Lou Holtz is a College Football Hall of Fame coach who led the University of Notre Dame to a national championship in 1988. Holtz is also a sought-after motivational speaker and author of several books, including A Teen’s Game Plan for Life and the recently released Three Rules for Living a Good Life.
The legendary coach recently talked with Ave’s Bob Wieneke, a former ND football writer for The South Bend Tribune, about his newest book and his hopes for helping younger generations.
Ave Maria Press: You wrote in the introduction that you were not going to preach in this book, instead telling readers what you believe. Why was it important to write the book this way?
Lou Holtz: “When you tell people what to do, you’re giving them advice. There’s a big difference between opinion and advice. When coaches call me, I give them my opinion. Opinion is my thought—this is what I believe, this is why I believe it. I can only tell you what my experience was and what my thoughts are. I’m not going to give you advice. I just want to make sure they understand this is my opinion but it’s their life. They can do what they want.”
Ave: What is the satisfaction of authoring a book like this and helping people?
Holtz: “The only things that are going to change between where you are today and where you’re going to be five years from now are the books that you read, the people you meet, and the dreams you dream. Books can have a strong influence. They had a strong influence on me growing up. You try to take advantage of the experiences you’ve had. I don’t write about something I’ve read about or heard about. I write or talk about things that I believe, things that have happened, and experiences I’ve had.
“I think that the most important thing in that book is that’s life’s a matter of choices. Whoever you are, good or bad, is going to be because of the choices you make. Wherever you are, good or bad, the kind of choices you make, those three rules will help you always make good choices. You’ll never need a fourth.”
Ave: Is there anybody in particular you’ve really felt you’ve made a difference with?
Holtz: “So many letters from former players. I never felt I coached football. If felt I coached life. The same things that make you a good player are the same things that’ll make you a good father or a good husband. I get a lot of letters from various people. I made a speech not long ago and mentioned something about my wife’s health. (I got a letter from a woman saying) the speech was impactful and simple and powerful and it changed her life. She had a young woman who worked for her who had cystic fibrosis (which Holtz’s wife, Beth, is also faced with). She had 25 percent lung capacity, an infection in her lungs which could not be cured. They found a doctor in Seattle and the young woman now has 80 percent function in her lungs, the infection is gone, and she hikes and camps and things like that. In the letter the lady said ‘you’ve done so much for me I wanted to do this for you and share this with you.’
“God is the one who influences it. My job is to write the book and God’s job is to see if there is somebody who will use the book for the good of it. But the fact that the book is sold predominantly by word of mouth speaks volumes for it, not about me.”
Ave: You intersperse your faith throughout the book. How important is it for you to deliver that message?
Holtz: “I don’t know how people function without faith. You grew up having that faith and belief and you get away from home and go to college and start questioning if there is a God. When you start looking at the makeup of a human being, how can you tell me all this happened by chance? When you look at the fact that eleven of the twelve apostles died as martyrs, you don’t die for a lie.”
Ave: In the book you talk about the importance of growing rather than maintaining. What was it like to realize that lesson and grow from it?
Holtz: “When I was at the University of Notre Dame, we had tremendous success with that program, but you reach a point, no matter what you do, when it doesn’t seem to be good enough. You finish second in the country and everybody calls you an idiot. So you get to a point where you’re thinking, well, you know, let’s not change anything. Let’s just maintain what we have. Let’s keep being one of the best in the country each and every year. This is a pretty good life.
“When I left Notre Dame I thought I was tired of coaching. But I was not tired of coaching. What I was tired of was maintaining. I still missed the relationships with the players, the competition, things like that. The only reason I went back into coaching was because the AD at South Carolina convinced me that the program was in very, very poor shape. The challenge was going back to correct it. I tell people no matter your age, you have to have something you want to accomplish, what gets you up every day.”
“That’s the thing with my wife – trying to give her goals, a purpose, and something to achieve. It doesn’t have to be big lofty things—just little things, little goals. Let’s see if we can walk a half-mile today. Yesterday we did a quarter of a mile. Let’s see how soon we can get to a half-mile. That’s all that is.”
Ave: Anything else?
Holtz: “I hope that this book will enable people to avoid the mistakes that I made when I got out of college, give them the benefit of what I experienced after college. I wish I’d known how simple making good choices is and how important it is. Making good choices is not trying to impress somebody else or be somebody you aren’t.”