UA SPORTS HALL OF HONOR:

Lou Holtz let go of anger after firing

By: Bob Holt
Published: Sunday, September 4, 2016
Former Arkansas coach Lou Holtz acknowledges the crowd at halftime of a game against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Jason Ivester
Former Arkansas coach Lou Holtz acknowledges the crowd at halftime of a game against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Fayetteville.

ROGERS -- Lou Holtz said in his induction speech for the UA Sports Hall of Honor that he expected Arkansas would be his last coaching job in college football.

"We thought we'd stay here the rest of our lives," Holtz said Friday night during a banquet at the John Q. Hammons Center. "Then I was fired.

"I might be the only inductee you've ever had that was fired before getting into the Hall of Honor."

That line drew laughter from the crowd, but Holtz wasn't joking.

Yes, Nolan Richardson was fired as Arkansas' basketball coach in March of 2002, but that was after he'd been inducted into the Hall of Honor in 1996.

Holtz is the only inductee among 22 head or assistant coaches at Arkansas who was honored after being fired.

Frank Broyles, the retired Arkansas athletic director who made Holtz his hand-picked successor as coach in 1977, fired him after seven seasons and a 60-21-2 record.

Holtz never had a losing record at Arkansas, but the Razorbacks had their worst mark of his tenure at 6-5 during his final season in 1983.

Arkansas went 30-5-1 his first three seasons and 30-16-1 his last four.

"Coach Broyles made a decision he thought was best at the time," Holtz said after the banquet. "That's the way life is sometimes."

Holtz told the crowd Friday night he initially didn't appreciate how his Arkansas tenure ended.

"I was mad, I was bitter, I wanted to go to the media," Holtz said. "But my wife [Beth] said, 'No. We'll move on.'

"I've never said a negative word about Arkansas or anybody here."

Holtz, 79, coached at Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina after he left Arkansas and finished his college career with a 249-132-7 record over 33 seasons, including prior stops at William & Mary and North Carolina State. His longest tenure was at Notre Dame, where he led the Fighting Irish to a 100-30 record in 11 seasons and won the 1988 national championship.

During his speech Friday night, Holtz heaped praise on Broyles, who attended the banquet.

"When Coach Broyles brought me to Arkansas, it changed my life completely," Holtz said. "Not only was he a great coach, but he was a great athletic director, a great ambassador and a great leader for Arkansas. I hope you all appreciate everything he's done.

"Coach Broyles, I learned so much from you. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity."

Holtz credited Broyles with helping him get hired as Notre Dame's coach in 1986 by giving a strong recommendation to Athletic Director Gene Corrigan.

"I ended up at Notre Dame because of Frank Broyles," Holtz said. "The point I'm making is, sometimes things are going to happen you don't think might be fair or right, but move on with your life.

"Don't be bitter or eventually your wife will have to hire pallbearers when you pass away because you won't have six friends."

Kevin Scanlon, the Southwest Conference player of the year in 1979 as Arkansas' quarterback, said Holtz's firing "was a stunner for him at the time," but he handled it well.

"Coach Holtz took it in stride, and that helped him get to Notre Dame, which was his dream job," Scanlon said. "For him to come back and have no animosity and speak so highly of Coach Broyles, I think it speaks well for him."

Ron Calcagni, who quarterbacked the Razorbacks to a 31-6 victory over No. 2 Oklahoma in the 1978 Orange Bowl, said Holtz wanted to stress to the crowd his feelings for Arkansas and Broyles despite being fired.

"Coach Holtz was very upset when it happened, but he loves Coach Broyles for giving him an opportunity to come here," Calcagni said. "Coach Holtz had a lot of great years here, and he never burned that bridge to Arkansas.

"He made a decision to not let it eat him up. He let it go."

After Friday night's banquet, Broyles and Holtz spoke for several minutes, exchanged some laughs and posed for pictures with fans.

"What he's done for the state of Arkansas you can't deny," Holtz said of Broyles. "Not just in football, but what he's done with the other sports, the facilities, the whole state.

"There was a time Arkansas was the butt of many jokes. It's not anymore. Not with Wal-Mart and Stephens and Tysons and J.B. Hunt. It's incredible."

Holtz stepped down from his job as an ESPN college football analyst in April 2015 after 10 years with the network, but Scanlon estimated he still has more than 50 speaking engagements a year.

"Coach Holtz is still vibrant and wants to keep active," Scanlon said. "I think he really gets a lot of energy out of everything he does and it's fun for him."

Scanlon said he called Holtz in the spring at the request of Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long to see whether he'd be available to be inducted into the Hall of Honor this year now that he doesn't have scheduling conflicts because of coaching or working at ESPN.

"Coach Holtz would have been inducted years ago, but he wanted to be able to be here," Scanlon said. "It's long overdue, but it's great it finally happened."

By coincidence, Holtz was honored on the same weekend Louisiana Tech -- coached by his son, Skip -- played Arkansas.

"I'm rooting for Skip's team," Holtz said. "But I'll be rooting for Arkansas every other game."

Sports on 09/04/2016

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