Holtz, Broyles, Nutt - "It's Personal"

There was a meeting between players and Coach Lou Holtz this past Sunday. During the course of the meeting in which many things were discussed Coach Holtz is said to have remarked, "I want to win this one badly." And his team is now set to respond, and now you are about to read the rest of the story ...


Coach Holtz relaying a desire to his team to win the Arkansas game is nothing new.

"Coach Holtz told us this was the only school that fired him," said Gamecocks nose guard Cleveland Pinkney in 2001.

Evidently, Mr. Pinkney and his fellow Gamecocks had something to prove to Arkansas that year. The Gamecocks beat Arkansas 27-0, the last victory for South Carolina in the Arkansas series.

Hold on there, Cleveland! When Holtz left Arkansas after the 1983 season, it was a mutual decision between he and Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles, wasn't it? In a public statement announcing Holtz' separation on December 18, 1983, Athletic Director Frank Broyles explained, "Lou is tired and burned out." Broyles did not say, "I fired Lou Holtz."

At the time, Holtz did not comment.

Whoa! Who in their right mind would fire a coach as effective as Lou Holtz? From 1977 to 1983, he led Arkansas to a combined record of 60-21-2, and took the Razorbacks to six straight bowl games. His Razorback teams finished four times in the top ten, and five times in the top-twenty. Lou Holtz is still the second winningest coach in Razorback history--behind Broyles.

Holtz was even elected to the Arkansas Hall of Fame, in 1982, only a year before his, uhh . . . , separation. Something's amiss. Let's look at this discharge issue in depth.

Lou Holtz took over the Arkansas program when Broyles retired from coaching in 1976. Broyles became the Athletic Director, and remains in that position even today.

Holtz immediately reinvigorated the Arkansas football program, which had struggled through an uninspired 5-5 season in Broyles' final year as Head Coach. The 1977 Razorbacks finished the year with an 11-1 record, a third-ranked finish in the polls, and a dramatic Orange Bowl victory.

In fact, the 1977 Orange Bowl win against second-ranked Oklahoma is one of the most famous Arkansas victories in its history. In that game, Oklahoma, led by coach Barry Switzer, needed a victory to achieve a national championship. The Sooners were heavily favored in the game to beat the Razorbacks and that was before Holtz suspended his best two running backs, Ben Cowins and Michael Forrest, and his top receiver, Donny Bobo, for an alleged dormitory incident. (According to newspaper reports, the three, unmarried players were caught with an unclad woman in a dormitory room.) Oklahoma was so heavily favored that in the minutes before the game, Holtz joked in the locker-room with the Razorback players that, "The last players out on field would have to start against the Sooners."

The players responded to Holtz' motivational tactic by demolishing the Sooners, 31-6. With the victory, Arkansas finished third in the final NCAA polls, behind Notre Dame and Alabama. The game is such a classic that it lives on today in Arkansas football lore. Additionally, Arkansas was was picked by Sports Illustrated as the 1978 pre-season favorite to win a national championship.

There is no way, is there, that Broyles would fire a coach with such a record of achievement? Was Broyes' 1983 statement to the press that Lou was tired and burned out true?

It appears not. Although Holtz did not comment to the Arkansas media, he did tell the Minnesota press, "One hour I was the coach of Arkansas and planning to keep on being the coach. An hour later my life had changed."

Hmm, this sounds very much like Lou-speak for, "I was fired."

What about Broyles' claim Lou was "tired" or a "burn out." Holtz certainly rebutted that allegation by immediately turning around the Minnesota football program, followed by his eleven years at Notre Dame, where he posted a 100-30-2 record. The Fighting Irish also won a national championship under Holtz in 1988.

So, considering Holtz' excellent record of performance, what could have led to his dismissal? The Answer: politics.

Holtz became a somewhat controversial figure during the latter part of his tenure at Arkansas. He aggravated Broyles and Arkansas boosters by his off-season appearances as a motivational speaker. Broyles and some in Arkansas did not appreciate Holtz' sense of humor, such as when he joked about Fayetteville, "It's only fifteen minutes to Tulsa . . . by phone."

Holtz was also criticized by some for suspending the three star players prior to the Orange Bowl game, and was accused of some as being too moralistic when that decision was made. Others, including current Head Coach Houston Nutt, who played quarterback for Holtz for one year before transferring to Tulsa, complained that Holtz was too tough on his players.

Holtz was involved in an Arkansas racial controvery when he was sued by the players he suspended before the Orange Bowl. The players, African Americans, sued Holtz alleging he suspended them because they were caught with a white woman.

President Bill Clinton, then the Attorney General of Arkansas, successfully defended Holtz, a State employee. The players' suit was dismissed as unfounded.

Holtz created further controversy during his tenure at Arkansas for political issues. Heavy weights in Democratic Arkansas did not appreciate Holtz' support of conservative North Carolina Republican Jesse Helms, a friend of Holtz since his time as the North Carolina State coach. Although they were never aired, in 1983 Holtz filmed three commercials in which he endorsed Helms' North Carolina reelection campaign. At that time, Senator Helms was best known for his filibuster against a federal Martin Luther King Holiday. Holtz publicly stated he disagreed with Helms on the MLK issue, but his support of the Republican upset many of the politically-oriented, Arkansas Democrat elite was not pleased. Some of Arkansas supporters argued Holtz' political support of the conservative Republican Helms would impair his ability to recruit African American players for the Arkansas football program.

During 1983, the Razorbacks ended the year with a disappointing 6-5 record and did not obtain an invitation to a bowl game. However, Arkansas also lost the Baylor game by a point when a Razorback kicker missed a short field goal in the final seconds.

Meanwhile, sources in the Arkansas Athletic Department (Broyles?) leaked stories to the media that Coach Holtz was "depressed." When asked about the alleged depression that year by Arkansas media, Holtz quipped, "When I get depressed, I just go home and read my five year contract."

More Holtz-speak? Holtz' humor was not likely appreciated by Broyles. On December 18, 1983, Holtz was summoned to Broyles' office for a meeting. Following the meeting, Holtz' was unemployed.

Holtz is tired and burned out, said Broyles.

Tired, burned out . . . or fired. No wonder Kalimba Edwards remarked that the Arkansas game is a special game for Coach Holtz."

Let's hope the 2003 Gamecocks will prove to Mr. Broyles and all the Arkansas fans in Little Rock that Lou Holtz ain't quite burnt yet. Let's hope the 2003 Gamecocks show that Coach Holtz and his South Carolina Fighting Gamecocks can still play a half-way decent game football.

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