By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
CHARLESTON — With all of the negative news about priests appearing in the media on a daily basis, if ever there was a time for a pep talk for the presbyterate this was it.
In an act of providence, Bishop Robert J. Baker had extended the Chrism Mass luncheon speaking invitation to a master motivator almost a year in advance. Lou Holtz, head football coach at the University of South Carolina, would be the presenter March 26. He considered it an honor and a privilege to be in Charleston during Holy Week.
“I come here very humbly. The primary purpose of being here is to thank you,” said Holtz at the luncheon at the Radisson Hotel. “I cannot possibly thank the priests and the nuns for the effect they had on my life.”
The Ohio native and former altar boy was raised by Catholic parents and four Catholic grandparents, whom he said never missed Mass.
“I can honestly say I owe more to the people in the priesthood and the sisters than anybody else, except my mother,” Holtz said. “I believe that the most important foundation in my life is my religious beliefs and that came from the nuns and the priests. I feel I have been blessed in so many different ways.”
The coach joked that he was not a great athlete or student, describing himself as a third-string linebacker at Kent State who graduated in the bottom half of his class.
“Yet God put me in this profession — college athletics — that I’ve been involved in for the last 40 years,” he said.
He tries to pray the rosary every night and tries to say daily prayers.
“I’m not a saint. I’ve never been in a Catholic Church that didn’t have a confessional,” he said to laughter. “I just try to thank God for all the great blessings I’ve had.”
The coach alluded to some of the widely reported problems the church is currently facing.
“We’re having a difficult time by some standards,” he said.
“I’m proud to be a Catholic. I don’t know how I could get along without my faith.”
Holtz recounted several tales from the Bible: Moses separating the Red Sea, Jonah spending three days in the belly of whale, and Jesus taking two fishes and five loaves and feeding 5,000.
“I believe it,” he said, “but when it comes to daily life we’re afraid to hand it over to God.”
The SEC coach of the year shared his philosophy of life.
“It’s something I believe in with all my heart. My philosophy is not very complicated. God gave us a lot of wonderful powers — the power of love, of faith, and to believe,” he said, “but I believe the greatest power we have is the power to choose. We can choose our attitude.”
During his first season at the University of South Carolina his wife had her second major cancer surgery, his son Skip was hospitalized with a life-threatening illness, his mother passed away days before the Florida game, the school airplane crashed killing the pilot, and the team lost every single game they played that year.
“I’ve been down on the bottom. I’ve had things go against me,” the coach said. “But I can control my attitude. God put us on this earth with a plan. You can feel sorry for yourself or get up.
He said, “Have a passion to do the best you can.
“I love to be around winners. Why? Successful people have made sacrifices.”
The coach challenged his players to make sacrifices and come together as a team. At a practice before his second season at South Carolina, he asked the players to write down everything they didn’t like — about each other, the team, themselves, life. They buried their dislikes beneath an unmarked tombstone at the practice field. The symbolic event marked a turnaround in the program.
“Someone successful gets rid of all their excuses. It’s amazing how many people have built-in excuses,” Holtz said.
In preparation for this talk in the Holy City, Holtz phoned his good friend Bishop John D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for advice on what to say to the clergy. He told Holtz, “Remind them what was said at their ordination: Understand what you are doing. Imitate what you handle. And follow the life of the cross.”
“It is an awesome responsibility you have,” the coach said. “There is no greater honor than the discipline and sacrifice it takes to become a priest.”
The coach explained that his football teams share three core values, and he believes the church, family, and country must share these same core values.
“Do what’s right so people can trust you,” he said. “Without trust, there’s no chance.
“We have to do things to the best of our ability. People don’t understand the power of goodness they have. People don’t understand the greatness of God.”
Thirdly, the coach said, “We’re going to care about other people.”
Holtz noted that one of the great experiences he had at Notre Dame was working at the International Special Olympics in 1987 as a hugger. “I came out after that as a changed individual. Too many people pass judgment on one another.”
Holtz closed his presentation by recalling a Friday night chapel service held following the Sept. 11 tragedy. The minister discussed the heroes who saved lives during the disaster .
The coach said finally, “But think how much greater it would be to save someone’s soul for