Remarks by President Trump at the Presentation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Lou Holtz
Oval Office Washington, DC December 3, 2020 11:46 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. Today it's my privilege to present our nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to one of the greatest coaches in American history: the legendary Lou Holtz - a friend of mine. Great gentleman. Great man.
We're delighted to be joined this afternoon by members of Lou's wonderful family, along with the Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe - John, thank you for being here; and Senator Lindsey Graham, who I think most people know - I would say they know you, for the most part; and Pat Cipollone, a big fan of Notre Dame. Right? Thank you, Pat, for being here.
Lou was born during the Great Depression in the steel town of Follansbee, West Virginia. We love West Virginia. He grew up in poverty in a two-room cellar. But as Lou says, "I knew God and my family loved me, and their love was all the wealth I needed. That's everything I needed. That's all I wanted."
As a child, Lou sat on his uncle and grandfather's lap and listened to Notre Dame football games on the radio. They were big fans of Notre Dame, I guess, even before you. That wasn't too long ago, was it? (Laughter.) They were big fans. And you - so he learned at an early age about Notre Dame.
At the age of nine, he took the field in his first game. He then played throughout high school. And Lou went on to attend Kent State, where he did very well, on an ROTC scholarship.
After graduation, Lou served as an officer in the United States Army and then pursued his dream of coaching. He wanted to be a coach right from the beginning because he knew he was a leader. He didn't have to say it; he knew he was a leader.
In 1961, Lou made what he described as "the smartest decision of my life." And I knew your wife, and I will tell you, that was your smartest decision, right? (Laughter.) We got to know her well. She was strong and good. He married his wife of 59 years. Beth passed away just a short while ago, and it was a very tough time, I will tell you. It was a very tough time for Lou and the family. But we know that she's looking down from heaven right now with incredible pride. She's so proud of this man. I got to know her over the last few years, and she was a - she was a great woman. But she's looking down right now. She's very proud of you, Lou.
In 1969, Lou became head coach of William & Mary. And over three seasons, he won the Southern Conference and led the Tribe to their first bowl game in 22 years.
And, by the way - and I have to tell you, when we were researching this out, I knew he was supposed to be a good coach, but I didn't know how good he was, because these stats are very amazing. You'll see. I was really very impressed, John, I will tell you.
Lou then became head coach of North Carolina State, which had won only nine games over the previous three years. Not too good. He took it off - he took it over, and under Coach Holtz, they won the ACC title and achieved the highest national ranking in NC State's history.
Lou went on to coach, and so I guess you were making a lot of money by this time because they were trying to get him to go to all these different schools. He was a hot coach. Nothing like being hot, right? (Laughter.) He had his choice. He had his choice to go into a lot of different places.
Lou went on to coach at the University of Arkansas. He built the Razorbacks up from a five-and-five record into a top five team in the nation. They won everything.
Lou left Arkansas with the best win-loss record ever and a very fat bank account. (Laughter.) He then coached at the University of - you were making a lot of money all of the sudden. Huh? I know how that works.
He then coached at the University of Minnesota, which was ranked dead last in the Big Ten. Before he signed his contract, he prayed, and then he did something that was unprecedented. He inserted a clause - with great negotiation talent, which he has - that they call today the "Notre Dame clause." It stipulated that if Lou did really well and went to a bowl game, he would be free to go to Notre Dame should they ask him to go.
So he had something going, right? You great football player. You are - you are some player, I'll tell you. (Laughter.) You are something. You just - just - and you're - you weigh about 30 pounds less than you weighed when you played in the NFL, right? (Laughter.) I'm very impressed.
In just two years, he secured a top 20 ranking and propelled the Golden Gophers to victory at the Independence Bowl. So he was on his way to Notre Dame. He knew it. Nobody else did. I guess the Notre Dame officials knew it.
He was offered a coaching job at Notre Dame immediately, and he also took it immediately, as much as he loved the team that he just left. When he became the head coach a year later, the Fighting Irish were losing team. They were doing very, very poorly. Lou got to work and quickly returned Notre Dame to the status of a football powerhouse and the legend that they were.
At the end of Lou's first season, the team faced off against their archrivals, the University of Southern California Trojans. The Fighting Irish were down 17 points in the fourth quarter, but they soon pulled off - Notre Dame - one of the greatest comebacks in college football history. They scored two touchdowns in less than eight minutes and then kicked a field goal in the final two seconds of the game. At that moment, Holtz said he felt the spirit of Notre Dame. He loved Notre Dame. And do you still remember that game?
MR. HOLTZ: Oh, very - my son roughed the punter.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I - (laughs) - you weren't too happy about that.
MR. HOLTZ: Oh, no. I understood why a certain species of animals devour their young. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: So your son has a little of you in him as well. (Laughter.)
For the next decade, the Fighting Irish won 80 percent of their games and went to nine consecutive New Year's Day Bowls. And in 1988, the cover of Sports Illustrated said, "Notre Dame is back." "Notre Dame is back." He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and many other covers. Notre Dame remained number one in the country for the longest stretch in the school's history.
See, I didn't know all this stuff. I knew you were a great coach; I didn't know you were this good, to be honest. (Laughter.) This is beyond a great coach. So you had the longest streak in the history of Notre Dame at number one. What do you think about that, Lindsey? Sounds like you in the Senate.
SENATOR GRAHAM: Yeah. (Laughter.) Except we don't play with a helmet.
THE PRESIDENT: He had an easy race. You know, he had an easy race. The problem was his opponent had $140 million. That's - that was a record, I guess. Wasn't it, huh? Guess what? Here's Lindsey.
During the tenure at Notre Dame, he coached a - Lou coached a record number of games, secured 100 victories, and delivered Notre Dame's most recent national championship. So he did some job at Notre Dame.
Then Lou became the head coach at the University of South Carolina, which he loves. He loves South Carolina - which had won only one bowl game in 108 years. He was going to take it easy, and then he gets another offer. Man, oh, man. I'm watching that money just pile up. (Laughter.)
He was going to go and just relax now. He did his thing at Notre Dame. He won national championships - the longest streak. Then he goes to University of South Carolina, and I can imagine why. He loves - you do like money a little bit, don't you? Right? He was offered a big deal. Lou tripled that number and secured a top 20 ranking immediately.
Over the course of his career, Lou won nearly 250 games - and is one of the highest ever, by the way - and is the only coach in NCAA history to take six different teams to a bowl game. Think of that.
Wherever Lou went, football glory followed. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.
And I will say this about Lou: Everybody loves him. Everybody respects him. He's tough as hell, and yet they all respect Lou. They just - it's amazing. They love him, and they respect him. Sometimes it's a combination that doesn't come together, you know? They respect, but you are - you are something. "I never coached football; I coached life," he said. And it's true. His players really always loved him.
He's turned his inspirational story and motivational message into three best-selling books. He's also been an exceptional philanthropist. That's all that stuff that he collected. He's opened educational opportunities for students, provided insulin pumps to diabetic children.
And we've just brought down the price and the cost of insulin. Right? You're shaking your head. It's amazing what we did, right? Insulin - you couldn't buy it. It was destroying families. People were going without it. Now it's $35, right? You can't believe it. I see you're an insulin pro. You're involved, right? Family.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT: That's great. No, it's - we've done a great job with - with costs. But insulin, maybe, Lindsey, is one of the best - $35. They were paying 10 times that amount. You couldn't get it. So we changed that around, Lou.
And supported cancer research. And has traveled to 13 countries to visit the American troops. Lou's leadership and his faith and kindness have inspired and uplifted millions of fellow citizens.
He's one of the greatest titans in American football history. And his towering reputation will endure forever in the chronicles of athletics, but more importantly, in the chronicles of life - because he's really a life teacher. That's what he is; he's a life teacher. He teaches people how to live and how to live properly, and how to live with dignity.
So I'd like to now ask the military aide to come forward and prepare for me to give our highest medal. We have the Congressional Medal of Honor, and we have the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And I will say, I give away a lot of Congressional Medal of Honors, and that's a tough one to get. You know, that's a tough one to get, because they come in with - when they come in, a lot of times, mostly, they can't come in for obvious reasons. But they come in where - they're unbelievably brave people. And they have had more bullet holes and bullets shot at them and in them. That's the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Your route is a much easier one. (Laughter.) As tough as it may have been, it's a much easier one.
MR. HOLTZ: That's true.
THE PRESIDENT: I always say that about the two.
MR. HOLTZ: I'll remember that. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: It's - your route is a much easier - the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
So I'd like to ask first Lou to say a few words, and then we're going to present. Thank you very much.