Head Football Coach Lou Holtz
Notre Dame Tenure
Twenty-five seasons as a collegiate head coach have earned Holtz a sterling reputation for turning pretenders into contenders-for taking football programs and elevating them a level or two on their way to the top 20. He fashioned that image by utilizing his expertise at William & Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas and Minnesota. But nowhere has he done it as impressively as at Notre Dame. Here's a season-by-season briefing of what Holtz's Fighting Irish teams have accomplished:
- His Irish battled eventual Big Ten champion Michigan to the wire in the '86 season opener-and that set the tone for a series of top-notch efforts against top-notch opponents. Notre Dame finished 5-6-but that mark included five defeats by a total of 14 points against a schedule the NCAA rated the most difficult in the country. In fact, the 24-23 loss to third-ranked Michigan so impressed the AP voters that the Irish moved into the 20th slot the next week-the only time in history a team ever has moved into the top 20 by losing a game. Notre Dame finished the '86 season with a bang-by coming from a 17-point deficit with 12 minutes left to defeat 17th-rated USC 38-37 on a field goal on the last play of the game.
- His '87 campaign produced even more impressive results. Again facing what the NCAA rated the most difficult schedule in the nation, including eight teams that eventually earned postseason bowl invitations, the Irish won eight of their first nine games and earned a bid to the Cotton Bowl for Notre Dame's first major bowl appearance since 1980. Along the way, Holtz's squad recorded victories over both Rose Bowl participants-Michigan State and USC-as well as perennial powers Alabama and Michigan on its way to an 8-4 mark. Eight of Notre Dame's foes either finished the regular season in the top 20 or ranked there when they played the Irish. His work earned Holtz one of the four finalist spots for the Paul "Bear" Bryant College Coach of the Year Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).
- His '88 Notre Dame team finished the season with a perfect 12-0 record-the first Irish team ever to win 12 games-after moving atop the wire-service polls beginning the first week of November. Along the way, his Irish fashioned key triumphs over eventual Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion Michigan, then top-ranked Miami (the defending national champion) and unbeaten and second-ranked USC in the '88 regular-season finale. Notre Dame's Fiesta Bowl win over unbeaten West Virginia handed the Irish their 11th consensus national crown and their eighth since the Associated Press poll came into existence in 1936 (the Irish won previously in '43, '46, '47, '49, '66, '73 and '77). His work in '88 earned him national coach-of-the-year honors from the FWAA, The Sporting News, Football News as well as the Touchdown Club of Washington, D.C. and CBS Sports.
- His team's 12-1 mark in 1989 ranked as another of Holtz's major achievements, especially considering the Irish spent the entire regular season-12 straight weeks-ranked atop the wire-service polls. The Irish played nine teams that qualified for postseason bowl games, defeating Atlantic Coast Conference champion Virginia, second-ranked and eventual Big Ten champion Michigan, 17th-ranked Air Force, ninth-ranked and eventual Pacific-10 champion USC, seventh-ranked Pittsburgh, 17th-ranked Penn State and finally top-ranked and unbeaten Big Eight champion Colorado in the Orange Bowl. The consecutive 12-victory seasons by Holtz and the Irish in '88 and '89 marked only the second time in collegiate history a team had performed that feat-with Nebraska also accomplishing it in 1982 and '83. The 12 wins in '89 loomed particularly impressive considering they came against a schedule rated most difficult in the nation by the NCAA. In winning its first 11 games in '89, Notre Dame stretched its record winning streak to 23 consecutive games-breaking the previous mark of 21 set by Leahy's teams between 1946 and '48. During that 23-game streak, the Irish defeated nine top 20 teams, including seven ranked in the top 10 in the wire-service polls. That history-making streak helped make Holtz one of four finalists (for the third straight year) for the FWAA coach of the year award.
- His '90 team's 9-3 record came against what the NCAA rated the most difficult schedule in the country in its preseason ratings. The Irish defeated five teams ranked in the Associated Press top 25 at the time of the game-and defeated six teams that eventually qualified for postseason bowl invitations. The Notre Dame slate featured triumphs against fourth-ranked Michigan, 24th-rated Michigan State, Liberty-Bowl-bound Air Force, second-ranked and defending national champion Miami, ninth-rated and Southeastern Conference co-champion Tennessee and 18th-rated USC. The Irish accomplished that while holding the number-one ranking in the AP poll coming into six of their 11 regular-season games. Notre Dame held that ranking for 25 weeks combined over three seasons (seven in '88, 12 in '89, six in '90).
- His '91 team confronted six teams that merited bowl invitations-including Big Ten champion Michigan (Rose Bowl), Tennessee and Penn State (opponents in Fiesta Bowl), Indiana (Copper), Air Force (Liberty champion) and Stanford (Aloha). The Irish knocked off a Pittsburgh team that was unbeaten and ranked 12th nationally on gameday-and also defeated a Stanford squad that won seven straight games after its loss to Notre Dame to finish 17th in the final regular-season USA Today/CNN poll. Notre Dame's 39-28 triumph over third-rated Florida in the Sugar Bowl left the Irish at 10-3, good for 12th in the final USA Today/CNN poll (13th in Associated Press). All three losses came against teams that finished in the final regular-season AP top 10.
- His '92 team blazed through a seven-game, season-ending winning streak, highlighted by five victories in the last six games against teams that finished in the final regular-season AP top 25-25th-ranked BYU, 16th-rated Boston College, 21st-ranked Penn State, 23rd-rated USC and fourth-ranked Texas A&M. Overall, the Irish played seven games against teams that eventually qualified for postseason play-Michigan (Rose Bowl), Stanford and Penn State (Blockbuster), BYU (Aloha), Boston College (Hall of Fame), USC (Freedom) and Texas A&M (Cotton).
- His '93 team began the season with major question marks on offense, but the emergence of quarterback Kevin McDougal enabled the Irish to set a single-season record for pass completion percentage while 1,000-yard rusher Lee Becton and Lombardi Award winner Aaron Taylor keynoted a typically-rugged ground game. Notre Dame got off to a big start with a September road win against favored Michigan, peaked in a November triumph against top-rated Florida State that propelled the Irish to the top of the polls-and culminated in a come-from-behind triumph against seventh-ranked Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Notre Dame's 11-1 mark enabled the Irish to post at least nine wins for the sixth straight season-something that has never before happened at Notre Dame-as the Irish finished second in the final polls.
- His '94 team persevered, despite frustrating injuries at the running back and offensive line positions that put a damper on Notre Dame's 4-1 start. With sophomore quarterback Ron Powlus and junior split end Derrick Mayes setting season marks for TD passes and TD receptions, respectively, the Irish faced six teams that eventually won postseason bowl games.