The question to Lou Holtz was simple: Is it realistic to think Bret Bielema can win an SEC title at Arkansas?
Holtz was addressing the media in Northwest Arkansas for the first time since he was fired by Frank Broyles in December of 1983. It was minutes before the ESPN commentator and Hall of Fame coach rolled out all of his best one-liners for the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Clubs joint media with the Springdale Rotary Club at the convention center.
"I don't know why he can't," Holtz said. "Arkansas has been to the championship game three times, right? When I was here, the Southwest Conference was difficult with teams like Texas, Texas A&M, there was SMU with the best team money could buy, Baylor with Grant Teaff and Houston with Bill Yoeman.
"Arkansas has 15 athletes a year in the state who could play for anyone in the country, but they aren't highly recruited because no one knows about them.
"I don't see much difference from this conference than what they played against in the Southwest Conference."
As for Bielema in particular, Holtz said he's long been impressed with the coach.
"Barry Alvarez was my defensive coordinator at Notre Dame when they hired him as coach," Holtz said. "Barry always spoke highly of Bret. Barry had coaches who had been with him 15 years and he elevated Bret.
"Once he gets everything established, Bret will do very well here."
How long that would be, Holtz didn't say. But he did address the next four Arkansas games, the gauntlet of SEC powers with Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama all in a row.
"Does Arkansas have to play them all on the same day," Holtz said. "They need just to focus on Texas A&M. I felt the same way when we played Texas and Houston back-to-back and then played SMU, Houston and Baylor in a row. Focus on each one at a time. If you win or lose, it affects the next week and how you prepare.
"But I think Arkansas has a shot at Texas A&M. A&M has some problems on defense. You have to play ball control on offense against them. So far Arkansas has played good defense except for a fourth quarter (at Rutgers). They have some ability and I like Alex Collins.
"What people don't realize about Johnny Manziel is that he has an excellent running back who can fly, excellent wide receivers and a good line. You just have to make sure you don't let him hurt you with the deep ball.
"But the way to play them is to control the football and don't give up the big play. You can't rush him hard because he can scramble. It will take a total team effort and you have to control the football. If he's on the bench, he can't do a thing."
Holtz was asked about his changing relationship with Frank Broyles, from the early days when he arrived at Arkansas. He said his wife helped him avoid bitterness after Broyles fired him after a mostly successful time at Arkansas. He credited a high recommendation from Broyles as part of the reason he landed the Notre Dame job.
"He tried to hire me back two years after he fired me," Holtz said. "When Notre Dame called, he said hire him before you call anyone else. He said he would like to hire me back and that he made a mistake listening to what someone else told him."
To this day, Holtz said Broyles has never told him why he fired him.
"I'd still like to know," he said. "He never gave me a reason. But he taught me so much. The first two years I was there, he never saw us play because he did network games for ABC. But I'd go into his office every Monday and we'd talk football.
"He taught me that nobody beat you throwing and catching. They beat you running with it after the catch. I learned a tremendous amount from Frank Broyles. He fired me, but it turned out for the best for me."
Holtz said the state of Arkansas should always thank Broyles.
"I don't think anyone can ever thank him enough for what he did for this state," he said. "A lot of the assets that are here are from him. The facilities are great and the fan base is as strong as any in the country."
When Holtz took the microphone in front of the crowd of over 500, it was rapid-fire one-liners and philosophy. He had the place rolling. There was a standing ovation at the start and again when he stopped 45 minutes later.
"I'm never comfortable when people stand up for me -- because I think they are about to leave," Holtz opened, immediately apologizing for not wearing a tie. His gate-checked luggage was left behind by Delta because of weight restrictions.
At the end, there was vintage Holtz about how to treat the people around them. He said, "Don't tell them you love them, show them you love them."
Holtz told the group that Broyles is a "tremendous individual and a great friend." He said he had seven wonderful years in Fayetteville.
There were stories about restoring team confidence before the upset of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, perhaps one of the greatest Arkansas victories of all time. Oklahoma was a prohibitive favorite after Holtz suspended several key players.
"We were in disarray before the Orange Bowl," Holtz said. "It was so bad that we didn't even practice one day in Miami. We went to the gator farm to have some fun.
"I called a team meeting to clear the air. All the players had read about was about the great players Oklahoma had and the ones that Arkansas didn't have. I asked the team why they thought they were going to win.
"No one said anything for awhile. Finally, Charles Clay, our tight end got up and said, 'Coach, we have the number one defense in the country. We aren't going to get beat nearly as bad as everyone says.'
"Finally, others had reasons. They said we had a great quarterback, a great offensive line and a great placekicker. I wanted them to say we had a great coach, but no one ever said that.
"The key was to get them to stop focusing on why they couldn't do something and why they could. That's always the most important thing."
It goes with one of his theories on people.
"Don't tell people about your problems," Holtz said. "There are 90 percent of them that don't care and the other 10 percent are glad you got them."
Holtz continued to roll with the one-liners when he opened up for questions. Asked about his motivation, he said he grew up wanting to be the garbage man.
"I wanted a job where you only had to work on Tuesday," he said.
Seriously, Holtz said it was all about goals and motivation after growing up in a one-room cellar in the same bedroom with his parents and siblings.
"It's about goals," he said. "I learned whether or not you got a haircut depended on if you had any money in your wallet. That controls everything."
And, he reminded of the time he learned a lesson when he sent a player home from Los Angeles as Notre Dame coach ahead of the game.
"I took him to the airport and he flew home," he said. "I told myself I'd never do that again. He was home in four hours."
Holtz said he'd never do that again.
"No," he said, "I'd put him on the bus and let it take him four days."
There's always a punch line with Lou Holtz. He delivered them in style again to the delight of a Northwest Arkansas crowd again. Some may have heard them before three decades ago, but they laughed with the old coach Monday like they were hearing them for the first time.
Lou Holtz: Bielema Can Win SEC
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