After a few games to whet the appetite this past weekend, the college football season now begins in earnest, promising months of memorable and tradition-laden competition from tonight thru the beginning of 2023.
Few men are more intimately familiar with the game than Lou Holtz, the legendary coach whose career spanned five decades, most notably his eleven seasons at the helm of the University of Notre Dame, where he led the Fighting Irish to a national championship in 1988.
A man of strong Christian faith, Holtz’s folksy demeanor and warm wit has endeared him to legions of fans and audiences for years. His self-deprecating and entertaining take on things makes him easy to listen to.
When asked about his losing record at William & Mary College, where he got his start, he says it was a great school – but when it came to fielding a football team, they ran up against the reality of having too many Marys and not enough Williams.
When asked whether he liked cruises, “To me, going on a cruise is like being in jail. Only you’ve got a chance to drown.”
Lou says his 59-year marriage to his late wife, Beth, got off to a rocky start. When she broke up with him during their dating years, his friend Nevitt Stockdale told him, “You and Beth have a love-hate relationship. You love her and she hates you.”
But things worked out – and Lou is always happy to pass along some of the wisdom he’s accrued over the years.
What advice does the old football coach-turned-television analyst have to offer regarding the pathway to a happy family life?
1.Make Faith Your Top Priority: Lou and Beth believed it was important to worship together as a family each week. While praying throughout the week, they used the acronym ACTS:
First, they acknowledged God’s greatness. Second, they confessed their sins. Third, they expressed their thanksgiving for all their blessings. Lastly, they would solicit God and plead to Him with their needs and ask Him for His counsel and direction.
2. Appreciate Each Other: Despite keeping a busy coaching schedule, the Holtzes always reserved Wednesday nights for date night. “We would go out to dinner and visit with each other,” he wrote. “I would listen to her problems and concerns. I think a wife appreciates a husband who is open and honest, and is not afraid to tell her about his own concerns and failures, knowing he is not looking for pity but rather for good advice and understanding.”
But being a football coach, Lou said he never “wooed” his wife – he recruited her – and never stopped all 59 years.
3.Make a Daily Connection with Your Spouse: Despite all the nights on the road for games and recruiting, Lou and Beth made a pact to call one another each evening at 10 P.M. Lou was also known to write and mail notes and cards to his wife, even when he was in town. He wanted her to go to the mailbox and see a love letter in between all the bills.
4.Enjoy the Moment, But Think Long Term: When money was tight, Lou and Beth made spending choices based on what might give them the most happiness over the longest period of time.
“I remember one time we debated whether to buy some peanuts we could snack on or Mitch Miller’s record album. We finally decided on the album because we realized we could listen to Mitch Miller many times over, whereas the peanuts would be gone in a matter of minutes.”
5.Three Rules for Parenting: Lou and Beth raised and launched four children – Luanne, Skip, Kevin and Elizabeth. In the process, they established and insisted on their children following many household rules. They felt the simplest and most obvious ones were also the most important:
- Teach children right from wrong. “We used the Bible – especially the Ten Commandments – as a starting place. Worship God. Honor your parents and treat your siblings with respect. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Be happy with who you are. Simply put, do the right thing.”
- Teach children to do everything to the best of their ability. “We didn’t start by demanding our children earn the best grades or be the best on a team. No, we began by encouraging them to make the right choices on smaller things, one choice at a time and one day at a time.”
- Teach children to be honest with their intentions. “We strongly suggested to them that they take personal pride in what they do and to make sure people know that they genuinely care.”
Over the years, Holtz has summed up this wisdom into a single sentence:
“Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care.”
6.Stay Committed: Beth and Lou considered their marital vows to be akin to a “lifetime contract” that was unvoidable and irrevocable. “Marriage vows can be particularly difficult,” Lou wrote. “The person you marry at age twenty-four will not be the same person at age forty-four or sixty-four.”
Beth Holtz fought cancer for years, a disease that eventually took her life. But during her battle a reporter asked her, “What have you learned from having cancer?” She replied, “I learned how much my family loved me.”
In 2020, Lou Holtz was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Trump. He said of the experience, “It was the only breathtaking moment I ever had in my life without my wife.”
Lou Holtz may no longer walk the sidelines of the collegiate gridiron anymore, but he continues to motivate, inspire and encourage, urging people with ears to hear that it’s always better to be a participant than a spectator.