This story is over 5 years old.


Loving, Hating, and Missing Lou Holtz

Lou Holtz was, by most standards, a pretty terrible broadcaster. But college football will be a little quieter and a lot less interesting without him.
Photo by Nelson Chenault-USAT

In most respects, Lou Holtz made for a truly terrible broadcaster. To listen to him talk is to watch someone trying to pass lasagna through a colander. Sentences did not manifest as originally intended and were often downright mangled; errant blurts of sauce gurgled into the air. And while objectivity in journalism may be impossible, Holtz never bothered to consider the idea, openly politicking for Notre Dame—the school at which he had the most success as a coach—with the urgency of a Senator trying to earmark some porky home-cooking onto every bill that made its way onto the floor.


Holtz habitually tried to pass off anecdotes as analysis and was unapologetically indolent about the pronunciation of surnames, which to be fair was only, like, a third of the job. If you possessed even a rudimentary knowledge of the 25 teams in a given week's AP Poll, odds were good that nothing he said throughout his Saturday broadcasts was of any value. One would also be remiss not to mention his more nefarious side, which includes but is probably not limited to berating shivering interns and praising Hitler's leadership acumen. So no: not a good broadcaster.

Read More: Tom Coughlin Has Some Questions For Millenials

Which means that no one entirely disagrees with ESPN's decision to boot everyone's least-favorite fuddy duddy off the network. Whatever line of questioning there has been mostly centers on why it took them so long. There's an actual answer to that, as it turns out.

Whoever that answer is, he'll arrive on set this fall fresh off of wearing a helmet or a coach's visor, and while he'll almost certainly have better diction than Holtz, it's unlikely that he'll offer much more in the way of insight. This is by design. Lou Holtz is horrible at talking about college football—and talking, full stop—but he is exactly the sort of person that gets jobs talking about college football on television.

From an entertainment standpoint, the problem with ESPN's determination to pluck analysts from the population of recently unemployed players and coaches isn't so much the exclusivity of talent pool, although there is that. The issue is the sport itself, and it's insistence on whittling away individuality under the guise of teamwork and dedication to the game, and elevating repeated collisions with other human beings into an enlightened, monastic pursuit in its own right. It's serious about itself, but in a deeply unserious and self-congratulatory way. This is how an erudite, genuinely fascinating human being like Myron Rolle gets unofficially blackballed from the sport, and why Rashard Mendenhall cashed in his chips at 26 and called it a career; they simply wanted more personal growth than football allows.


By and large, major sports broadcasts are not looking for interesting or insightful commentators—they're looking for recognizable ones. Sports broadcasting is football's Star Search, and the warbling automatons that make it through the casting process generally display enough individuality to reliably spit out Cover 2 breakdowns on command and nothing more. Actual product enhancement is not part of the job. They are there, mostly, to perform impressions of impressions of people having fun.

"At firsht I thought thoshe were pleated khakish, but you have made them into flat frontsh." — Photo by Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

And here, finally, is where Holtz is redeemed a bit. Spittle and all, Lou Holtz was truly fun to watch, and appeared to be having real fun on camera. He played amateur psychologist with aplomb and belted out imaginary pep talks, highlighted by one especially glorious sermon that came immediately after declaring that his hypothetical Kansas Jayhawks didn't need a pep talk and that he was not going to give one, which is the closest any football coach has ever come to channeling Chappelle's Show.

Then there was Holtz's magnum opus, Final Verdict. This consisted of Rece Davis—swathed in a judge's robe and banging a gavel—adjudicating football debates between Counselor Holtz and his adversary, Mark May, on national television. It was as self-indulgent as it sounds and even in the best of times consisted of Davis playing milkmaid's yoke to two blanched buckets of sour dairy; in any other time-slot, it could have been construed as ESPN's nadir.

But College Football Final was the show that bleary-eyed addicts both demanded and deserved at one in the morning after 14-hour television binges, and the segment that had every right to be a disaster instead occasionally bordered on magnificent because of how eagerly Holtz played the fool. Or, not fool—a goddamned maniac who erupted like a sputtering Vesuvius whenever he lost, doing everything from flinging his notes to knocking over a podium to dropping truth bombs about May's football career. The act worked, in this case, because it wasn't an act. The only times Holtz impersonated anything were the moments when he tried to be buttoned-down and professional.

Whoever replaces him will undoubtedly be more skilled in the art of verbal communication and will filibuster far less about Notre Dame. Those are objective pluses. It isn't as though Holtz's tendency to color outside the lines was all good, either—the same wild impulses that kept him weird on television prevented him from seeing the downside in considering the positives of history's greatest monster.

In the end, Lou Holtz was great in the same way that he was awful, which is to say in his own way, and apart from anything else on television. He will be missed in spite of himself. That achievement at least deserves a moderately fond farewell. Or, if nothing else, a final bang of the gavel.