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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI : A Forgettable Eight Days Leaves Holtz Speechless

If these weren’t the worst eight days of Lou Holtz’s coaching career, they were close. Then again, give him time--the season hasn’t even started yet.

The Holtz nightmare in review:

Tuesday, Aug. 24-- Holtz, who thinks potato chips are one of the major food groups and who also considers cleaning his glasses an aerobic exercise, is stricken with chest pains. He goes to a local hospital for tests, which prove negative.

Wednesday-- Paul Failla, Holtz’s so-called “No. 1A” quarterback, informs the Notre Dame coach that he’s leaving the team for a few days. “Personal reasons,” is the official explanation. The unofficial explanation? Try Ron Powlus, the freshman quarterback who is sprinting up the depth chart and past Failla in record time.

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Wednesday . . . continued-- The new Sports Illustrated arrives. In it, kicker Scott Bentley, who spurned Notre Dame for Florida State, says Holtz totally botched his recruitment. “Son,” Holtz is reported to have said when Bentley announced his signing plans, “you didn’t make a four-year mistake, you made a 40-year mistake.” Not exactly a gracious loser, is he?

Thursday-- No sign of Failla.

Friday-- Still no Failla sightings.

Saturday --Failla appears. Powlus disappears. A clavicle injury suffered during a scrimmage will keep the freshman sidelined for months. Too bad. Holtz was going to start him in the season opener.

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Monday --The South Bend Tribune publishes excerpts from the book, “Under the Tarnished Dome: How Notre Dame Betrayed Its Ideals for Football Glory.” Holtz is basted and roasted. Among the book’s allegations: Holtz mistreated his players . . . he once spit in a player’s face . . . he cared little that they used steroids . . . he paid two players when he coached at Minnesota and later suggested, in so many words, that they lie to NCAA investigators.

Monday . . . continued --The Rev. E. William Beauchamp, Notre Dame’s executive vice president, says Holtz is safe as a kitten. Beauchamp dismisses the book as a smear campaign, but does admit that the spitting episode, if confirmed by Holtz, makes him hot under the priestly collar.

Meanwhile, Holtz lays low.

Tuesday-- Holtz speaks. Sort of.

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Seven times during his weekly press conference, Holtz is asked about the book, which was authored by Sports Illustrated writer Doug Looney and freelance writer Don Yeager. Seven times, Holtz hid behind two words: “No comment.”

“But I’ll answer questions concerning this football team,” he said.

Great, just what everybody wanted to hear: a scouting report on Saturday’s rout-to-be against Northwestern.

THE SPIN DOCTORS

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As Holtz did his Marcel Marceau thing, the Notre Dame sports information office burned up the fax lines to a nation’s media. By late Tuesday afternoon, at least two condemnations of the book had been made available.

The first came from former Notre Dame coach Gerry Faust, now the head coach at Akron: “The authors of this book have misrepresented my views, and in the process have unjustly degraded a university that I love and admire.”

And this from John Askin, a Notre Dame letterman from 1983-86, who also was quoted in the book: “None of my positive and good experiences about Notre Dame appear in the book.” And later: "(Yeager) published only negative quotes that were obtained in a controlled and manipulative manner and used out of context.”

Next week should be a treat for Holtz, too. ABC’s “Nightline” will examine the book’s charges on Monday evening’s show. The next day, the book goes national.

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Bottom line: The statute of limitations has expired on the Minnesota allegations, so that probably rules out an NCAA investigation. As for Notre Dame, the powerful Beauchamp is standing by Holtz--again. And once the season starts, the luster of the charges might fade.

Holtz said he doesn’t plan on reading the book. Nor will he comment on the allegations. Not now. Not this season. Maybe not ever.

But as Holtz’s image continues to get singed at the corners, it’s obvious that he owes Notre Dame and its followers at least one courtesy: a straight answer. Just for once.

HUSKY HAPPY TALK

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New Washington Coach Jim Lambright now says the Husky program will be just fine, even with the Pacific 10 Conference-imposed two-year probation, two-year ban on bowl play and two-year reduction of scholarships (down 20) and recruiting visits (down 65).

The way Lambright figures it, Washington has enough talent to earn its share of regular-season TV appearances in 1993 and ’94 and with it, the national exposure that means so much. If that happens, Lambright also figures that the top recruits will still come to Seattle, thus, offsetting the severity of the scholarship penalties.

“Basically our sales pitch won’t change,” he said.

That’s not entirely true. Lambright is promising to redshirt all incoming freshmen next season. That way the new recruits won’t miss out on any potential bowl invitations. And at every opportunity, Lambright’s new long-term contract is mentioned, which helps soothe recruits’ fears about a sudden change in coaching staffs.

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All of this looks good on paper, but Oklahoma State Coach Pat Jones, who guided the Cowboy program through three years of NCAA probation (1989-91), said the Huskies can expect tough times.

For starters, Washington won’t have much margin for error. With 10 fewer scholarships available per year, the Husky recruiting staff can’t afford many mistakes. Worse yet, there’s going to be negative recruiting. Lots of it.

"(Other recruiters) will say, ‘Don’t go into a crippled program,’ ” Jones said. “And if it’s a close call on a kid, you’re not going to get him. Not unless you get real lucky.”

Washington will also suffer if an existing scholarship player flunks out, gets hurt or transfers. “That margin of error gets very thin because you can’t recoup the (recruiting) numbers,” he said.

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According to Jones, Washington is lucky on one count. Unlike Oklahoma State, which had to wait nearly two years for the NCAA to hand down its penalties, the Huskies knew their fate in less than a year.

“They probably don’t feel this way, but the Pac-10, by doing it so fast, might have done (Washington) a favor,” Jones said. “Expediting the process will probably help them. There are three stages to it: the rumor stage--and the longer that lasts, the worse off you are--the shock part of it, and then the reality slap of, ‘Boom, it’s here.’

“They’re probably not getting the rumor part of it.”

IS THERE A DROUGHT IN THE HOUSE?

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Iowa State Coach Jim Walden thought he had scored a marketing coup by switching the Cyclones’ home opener against Northern Illinois from Saturday to tonight. “That was before we all knew we were going to have to have a Noah’s Ark,” he said.

That’s right--more rain in Iowa. The roads leading to Cyclone Stadium are a mess, the practice fields are submerged, the interest level in football is suspect.

“Somehow, I’ve had a hard time keeping my concentration up, to some extent,” said Walden, watching another downpour from his office. “Right now, I don’t know if football is that big of a deal, to tell you the truth.”

He’ll find out tonight. Capacity is 50,000, but weather conditions could kill a sellout.

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“I don’t know exactly how (fans are) going to get here,” Walden said. “I would leave about 2:30 for the 7 o’clock game. It’s going to be an awful mess.”

THE REST

If you can believe it, a humble Miami team opens its season at Boston College Saturday. “I said this before: we got outcoached and outplayed,” Miami Coach Dennis Erickson said of his team’s Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama last January. “The thing we learned is that nobody is invincible.” Maybe not, but expect some vintage Miami trash-talking if the Hurricanes beat the Eagles. . . . Speaking of trash talk, Florida State’s Bobby Bowden, whose team beat Kansas, 42-0, last week, sent a postgame salvo toward Lawrence, Kan. “They seemed very inept,” Bowden told reporters. “I don’t know what that means about us. Maybe they will turn out to be a good team.” Bowden called the Jayhawk offense “one-dimensional.” . . . For the second consecutive week, Kansas faces a No. 1-ranked team. First Florida State, now Western Carolina, ranked No. 1 in Division I-AA.

Oklahoma State’s Jones, on the resignation of Don James: “Don and I did a pre-bowl show in Chicago this past season. We ended up riding to the airport together, Don’s wife, Don and myself. Something came out in the paper that day regarding Washington and I remember he had that look back then, like, ‘How much more of that can I take?’ ” . . . Wishful thinking? Ohio State players will wear replica uniforms of the 1968 Buckeyes, the school’s last team to win a national football championship. . . . No dummy, Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen has decided not to attend Saturday’s Stanford-Washington game at Seattle. . . . The toughest ticket in the country isn’t the Florida State-at-Notre Dame game Nov. 13 or the Michigan-at-Penn State game Oct. 16. It’s Alabama at Auburn Nov. 20. That’s because Auburn, which was recently placed on NCAA probation, decided to take its TV lumps this year. Crimson Tide and Tiger fans, now unable to watch the game on television, are scrambling for tickets at the 85,214-seat Jordan-Hare Stadium.

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Whatever Bryan Fortay is paying his attorney, it isn’t enough. Not only does his lawyer have to prove that Fortay’s former school lied to him about a starting quarterback job (a $10 million federal lawsuit has been filed by Fortay against Miami), but it has to be done after his client was demoted to second string this week at Rutgers . . . . New Houston Coach Kim Helton wants to junk the Cougars’ famed run-and-shoot attack, but he can’t. He only has four running backs on the roster and only one decent tight end, which isn’t exactly a recipe for ball-control success. Next year, though, the run-and-shoot will be gone.

Top 10

As selected by staff writer Gene Wojciechowski

No. Team Last Season 1. Florida State 11-1 2. Alabama 13-0 3. Texas A&M; 12-1 4. Ohio State 8-3-1 5. Nebraska 9-3 6. Tennessee 9-3 7. Michigan 9-0-3 8. Syracuse 10-2 9. Miami 11-1 10. Colorado 9-2-1

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Waiting List: Arizona (6-5-1), Stanford (10-3), Notre Dame (10-1-1), Washington (9-3), Florida (9-4).


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