Lou Holtz had exactly 15 minutes to talk with us on Tuesday morning. He's plugging Allstate Good Works Team, which recognizes the good citizens of college football at large, something he smoothly worked in twice in our conversations. We condensed our talk to the on-field football details along with some discussion about his son (USF coach Skip Holtz), his relationship with Mark May on ESPN's College Football Final, and what do to about agents contacting prospects in college football.
SB Nation: You might be familiar with South Florida's new coach.
Lou Holtz: I am.
SBN: Does that get awkward when you talk to him about football?
Lou Holtz: He knows he's his own individual. He coached under me at Notre Dame and at South Carolina, so I treat him the same way I treat Houston Nutt, or Urban Meyer, or Charlie Strong, or anyone else I've worked with. I give opinions, not advice. He built up UConn and resurrected ECU, so he knows what he's doing at this point.
He wants to take USF to be a national power. Is that realistic? A lot of people say no, but people in the Big East know that if one second ticks off the clock in the Big 12 title game last year, Cincy would have played for the national title. Had WVU beat Pitt three years ago in their final game, then they would have played for the national title. So it's possible.
SBN: Tell me a little about your changing role on ESPN?
Lou Holtz: I did games with Rece Davis and Mark May, and really liked that experience. But he'll be doing the Thursday night games, and Mark and I will be in the studio. I don't really want to do the games because of the travel, and because that's unfair to my family. The two are different things. When I work a game as an analyst, all I do is look at the game like a coach. Why was something successful? What makes it work? I just try to use my expertise and whatever insight I have to the game.
SBN: And the studio work? How authentic is the animosity between you and Mark May, and how much of it is theater?
Holtz: Some of it. [He laughs] You have to understand how the show is done. We have no teleprompter, no script, and no rehearsal. Every stat or number you hear is from memory and off the top of our head. Now I have great respect for Mark. He's got a mind like an elephant, he's always well-prepared, and he works hard at his job. Our disagreements are authentic, though, because we come from two different perspectives. He's a player, and I'm a coach.
When we're on the set I like for him to go first, by the way. I ask Rece all the time to make Mark go first, because you have so much going on and my mind is going in nine million directions. Mark has a tendency to be very critical, and that focuses my thinking. When I go first, it's much harder to figure out exactly what you want to focus on.
But yes, sometimes we have a difference of opinion.
SBN: And one of those for this season might be...
Holtz: Well, for instance, I think Boise State's going to beat Virginia Tech.
SBN: You're going to have to sell me on that one, too.
Holtz: Well, first of all Boise State is a very talented team across the board, especially Kellen Moore at quarterback, who is so accurate in that system. Virginia Tech may be the more physically talented team, but Boise will be the more motivated team. I've seen this team play well against big teams, and when I watched them play Louisiana Tech last year I thought they should have lost that game, so they tend to get up for big games like this. I just think they'll be the more motivated team, since after this they play Oregon State at home, and then have to win out in conference to play for the national title. They're also very talented on defense, too.
SBN: You know Urban Meyer. Will he really be any different than he's been in order to manage his health?
Holtz: Urban's Urban. Urban is intense individual, and yes he had heart problems, but they're diagnosed now and under control. I think he'll be the same, but he's excited about this team. This past year, they come out ranked number one, and there's all that pressure with all those players coming back, and then they go the whole year and lose to Alabama. That kind of loss eats at a coach, and he takes things very seriously
I do think coaches need to get away from the game more, though. It's good for them. Urban got away, took a vacation, and he sounded better for it. More coaches should do that. I talked about this with Ara, and if they'd let us take month-long sabbaticals when we'd been there ten years or so maybe we'd have come back and coached another five or six years longer at the same place.
SBN: If I can get you to hedge on one side of the fence on the Alabama/Florida in-season matchup in September...
Holtz: I'll take Florida, since Alabama has to replace nine out of eleven starters on defense. I know they're doing that with a lot of juniors who've been in the program so it's not as bad as it could be, but still that takes some time. Also, Florida should be very motivated. Alabama didn't just beat them, they whipped them up and down the field in the SEC Championship. That kind of loss is all you think about in the offseason.
SBN: The most recent offseason drama has centered on agents. How can schools deal with this?
Holtz: A player has no use for an agent. None. An agent won't help you get drafted higher, won't make you win more games, and won't make you faster or stronger. They all say they can, but the people who do the drafting don't talk to agents. They talk to coaches, they watch film, they talk to the people who've worked with players. They don't talk to agents.
All I've seen agents do is talk players into having bad senior seasons because they're trying to keep themselves from getting injured. How many times have we seen this? If you want to get a deal, negotiate with the teams yourself. Say, "I want this much, and no less, but I'll show up to camp on time." It doesn't seem that hard to me. All an agent is going to do is buy things for a player, damage his eligibility, and make the player dependent on them.
It was a problem in my time as a coach that I worried about a great deal, and it isn't going away.
SBN: Thanks for your time, Coach Holtz.
Holtz: My pleasure.