right now. I'm not sure Michigan State is going to be as good without Javon Ringer and their quarterback. Who, you look at Pittsburgh losing LeSean McCoy. I just think there isn't anybody that Notre Dame can't beat. You still have to be lucky. But if you ask me who the favorite is, it's got to be Florida. All 11 of their defensive players come back. They lose two offensive tackles and two wide receivers. Granted, losing Percy Harvin is not the easiest thing to replace but you've got Tim Tebow coming back, all your running backs coming back, your kicking game and your defense, they'd have to be the favorite. But, if Notre Dame takes care of business, they can play Florida in the national championship game.
"Now, as a coach, you don't want to talk about that. Let's beat Nevada. Let's beat Michigan and just go that way. Are they capable of it? Yeah, because they can beat anybody on their schedule."
Question: You didn't even talk about it in '88 or '89?
LH: "What I talked about was when they reported, you don't come to Notre Dame to win some of the games or most of the games. You come to Notre Dame to win all the games. For us to settle for anything less than perfection would be ludicrous. The guy back there, John Heisler, helped write that book 'The Fighting Spirit.' You remember that, don't you, John? We talked about that you come here to win them all. We expected to be that every year, to win them all, but we didn't talk about where we were in polls or in bowls. If you win, the polls and the bowls take care of themselves. What we did talk about was the next opponent and what we had to do to beat them. But our goal at the beginning of the year, we had six goals. One - win the national championship. Two - graduate all our seniors. Three - win the bowl game of our choice. We weren't in a conference, so we couldn't have that. And to have more fun than any other Notre Dame team has had. There were four or five goals. So I think nine years in a row, we went into November with a chance to win the national championship. Even my last year, we went into Southern Cal, we were 10th in the country with 18 underclassmen starting. We were 8-2, ended up 8-3 and lost two of them in overtime but most of them were coming back. But, yeah, I know that's what Notre Dame wants to do, etc., but they'll take care of business."
Question: Did you ever dream that Urban Meyer had this kind of run in him?
LH: "I think Urban is a very good coach. I hired Urban at Notre Dame. How'd I hire Urban? Skip (Holtz) had gone to Connecticut and he said 'Dad, you need to talk to Urban Meyer about replacing me. Urban replaced me at Colorado State.' We were at the coaches' convention and I said 'I don't know Urban. I don't want to talk to him. I know what I'm doing. No.' He said 'Just talk to him.' I said 'No, I'm tired of the convention, I'm leaving tomorrow.' And I got mad at him. And he said 'Will you have lunch with me tomorrow?' I said 'If you have it at 11:30 because my flight leaves at 3.' So I go to lunch and he says 'Dad, I want you to meet Urban Meyer.' I met with Urban Meyer and ended up hiring Urban. Great young coach. He calls me, I'm out of coaching, and he says 'I'm interested in the Bowling Green job.' I knew some Board of Trustees at Bowling Green. We got him the job and he called and said 'Coach, Bowling Green offered me the job.' I said 'Great.' He said 'I'm not going to take it.' I said 'What?' He said 'I don't think it's a good job.' I remember saying to him 'Good jobs don't open up. If it's a good job, the other coach would have stayed there. Only bad jobs open up and you take a bad job and make it a good job and if it is a good job, why would they hire you? What have you done to deserve a good job. Hell, you're not a coordinator. You've done nothing.' So he takes Bowling Green.
"He calls me from Utah and talks about Florida. I told him I thought Florida was a good job, you can win the national championship there and you didn't have to recruit further than Florida itself. So he talked to me about it because his President had gone to Florida and knew that that was going to be open. And so I go up and watch him practice every spring and write up a little critique for him, talk to the team and do it in the fall. But he's done a marvelous job. He's in a great situation and he's done a great job."
Question: You had mentioned the schedule before and how you played the toughest schedule in the country. With the schedules you played 20, 23 years ago, do you feel a team playing that type of schedule in today's game could win a national title?
LH: "I don't see why it's different today than what it was then. Everything was relative, etc. But everybody's gone from a different solution. The one thing I congratulate the Pac-10 on, when they added the 12th game, you know what they added? A conference game. Know what everybody else added? A Division II game. I'm so tired of watching those directional state teams play in September.
"When I came here, Father Joyce said to me that there were certain things that were not negotiable. Don't think you're going to come here and change them. I said 'What are they?' One of the things he mentioned was facilities because they didn't want to become a football factory. They didn't want to get in the arms race. The other thing was they wanted to play the very best schedule they could find and they expected to win and they did. Now, Notre Dame has changed their philosophy in that they want to play seven at home, four on the road and one at a neutral site. Playing Washington State at a neutral site in San Antonio I don't think is really neutral, but, that's their goal. To play a Michigan, you have to play them on a home-and-home basis and they already had four teams they are going to play that way - Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue. So it makes it very difficult to add that seventh team or the other team to come. So it's just a difference of philosophy and how they want to do it. There's nothing wrong with it. I'm just saying it's a different atmosphere and attitude than it was years ago. And looking back on it now, the great thing about it, though, was boy, you really didn't have any trouble keeping your players attention that week. They knew that it was, they really had to make great preparation, etc., and that you had to be at your very best each and every week. But Notre Dame made a decision a few years ago to change that and there's nothing wrong with that. I certainly think it is beneficial for the University of Notre Dame."
Question: Was this a good job when you got it? You sat in this room and two days after you were hired you watched your guys lose 58-7.
LH: "Good jobs don't open. It's ironic, as I walk in here, this is the same place (the auditorium inside the Joyce Center) that I met that team the Monday or Tuesday after that game right here in this room. It wasn't near as nice as this, the chairs were sort of run down, etc., but this is where I addressed this team. You know, there was a lot of talent on that '86 football team when I look back on it. You look at Robert Banks, a (Wally) Kleine, Mike Covaleski, the linebacker, there was some talent. Steve Lawrence. They just didn't understand what it took and didn't buy in to what we wanted to do until it was after the open date. We were 1-3 after the open date and by the end of the year we were a very good football team. We played No. 5 LSU down there and we lose 21-19 when we go for two. Penn State wins a national championship but we drop a touchdown pass in the last minute in the end zone which would have won that plus the amount of kick returns Tim Brown had called back in that game. We beat some good games. There was good talent but this will always be a good job. This will never be a bad job. This will always be a good job no matter what the situation, you can win at Notre Dame. You can recruit at Notre Dame. Winning at Notre Dame is important but winning the right way at Notre Dame was important."
Question: Chuck Lanza was sitting somewhere up here somewhere when you yelled at him?
LH: "That's exactly right. I didn't holler at him. I kicked his foot and said 'How long have you been playing football?' He said 'Six years.' I said 'If you're going to play another day, you're going to sit up. What happened was the first thing I said to them was there are two reasons to have a meeting. One is to gather information. The other is to disperse information and I'm not the greatest speaker in the world so consequently when I walked in I wanted you to sit up in your chair, I want both feet on the ground, I want your hands on your knees and I want you to look at me because I'm not that effective a speaker. It was just one of those things. It wasn't something you planned, it was just 'Sit up.' What's complicated about sit up, put your feet on the ground. Let me draw it up here, it's just how I feel.