Lou Holtz changed his mind. He thinks Notre Dame should join the Big Ten.

"I'm an old man, and all my life I've said that Notre Dame should remain independent because it's a national school," said Holtz, a former Fighting Irish coach who was in the Twin Cities last weekend. "We played the very best in the country from Texas to Tennessee to Miami of Florida to Southern Cal.

"However, two days ago was the first time I've ever said that I think Notre Dame ought to seriously consider joining the Big Ten. Because what I see happening, I see four or five superconferences."

Holtz, 73, is a great commentator on college football for ESPN. He coached the Gophers in 1984 and '85 before leaving for the Irish. He was in South Bend from 1986 to '96, won the national title in 1988, went to a school record nine consecutive bowl games and was 100-30-2 at Notre Dame.

"Why'd you have the Big Ten? Because you had a lot of schools with a lot in common," Holtz said about the conference that basically was formed 114 years ago. "Geographically, they weren't very far away."

Now it's all about athletic programs trying to make as much money as they can.

"What you're trying to do is build up your Big Ten Network [on television], so by bringing Nebraska in or Notre Dame, or whoever else may be ... it's not just about football, you have to look at what Notre Dame's non-revenue sports and Olympic sports, where they're going to go, where they're going to compete, where they going to have a chance to win the championship.

"And, I think that for the first time, Notre Dame ought to consider joining the Big Ten. I never felt I would say that. But I believe that in my heart now, and I think that maybe they will."

Rebounding program

Since Holtz left Notre Dame, the Irish football program has struggled. He was followed by Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis. Notre Dame is 91-68 since 1997. That .572 winning percentage pales in comparison to the Irish's winning percentage before 1997 -- .770.

Holtz is convinced the hiring of University of Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly will turn the program around.

"When I went there they were saying the academics was too tough, the schedule was too demanding and all this other nonsense," Holtz said. "Any time you start looking for excuses, you need to get rid of all the excuses why you can't win.

"Notre Dame will win, it will win big and it will win soon. You hire the right person at Notre Dame, Notre Dame wins championships and that's Brian Kelly."

Kelly coached the Bearcats to a 12-0 record and a Big East title last year before leaving to take the Notre Dame job. Without Kelly, Cincinnati then lost in the Sugar Bowl to Florida.

"The guy's been at some other colleges and won and built a solid program," Holtz said. "You look at Ara Parseghian was at Northwestern, Frank Leahy was at Boston College, Dan Devine at Missouri. Myself at Arkansas, Minnesota. We all won a championship.

"You go hire a high school coach [such as] Gerry Faust and Terry Brennan. Great people. But you don't hire a high school coach. You don't hire an assistant coach [such as] Bob Davie or Charlie Weis. You go get a coach that's won and there's no doubt about it, Brian Kelly will build a great program."

Kelly, 48, built powerful programs at smaller colleges (Grand Valley State and Central Michigan) before doing the same at Cincinnati.

Holtz said he was disappointed with some of the teams on Notre Dame's schedule.

"They play Western Michigan, they play Tulsa, they play some people like that. That's not really Notre Dame," Holtz said. "But there's no doubt in this world Notre Dame will win. They have enough athletes, they do every year. You can be at Notre Dame, stick your head out the kitchen door, give a holler, and you'll get 15 All-Americans who will come there. I mean, that's not a problem."

Holtz knows what it takes to build a winning program. He did it at William & Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina, all under tough circumstances. No college coach in the country has built more winning programs than Holtz.

Kubel heats up

Jason Kubel hit safely in his ninth consecutive game in the Twins' 5-1 loss to Colorado on Thursday. He finished the nine-game homestand with 12 hits in 33 at-bats (.364), including three home runs.

"I feel like I'm getting there. [I'm having] a lot better at-bats, hitting balls better, and that's all I can ask for," Kubel said. "That comes with just seeing the ball and feeling comfortable. It's all about just your mind-set. It's not really what your mechanics are, where your swing is at. Everything's fine, you just need to be able to see the ball."

Kubel has six of his nine home runs at Target Field.

"[In] the Metrodome you could hit to center field, right-center, left-center, left field and it'd get out," Kubel said. "Here you've got to pretty much hit it down the lines."

Kubel has played both designated hitter and the outfield. "As long as I get to play every day, I'm fine with whatever it is," he said.


Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi said any contracts signed by coaches for the 2010-11 year will include a 1.5 percent cut, like other University of Minnesota employees, and that includes the contract of baseball coach John Anderson. Anderson will be paid $139,397 for next season, minus the cut. However, Maturi said he will be able to give coaches a 2 percent raise on any contracts signed as of June 1, 2011.

Liz Euell, a senior associate athletic director under Maturi, expects the men's and women's athletic departments to finish in the black. Euell reported the cost of scholarships for athletes will reach $9.1 million for the 2010-11 year now that there has been a 3.5 percent raise overall in tuition and housing.

Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith and his wife, Donna, are on a 10-day mission trip to Kenya and Tanzania. ... A new NCAA regulation will allow the Gophers to include freshmen on the three-game exhibition trip to British Columbia in September. ... Smith's team will have a nine-day minicamp Aug. 22-30.

Bobby Knight believes Michigan State men's basketball coach Tom Izzo did the right thing when he rejected an offer to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers and stay at Michigan State. "It's hard to coach players who are making a lot more money than the coach, and Izzo will have a lot more security where he is," Knight said.

Larry Fitzgerald, the All-Pro Arizona Cardinals wide receiver, will conduct a clinic on June 21-23 for football players who will be entering grades 7-12 at Holy Angels in Richfield. Proceeds benefit the Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com