Lou Holtz understands where Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is at and what could be in store for him in the future.
Holtz, an analyst for ESPN, led the Irish to their last national championship in 1988.
With Kelly on the cusp of returning a title to Notre Dame when the No. 1 Irish (12-0) face No. 2 Alabama (12-1) in tonight’s BCS championship game in Miami, Holtz knows what Kelly has gone through to get to this point.
These are some things that you learn as you go there, that boy, the demands and the expectations, all of the sudden you feel I’ve got to be different, I’ve got to be special, Holtz said. And you don’t. Just be yourself and by the third year you start to feel that.
Holtz followed in the foot steps of past Notre Dame coaches Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine by winning a national title in his third year at the school.
With Kelly trying to finish his third year with a title as well, Holtz warned that being a champion at Notre Dame changes everything for a coach again.
What happens is when you win it, everybody puts you on a pedestal. Once you are on a pedestal, it doesn’t matter what you do, it ain’t good enough, Holtz said. We finished second in the country, and everybody called me an idiot. A guy finishes last in medical school, they call him a doctor.
The story is the rise to the top. Once you are on top, the only story then is the coming down. We went, I think, 10 straight years, we went into November with a chance to win the national championship. Some chances were better than others, but I don’t think we ever had more than one loss going into November. The expectations become different. You are supposed to be infallible. You are never supposed to make a mistake. Your team is always supposed to have everything perfect.
Holtz said his advice to Kelly if the Irish do defeat the Tide for the national title is not to feel like he has to keep maintaining the success every year.
Instead, Holtz said Kelly needs to set even loftier goals every year.
There is a rule of life, you are either growing or you are dying, Holtz said. It has everything to do with are we trying to get better or are we trying to maintain. If you’re on top, you say this is pretty good let’s not change anything. If don’t change anything, you do not have anything you are trying to aspire to. You have no reason to celebrate, you have no reason to get excited. When I left Notre Dame, I thought I was tired of coaching. It is not tired of coaching. It is tired of maintaining.
The dumbest thing I did was I should have set standards that nobody felt was possible. That’s the thing I regret, don’t maintain.