“If I had not gotten fired from my job as head football coach at Arkansas, I never would have realized my dream of coaching football at Notre Dame and winning a National Championship.” Lou Holtz.
Sunday, December 18, 1983 – Fayetteville, Arkansas: Arkansas Head Football Coach Lou Holtz had just returned from church when Athletic Director Frank Broyles called and asked him to come by his office. When Holtz arrived, Broyles got right to the point, “Lou, I want you to resign.” Holtz thought Broyles was joking, but he was dead serious. “Why?” Holtz asked. “I just think it’s best for the program,” Broyles replied. The news hit Holtz like a brick.
Holtz and his wife Beth had hoped the University of Arkansas would be their last stop. They talked about retiring in Fayetteville. He had the best won-loss record (60-21) in University of Arkansas history, had the second best won-loss record ever in the Southwest Conference, and during his tenure Arkansas had received seven consecutive postseason bowl invitations. Holtz was angry and hurt. He didn’t think that he deserved to be fired.
The following day Harvey Mackey, a successful businessman, New York Times bestselling author, and personal friend gave Holtz a call. Mackey, a University of Minnesota alumnus, was helping the athletic director fill the head coaching position. He wanted Holtz to come to Minnesota.
As far as Holtz was concerned, Minneapolis was the North Pole. Beth encouraged him to stay positive instead of moping around and feeling bitter. He followed her advice and packed for a trip to Minnesota.
It was snowing during the drive to the Fayetteville airport and Holtz threatened to go back home. “No,” Beth insisted, “We’re more than halfway to the airport and the snow is easing up. Plus, there’s nothing waiting for us back in Fayetteville.”
Despite below zero temperatures and plenty of snow on the ground, Holtz liked the people and the program in Minnesota.When he and Beth prayed about the decision, Holtz had a sense of peace about the offer, and he had an idea. He asked the University of Minnesota for a Notre Dame clause – if in the future the University of Notre Dame offered Holtz a job, and if Minnesota were bowl eligible, he could terminate his contract and accept the position.
The Minnesota athletic director initially balked at Holtz’s unusual request, but the 53-year-old coach persisted. Because he was the fifth coach offered the job, after two days the AD agreed to the clause. In 1984, Lou Holtz became the head coach at the University of Minnesota. He won four games his first year. The following season his team went 6-5 and was invited to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Holtz, a devout Catholic, had grown up in Ohio with a dream of coaching football at Notre Dame. The sisters of Notre Dame taught him in high school, and he marched to the Notre Dame fight song at recess, lunch and at afternoon dismissal.
A week after the Independence Bowl, Holtz got a call. It began, “Lou Holtz, this is Father Joyce from Notre Dame…In 1986, the taskmaster and strict disciplinarian took over a struggling Fighting Irish football program.
Three years later, January 2, 1989, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, Lou Holtz’s 13-0 Notre Dame beat West Virginia to win the national championship. Holtz coached for 11 seasons at Notre Dame with a 64-9 record. He took the Irish to nine straight bowl games, still a Notre Dame record.
“Things are not always going to go the way you would like them to go,” says Lou Holtz. “It is important to maintain a good attitude and don’t ever lose sight of your dreams. If I had been able to see the future and known what would happen five years later,” Holtz smiles, “I might have hugged Frank Broyles’ neck when he asked for my resignation. You never know when bad things are intended to lead you in a good direction.”