Editor's note: On every remaining Sunday in 2020, the Star Tribune will republish a memorable Sid Hartman column from the archives. This is Sid's column from the Sept. 13, 1986, edition of the Star Tribune after he talked to former Gophers football coach Lou Holtz before his first game as Notre Dame's coach.
Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz talked this week about how he had been ready to make "a commitment to Minnesota for the rest of my active coaching days." He would be at Minnesota today had things worked out.
Holtz didn't want to go into details because he doesn't want to embarrass anybody, but close friends always will remember the date — July 23, 1985.
Gophers men's athletic director Paul Giel was having heart problems again. Giel was concerned he might need another operation and wouldn't be able to handle his job.
Giel asked Holtz if he would like to take over most of Giel's duties. Giel wanted to continue to be a fund-raiser, to represent the university at Big Ten meetings and to handle public relations. Holtz would run the daily operation and make the big decisions. The university administration favored Giel's idea.
Holtz talked with his wife, Beth, and decided to make a five-year commitment to Minnesota, under an ironclad contract binding him to Minnesota whether Notre Dame or anybody else called.
Holtz was enthused. He had big ideas. However, when he had a second meeting with Giel, something happened. They couldn't agree on which duties each would perform. So the deal fell through.
Giel again approached Holtz late in the football season. He was ready to give Holtz what he wanted.
It was too late. Holtz already had been approached by people close to Notre Dame.
Not easy to leave
It wasn't easy for Holtz to leave. The same people who sold Holtz on taking the Gophers' job let him know he could name the salary he wanted to stay at Minnesota.
There is no doubt that the downtown group would have raised enough money to pay Holtz $500,000 a year if he decided to stay at Minnesota.
However, Holtz is a devout Catholic, and Notre Dame was something he wanted. He took the Irish job at a big cut in salary. He also had to cut the number of speaking appearances he makes around the country, appearances for which he is well paid.
He had his critics in Minnesota, but they were in the minority. And those people didn't know what they were talking about.
Good football job
Holtz said the Gophers program is in good hands, and he rates John Gutekunst as one of the great college football minds in the country. He also said the Minnesota job is a good one, "one of the 10 best in the country. The reason I say that is that the university is the only big school in the state. It is a school that has had good success on the football field before. It has a national reputation for having good football teams.
"It is a great school academically. You also have a great business community. The students and the football players have great employment opportunities once they get through with school.
"I think you can win at Minnesota with the heart and soul of your team coming from the state. You can also recruit nationally because you have so much to offer in the area and in the state. Anybody who has ever lived there will tell you it's just a beautiful place to live."
Notre Dame unique
Holtz said the Notre Dame job is unique. "You have the national attention, the national focus, the history, the tradition and all that goes with it. Due to the fact that I'm Catholic, this job is more special to me than it may be to somebody else.
"It may sound like double talk. But Notre Dame is the easiest place to win a national championship and yet the most difficult. It's easy to win because you have the reputation, the tradition, you have a great school and one with super academics. We've graduated 98.6 percent of our football players over the last 20 years. We've had 486 players reach their senior year and 481 have got their degrees. So an individual at Notre Dame is going to get a good education and he will graduate in four years."
Big national interest
Because Notre Dame is a national university, "we can go into California and have as good a chance to recruit a good athlete as Southern California," Holtz said. "We can go into Ohio and compete with Ohio State."
Holtz said there are some negative recruiting points. "If an individual wants to emphasize football and just be a pro football player, this isn't the place for him," he said. "He won't come here because the academics are for real. We don't start practice until 4:30 because most of the football players have late classes. We never have a night meeting because the athletes have a lot of studying to do.
"We do not redshirt. We don't have an athletic dorm. We don't have a training table."
Tough game today
Holtz rates Michigan, today's opponent, the best team Minnesota faced last year. The Gophers lost 48-7.
He said the Irish are improved over last spring. He has the best secondary he has ever coached and a great wide receiver in Tim Brown. However, he said, "I don't know how we are going to react in front of 60,000 people."
How will Holtz feel today when he realizes a dream and leads the Irish onto the field?
"When you walk through the tunnel you will be nervous and there could be a chill running down your back,'' he said. "But once you get on the field, you will be thinking about your responsibility. The responsibility you have out on the field is to give the player a chance to win. That will occupy my mind more than anything else."