Supposedly, Lou Holtz played fullback at Kent State in his youth, and if he did, he is the only 157-pound fullback I’ve ever known. But this has nothing to do with that. This is about the Lou Holtz I have known as he moved along as a coach, nothing exciting, but a loose-leaf illustration that all great coaches don’t
grow up with a golden whistle in their mouth.
The year, I’d guess, was about 1971. I was standing on the sideline at Furman University watching the Atlanta Falcons in preseason practice. Norm Van Brocklin had the athletes jumping through the hoops and abiding by his command. Standing on the hillside, a few yards from me, was a thin man with two
boys at his side. He wore glasses, and might have been an insurance salesman. I thought I had seen him before, but I couldn’t place him.
As practice wound down, he walked over toward me, and as we spoke, I realized it was Lou Holtz. (and one of the two sons would become a coach himself). We shook hands and after a few minutes, Lou said, “Would you introduce me to Norm Van Brocklin?”
I’ve thought of it several times since. Here was a coach who would later coach champions at Notre Dame, and here was a coach at the top of the game, but not for long. So I introduced them, and they visited. Briefly. Norm didn’t have much time for a skinny guy in glasses.
Next chapter: I had a call one day in 1976 from Lou Holtz, who was coming through Atlanta on his way home from the NCAA coaches’ convention in New Orleans. He had crossed swords with the administration at N.C. State, and he had a higher goal in mind. The Atlanta Falcons were without a coach and Lou had a vision.
“I’m coming through Atlanta tomorrow,” he said, “and I was wondering if you could arrange it so I could meet with Rankin Smith.” It turned out that I was able to make the connection.
I arranged for Lou to meet Rankin and me at the Capital City Club downtown. After all the introductions were made, we sat down in a quiet corner, and Lou and Rankin got acquainted. After a couple of drinks, I decided I should take my leave and let Lou get on with his pitch, and I excused myself.
A week later I had another call from Lou. He was back home in Raleigh and getting restless. He had heard nothing from Rankin. “Have you heard anything from Rankin Smith?” he asked.
I told him I hadn’t. “I mean a week has passed and he hasn’t got back to you?” I said. Nor would he. Rankin had apparently enjoyed more than his quota of martinis, forgot Lou and rehired Marion Campbell.
In time, Lou was hired by the New York Jets, and it turned out that both Rankin and Lou had made bad decisions. Lou would have been more at home in the South than he was in the Big Apple. A 3-and-13 record got him fired. He never have the NFL another thought, went to Arkansas, and there the Lou Holtz saga took legs.
Since you see him regularly on television now, just thought you might be interested.