STrib: Coach Lou Holtz was building Gophers into a football power. What if he never left?

BleedGopher

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 11, 2008
Messages
52,498
Reaction score
2,568
Points
113
per Kent:

“It was the biggest hire in the recent history of the program,” said Dave Mona who hosts “The Sports Huddle” with Hartman on WCCO Radio. “Especially in terms of getting a name. I remember the shock value of it. When the news broke, people were like, ‘No way.’ They’d never seen anyone like it. Magic tricks, enthusiasm, name-dropping. He was a national sports coach. ”

Season ticket sales passed 50,000, with 25,000-plus watching the spring game.

Holtz got to work, getting a South Carolina quarterback named Rickey Foggie to come north to play. In 1984, a team that had lost 18 of its past 19 went 4-7. The Gophers won Big Ten games over Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa.

And then, 1985: The Gophers started 2-0, then hosted No. 2-ranked Oklahoma, losing just 13-7. The Gophers then beat Purdue, Northwestern and Indiana, rising to No. 20 in the polls, before losing 23-19 to ninth-ranked Ohio State. The Gophers ended up 6-5 and got a bid to the Independence Bowl.

But by the time that game was played, Holtz was gone to Notre Dame. It was a difficult divorce, at least on this end.

But what if it hadn’t happened?

“Minnesota would have been a Big Ten power," Mona said. “If he could have maintained it for five years, the likelihood of it lingering longer would have been better. I think he would have been very successful.”

Mackay — still good friends with Holtz — took it a step further.

“I love my wife,’’ he said. “I love my kids. I love my business. I’d put ’em all on the line that he would have been, absolutely, year-after-year, fighting for a national championship.”

It was a bit harder back then, in the sense that in the Big Ten, other teams had to play traditional powers Michigan and Ohio State every year. Holtz’s assistant, John Gutekunst, took over and went 6-6, losing in the Liberty Bowl. By the time he left after the 1991 season he was 29-37-2. Jim Wacker took over after that and, well, we all know how that turned out.

Mona said Holtz had recruited another South Carolina QB named Tony Rice, who then followed Holtz to Notre Dame, where he led the team to the national title in 1988.

So, what if?

“It’s almost impossible not to think about it,” Mackay said.


Go Gophers!!
 

MNVCGUY

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 8, 2011
Messages
9,690
Reaction score
2,522
Points
113
Agreed. His act would have also worn out its welcome just like it did with Arkansas, NYJets, ESPN and just about everywhere else he surfaced. His bailing out on Minnesota has helped his myth continue here.

He certainly seemed to have things moving in the right direction in a very short time but the sample size was so small I am not sure anyone can truly know how it would have turned out for him here. Just because he went on to success at a football power like Notre Dame doesn't mean that would have happened had he stayed here.

The biggest problem Holtz left behind is the fear of abandonment that Gopher football fans deal with. Hopefully Fleck staying, (when he clearly could have jumped ship last year) will help heal some of those old wounds and get those long suffering fans to let go of the idea that as soon as a coach has success here they are going to leave for greener pastures.
 

Gophersince72

Member
Joined
Jan 24, 2020
Messages
57
Reaction score
66
Points
18
I've always been torn on the Holtz thing. I have no doubt he would have landed in trouble with the NCAA. I also have no doubt he would have had the Gophers eye-to-eye with Mich and OSU in a couple of years. Not just Rice, but that recruiting class had verbals from multiple other stars of the ND national championship team. Would have been fun to watch. Maybe we can do it the "right" way with Fleck?
 

go4rob

Active member
Joined
Nov 22, 2008
Messages
907
Reaction score
36
Points
28
He certainly seemed to have things moving in the right direction in a very short time but the sample size was so small I am not sure anyone can truly know how it would have turned out for him here. Just because he went on to success at a football power like Notre Dame doesn't mean that would have happened had he stayed here.

The biggest problem Holtz left behind is the fear of abandonment that Gopher football fans deal with. Hopefully Fleck staying, (when he clearly could have jumped ship last year) will help heal some of those old wounds and get those long suffering fans to let go of the idea that as soon as a coach has success here they are going to leave for greener pastures.
That is what bugs me the most: Minnesota fans are constantly in fear of a Coach rebuilding the Gophers and then leaving, just like our other coaches, when, in fact, the ONLY coach to have done so previously, was Holtz. Every other football, or basketball, coach, has left here at the request of the A.D. Minnesota has been unaccustomed to having to actually KEEP a head coach that other schools coveted. This is now a different time, but it certainly appears we are doing everything possible to keep our current coaches. The facilities have never been better and the salaries are commensurate with the rest of the BIG10.
 

Plato

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 14, 2019
Messages
753
Reaction score
464
Points
63
Bleacher Report has him #2 on the list of the most scandalous couches ; leaving NC ST, MN, ND and SC under a NCAA cloud
 

Gold Rush

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 20, 2008
Messages
1,336
Reaction score
246
Points
63
I always love reading about Rickey Foggie - my all time favorite Gopher.
Mine too. He sure was exciting to watch! And as much as I loved seeing him in action, I think Tanner Morgan just might replace him as my favorite Gopher football player if he continues as he did last year! I really like that guy!!

P.S. Last football season was my favorite Gopher season - ever! Very excited to see the team in action if we get the season going!
 

cemba99

Bruce Smith for Governor
Joined
Nov 20, 2008
Messages
546
Reaction score
41
Points
28
In some ways, the two years of Lou remind me of an investment "pump and dump" scheme. He was certainly getting nationwide acknowledgement of coaching a team back to respectability (if there was a gopher team that was worst than the 1983 squad, I'd like to hear about it), but probably bending many rules to get there quick. On a somewhat different note though - had he stayed around for a few more years, the 1987 season could have been a breakthrough fan-wise. The NFL strike left a lot of football fans looking for something else to do on the weekends.
 

go4rob

Active member
Joined
Nov 22, 2008
Messages
907
Reaction score
36
Points
28
Mine too. He sure was exciting to watch! And as much as I loved seeing him in action, I think Tanner Morgan just might replace him as my favorite Gopher football player if he continues as he did last year! I really like that guy!!

P.S. Last football season was my favorite Gopher season - ever! Very excited to see the team in action if we get the season going!
I was just watching some old Gopher games on BTN. They had the Michigan game here when Jerry Kill was coaching and Philip Nelson was the QB. I was astounded at how many mistakes we were making throughout that game. Just about every time we got inside the Michigan 10 yard line, we had a procedure call against us. Or a fumble. The passing game was sporadic at best. I think last-year's Gophers would have beaten THAT Gopher team by 4 touchdowns. There was no comparison. I'm really hoping we can have a season this year so that momentum can keep going. With recruiting going well, the sky is the limit. PLUS we are finally getting some "buzz" around town and in the media. Had the virus not happened, wouldn't it have been fun to see how attendance would have been this year. No telling what the future holds, but my fingers are crossed, for many more important reasons than just the football season.
 

Whytetale

Member
Joined
Jan 29, 2017
Messages
130
Reaction score
24
Points
18
That is what bugs me the most: Minnesota fans are constantly in fear of a Coach rebuilding the Gophers and then leaving, just like our other coaches, when, in fact, the ONLY coach to have done so previously, was Holtz. Every other football, or basketball, coach, has left here at the request of the A.D. Minnesota has been unaccustomed to having to actually KEEP a head coach that other schools coveted. This is now a different time, but it certainly appears we are doing everything possible to keep our current coaches. The facilities have never been better and the salaries are commensurate with the rest of the BIG10.
You are right, but you forgot to mention Brenda Frieze (sp). This myth that they all leave is maddening.
 

cncmin

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 20, 2008
Messages
17,961
Reaction score
2,172
Points
113
You are right, but you forgot to mention Brenda Frieze (sp). This myth that they all leave is maddening.
That, and of course Glen Mason flirting with OSU and others, which I still believe ruined his coaching career since it ruined the rally folks around here were making around him.
 

Some guy

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 1, 2014
Messages
9,057
Reaction score
2,068
Points
113
Lou Holtz was incredibly bad for gopher football.

When he took over the program was less than 20 years removed from a conference title (for context...Nebraska hasn’t won a conference title in 21 years)

when he left, the program was abandoned.
The program abandoned their stadium and moved to metrodome. Recruiting violations. No team he coached or recruited for ever won more than 6 games. (The team had won 7 as recently as 1977 and 6 as recently as 1981).

Admittedly I wasn’t around for the Holtz years, but for me. The hiring of Holtz and the move to the Metrodome was the beginning of the end of decent gopher football. It was the last attempt at resurrection that failed miserably.
 

dave444

Member
Joined
Nov 1, 2016
Messages
41
Reaction score
22
Points
8
In some ways, the two years of Lou remind me of an investment "pump and dump" scheme. He was certainly getting nationwide acknowledgement of coaching a team back to respectability (if there was a gopher team that was worst than the 1983 squad, I'd like to hear about it), but probably bending many rules to get there quick. On a somewhat different note though - had he stayed around for a few more years, the 1987 season could have been a breakthrough fan-wise. The NFL strike left a lot of football fans looking for something else to do on the weekends.

Fan wise they were packing them in with Holtz. I have no doubt he would have put Minny to a top 10 program. Beating Michigan and Ohio State is another thing. Make no doubt the man could recruit and coach!
 

Gold Rush

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 20, 2008
Messages
1,336
Reaction score
246
Points
63
Fan wise they were packing them in with Holtz. I have no doubt he would have put Minny to a top 10 program. Beating Michigan and Ohio State is another thing. Make no doubt the man could recruit and coach!
You are absolutely correct! You have to realize the 1983 team that went 1-10 was possibly the worst Gopher football team of all time. Although it had some good players, injuries mounted and I remember they did not even put out a betting line on the Michigan game because they did not know if Minnesota could put out a competitive team. They put out an ad in the Minnesota Daily for able bodied students to walk on just so they could have enough players to practice. It was bad.

Enter Lou Holtz and they took that team to fever pitch intensity. He gave the team hope. Everyone rallied around him and they sold out the Metro Dome with 60,000 fans. When he left, it was a really crushing blow for us. It would have been like PJ Fleck leaving after two years - we never would have gotten to see that awesome year 3 they had last season. Same thing for Holtz -- if he had stayed he would have brought some really good times here. I am not sure where the poster who said he never won or recruited a team to more than 6 games got his info -- Lou Holtz won a national championship a few years later at Notre Dame. I think he won 6 or more games at Notre Dame like 10 years in a row...lol.
 

cncmin

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 20, 2008
Messages
17,961
Reaction score
2,172
Points
113
You are absolutely correct! You have to realize the 1983 team that went 1-10 was possibly the worst Gopher football team of all time. Although it had some good players, injuries mounted and I remember they did not even put out a betting line on the Michigan game because they did not know if Minnesota could put out a competitive team. They put out an ad in the Minnesota Daily for able bodied students to walk on just so they could have enough players to practice. It was bad.

Enter Lou Holtz and they took that team to fever pitch intensity. He gave the team hope. Everyone rallied around him and they sold out the Metro Dome with 60,000 fans. When he left, it was a really crushing blow for us. It would have been like PJ Fleck leaving after two years - we never would have gotten to see that awesome year 3 they had last season. Same thing for Holtz -- if he had stayed he would have brought some really good times here. I am not sure where the poster who said he never won or recruited a team to more than 6 games got his info -- Lou Holtz won a national championship a few years later at Notre Dame. I think he won 6 or more games at Notre Dame like 10 years in a row...lol.
I still have an old audio cassette called "Gopher Fever", including the likes of Lou Holtz in a three-song collection. I feel that old audio cassette is a perfect symbol of what the feeling was during that exciting time in Gopher football history. I remember the crush of Holtz leaving. That, along with the crushing Vikings' playoff losses over the years and other horrific Minnesota sports results, leaves some serious jaded scarring on this fan.

As for Gopher football, if feels like mid-to-end of last year was the first time since the second Holtz season that there has been that level of excitement around Gopher football, even though there were a few better-performing seasons under Mason and Kill than Holtz ever had at the U. What Holtz sold, though, and what Fleck is selling now, is confidence, results, and a better future that could include high-end national prominence.
 

Word

Eats difficult conversations
Joined
Jun 7, 2009
Messages
7,187
Reaction score
1,786
Points
113
I think last-year's Gophers would have beaten THAT Gopher team by 4 touchdowns.
Probably would have been a low scoring game. Those Gopher teams generally did well against passing teams. They just couldn't score any points. But yes, you'd figure the 11-2 Gopher team should handily beat the 6-7 Gopher team.
That Michigan game was where the Wolverine's surprised everyone by starting Devin Gardner at QB. I feel like we were chasing him all game.
 
Top Bottom