Hall of Fame Coach Lou Holtz: “In rebuilding a program, what are the most important aspects in which to focus?”

Hall of Fame Coach Lou Holtz:

“In rebuilding a program, what are the most important aspects in which to focus?”


In the very first meeting, I would tell them they had no choice in who became head coach because they did not have a vote. And, if they did, they would not have voted for me, and I understood that. I wanted them to understand that I had a choice. I had a great job and didn’t need to move my family, but I came there because I wanted to be with them, because I thought if we worked together something great would happen.

The second thing is that I had to hire a good staff. The most important thing about a good staff is that they must be good teachers. If they are good teachers, that meant they could communicate with people. If you can communicate with people, you can not only be a great coach on the field, you can also be a great recruiter. And, most importantly, the character and integrity of our staff had to be outstanding. If you have great character on your staff, you will get along with and help one another.

Then, we talked to the team and about how we were going to win. We had a plan for how to win and it was absolutely crucial. When we lost, I could talk to them about the fact that we lost not because of what the opposition did, but because of what we did. They could choose any game that they wanted and I would go over the plan and show them how they failed to live up to the plan, and that this was the reason we lost.

Here are some points to follow:

1. Who is toughest? We must be the toughest team on the field, not dirty, but mentally and physically tough.

2. We had to be the best fundamental football team. Everybody had to be tough, but everybody also had to execute the blocking and tackling.

3. The 7 commandments. We must win the turnover battle, we can’t give up cheap touchdowns, we can’t have foolish penalties, we can’t have missed assignments, we can’t play poorly on 3rd down, we must play well on the goal line, and the kicking game has to be perfect.

4. Togetherness. It was so important that we believed in and trusted one another.

5. We had to believe that we were going to win.

This was all in the plan and one thing is obvious, we controlled most of the things in the plan, so our future was going to be determined by what we did and not by what the opposition did.

The last thing I felt was important was to have each player ascertain where he wanted to be one year from now; academically, athletically, socially, financially, religiously. Then, the athletes had to answer these questions honestly:

1. What price are you willing to pay financially to achieve it?

2. What sacrifice are you willing to make to do it?

3. What skills and talents do you have to acquire to have it happen?

4. Who do you have to work with to have it done?

5. What problems and obstacles are you willing to overcome to get it done?

6. What is your plan to do it?

We had to answer these same questions in relation to our goals as a team – to win a championship and go to a bowl game.

I could go on and on about coaching on the field and handling different things, etc., but I’d tell the athletes this motto, “There is never a right time to do the wrong thing, and never a wrong time to do the right thing.” I advised them to discipline themselves. If you discipline yourself, others will not have to discipline you. Discipline is not what you do to somebody, it is what you do for somebody. Everybody on our team was held accountable for the choices they made.

This is just the start of how you turn a program around. Thank you.


Lou Holtz