Skip Holtz tries to mute emotions on Notre Dame return

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When Skip Holtz last visited his alma mater, he arrived via RV, a gaggle of family members surrounding him at the tailgate. He then watched his father, Lou, coach his last game at Notre Dame Stadium, capping a tenure ultimately worthy of a statue outside the place.

Wearing winter coats to fend off marrow-rattling chill, Holtz, his brother and his father took pictures on the stadium turf. Later, Holtz's son was baptized in the campus' Log Chapel, with the glee club singing "Ave Maria."

The precision of Holtz's memories conveys the weight they carry. On Sept. 3, it will all come back to him as he comes back to it.

"It will be a lot like that last game," said Holtz, the current South Florida head coach, who will bring the Bulls to Notre Dame for both teams' season opener.

"It'll be a very memorable day, a day I'll always remember, I don't care what happens. But I don't know that it necessarily will be hard. When the ball gets on the tee, you want to line up and win. Once the game starts itself, it's about the obligation I have to my players to give them the best chance to compete."

To be clear, Holtz is aware that quashing the emotions will be much like trying to contain a geyser blast with a bottlecap. He fell for Notre Dame instantly, played there, graduated in the Class of 1986 and coached under his father from 1990-93.

He remembers making the final four of the campus Bookstore Basketball tournament but being ousted by a team led by Bubba Cunningham and Steve Beuerlein. He also knows, as he quipped Monday, that Notre Dame is "celebrating their 120th year (of football) and we just celebrated our 100th win."

"I just need to keep in perspective that the game is bigger for South Florida than Skip Holtz," he said.

Still, the place set the bar for Holtz's head coaching stops at Connecticut, East Carolina and now South Florida.

"When you've had the opportunity to play and coach at a school like Notre Dame, you understand what big-time football is all about," Holtz said. "That has helped me keep things in perspective as far as where we need to go and what we need to do to get there."

He claims he hasn't daydreamed about his father's old gig, beyond a natural desire to coach the alma mater. Really, with a dangerous South Florida squad, Holtz only needs to be as successful as the old man for one day to leave a mark.

"I'm not trying to be the next Lou Holtz," Skip Holtz said. "I'd look like Bozo the Clown walking around with shoes that big."

bchamilton@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribHamilton

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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