What Army Service Taught Football Legend Lou Holtz About Leadership

Lou Holtz
Lou Holtz (center) prepares to board a helicopter while traveling with Operation Honor Our Troops at Forward Operating Base Spin Boldak, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, June 6, 2013. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann)

WASHINGTON -- Louis "Lou" Leo Holtz has spent much of his life on the gridiron. In 1956 and '57, he played linebacker at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.

While at Kent State, he was also enrolled in Army ROTC and was commissioned in the Field Artillery Branch of the Army Reserve when he graduated.

In a career that spanned 44 years, Holtz held a variety of football coaching jobs in college and the NFL.

Holtz was an assistant coach at Iowa (1960), William & Mary (1961-63), Connecticut (1964-65), South Carolina (1966-67) and Ohio State (1968). He served as a head coach at William & Mary (1969-71), North Carolina State (1972-75), Arkansas (1977-83), Minnesota (1984-85), Notre Dame (1986-96) and South Carolina (1999-2004).

Despite moving around a lot, his college coaching record was 249-132-7 and included a national championship at Notre Dame in 1988. His NFL coaching record with the New York Jets in 1976 wasn't as impressive: 3-10.

Later, he became a football analyst for CBS Sports and ESPN.

Throughout his football fame, Holtz never forgot his Army roots.

He has frequently visited U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, talking to them about football and leadership. He's also a member of the American Legion in Indiana.

He once said the Army and ROTC "have been a positive thing in my life, because I wasn't very good in discipline or leadership skills. I learned lessons in leadership and self-discipline."

On June 21, 2016, Holtz visited U.S. Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, where he shared his football experiences and lessons learned.

"I am a big believer in accountability and responsibility, and I learned that from my time in the military," Holtz said. "There is never a wrong time to do the right thing, just like there is no right time to do the wrong thing."

He emphasized the importance of working as a team, setting goals and caring for others.

"You've got to make a sincere attempt to have the right goals to begin with, and then go after them with appropriate effort," Holtz said. "And remember that you can't really achieve anything great without the help of others."

Holtz then expanded on the importance of teamwork in the military.

"Our country has never faced greater challenges than we have right now," said Holtz. "We need that teamwork, and we need to work together for that common cause. You can't be at your best without working together."

In 2019, Holtz was presented with the American Legion's James V. Day "Good Guy" Award in Indianapolis.

"For many years, this coach and great American has contributed time and resources to charitable endeavors, including the Lou's Lads Foundation, the Holtz Charitable Foundation and numerous other great causes," American Legion past national commander Daniel M. Dellinger said while presenting the award.

In 2020, Holtz received the Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump in a ceremony at the White House.

-- Military.com contributed to this report.

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