SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- He is the only man to lead six universities to bowl games. Still, Lou Holtz never considered coaching his primary calling. He had a lot more to teach than X's and O's.
"I coached life. The same thing that would enable you to be a good player would enable you to be a good student, a good father, a good business person, et cetera," he said.
Holtz, who led Notre Dame to its last national championship in 1988 and also coached William & Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota and South Carolina during his 33-season career, will be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
He will be joined by fellow coaches John Cooper, the only coach to win a Rose Bowl with both a Pac-10 school (Arizona State) and a Big Ten school (Ohio State), Jim Donnan, who coached at Marshall and Georgia, and former Missouri Valley coach Volney Ashford.
Former UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman, 1959 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon of LSU and former Oklahoma State tailback Thurman Thomas head the class of 17 players being enshrined during two days of festivities today and Saturday.
Despite all the star power, Holtz will be the main attraction as he returns to the city where he enjoyed his biggest successes, bringing Notre Dame back to power after five lean seasons under Gerry Faust.
Who would have though that the frail-looking kid who graduated 234th out of a class of 278 at East Liverpool High School in Ohio would have become a standout coach and master motivator? Certainly not his high school guidance counselor, who once told Holtz: "A lot of people don't know what's going on, but you don't even suspect anything's going on.'"
Holtz proved her wrong. There always seems to be something going on when the wisecracking, bespectacled man with lisp is around. He led every team he coached to a bowl game by his second year on campus and led the Fighting Irish to a national championship in his third season en route to a 100-30-2 record in 11 seasons at Notre Dame. That gives him the second most wins in Irish history, just behind Knute Rockne's record of 105-12-5.
Holtz ranks eighth all-time in number of victories by Football Bowl Subdivision coaches, 11 ahead of Ohio State's Woody Hayes, a mentor. Holtz was the defensive backs coach for the Buckeyes when they won the national title in 1968.
Former Notre Dame split end Derrick Mayes said the key to Holtz's success was his ability to inspire.
Holtz's greatest trait was his ability to rally players and get them to believe in one another, Mayes said.
"It transcended the talent level. I don't think he always had the most talented team. He had teams that played together, worked together and often times those are teams that win more. I think that's his genius," he said.