Holtz pushes for better defensive 'attitude'

December 01, 1991|By Joseph Tybor | Joseph Tybor,Chicago Tribune

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz has had two weeks to contemplate his team's ruinous losses to Penn State and Tennessee. During that time, the word is Holtz has made his team and assistant coaches "walk through fire" during grueling practice sessions. He has spent virtually the entire time during practices with the defensive unit.

Before Holtz and the team left for Hawaii to face the Rainbows (4-6-1) in the regular-season finale, a group of reporters talked to him about what he believes is lacking in his team.

Among other things, Holtz talked about the need to build a new attitude on defense and about the future of defensive coordinator Gary Darnell.

Here are edited excerpts of that conversation:

After the Penn State loss, you said you were starting the 1992 season immediately. What do you mean by that and, specifically, do you plan to use your seniors against Hawaii?

"I don't want to give the impression that we've discarded the seniors. I told the football team we'll never give up on the seniors unless the seniors give up on themselves or on the football team. When I talk about starting 1992 now, I'm referring more to an attitude, an atmosphere, an environment. The important thing to me is that on Saturday we see a defensive attitude in the game."

Has the team gotten over the losses to Tennessee and Penn State?

"It bothers all of us. We did not play well. That's very disturbing. What we've got to do is establish a defensive attitude. There's no way in the world you can be a good, solid football team if you do not play outstanding on defense.

"If anyone has been to practice the last two weeks, they know we are going to establish a defensive attitude. It may not be established in Hawaii. We're not looking to just play the University of Hawaii. If we are going to go to the level we want to go to and to the level we've been before, a defensive attitude has got to become prevalent on our football team."

What do you mean by a "defensive attitude?"

"A defensive attitude is one of toughness and a desire to be great. We're not talking about nastiness or anything like that. People say that we can't be very good on defense anymore because of the standards Notre Dame has. Everything is passive at Notre Dame and you have to be nice, so consequently !B everything goes against the overall attitude that you ought to have on the defensive side of the ball.

"That's not true at all. We're talking about defensive temperament when you set your foot on the field -- not a defensive temperament in life. Some people go through life with a defensive temperament and they are the people who know the bondsman better than they know their mother and father.

"We're talking about a toughness followed by a respect for each other and pride. Pride to me stands for personal responsibility and daily excellence.

"It's an attitude of wanting to be outstanding and understanding that you can't be if everybody doesn't have that same total commitment.

"I don't know if I'm making myself clear because it's obvious I haven't made myself clear to our players."

Has the team ever had this defensive attitude during the year?

"I don't think we've ever had it. I felt all year like the guy who fell out of a 20-story building and as he went by each floor, he said, 'I'm doing OK so far.' That's applicable here. We felt we were doing OK so far, but we hadn't been.

"Maybe it was the injuries, but it starts with attitude. I don't care what the results are."

You don't?

"Yes, I do. That isn't right to say, but to me the most important thing is the attitude. We tried to establish that in practice the last two weeks.

"How? It's just an intensity, a sense of urgency. You cannot play without confidence, and confidence has to come when they're forced to do something and then when they do it, they enjoy success."

How have your players reacted to the intensity in practice the last two weeks?

"At first, they thought it was vindictiveness. They thought I was mad. Their first reaction was, 'Why us?' But now I think we're all on the same page. You go through that period when the noose is tightened on you and your first reaction is to get upset at the hangman."

The collective personality of this team is one of seriousness. Is there such a thing as being too serious for the team's own good?

"You make a great point, but I don't think it really affects it as long as the personality of the team is authentic. Our players on offense are basically very quiet, but they go out and play.

"The main difference between this football team and other football teams that were great where I've been is that the defense has always been the strong part of the team.

With all the time you have spent with the defense, is there any reason to believe defensive coordinator Gary Darnell won't be part of the development of this new defensive attitude?

"Gary Darnell is an excellent person and a fine football coach. I know he would like to very much be head coach and when he was interim head coach at Florida he did very, very well. All coaches have their own aspirations. Not many want to be an assistant coach all their life, so I can certainly understand why Gary Darnell's name would be mentioned [for coaching vacancies] and why he would be considered a desirable candidate."

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