For Holtz, leaving is 'right thing' Irish coach doesn't give a reason for decision superiors did not expect


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Without any explanation of substance, any hint at his future, or even a sense of relief after a difficult decision, Lou Holtz, the Notre Dame football coach, walked away yesterday from an existence he has coveted or lived for much of his adult life.

His departure, which he said he first began contemplating nine months ago, will come after 11 seasons as coach of the Fighting Irish.

"I feel worse than I've felt in a long time," said Holtz, who will leave after two more regular-season games and an anticipated bowl appearance. "I do not feel good about this at all. But I do feel it's the right thing to do."

Those three words -- the right thing -- were repeated again and again throughout a 75-minute news conference. Holtz also used the word sadness, and his affection for the institution was clear.

"You have no idea how proud I have been to hear, 'He's the coach at Notre Dame,' " he said. "That's something you just can't buy."

Holtz could not -- or would not -- produce a reason for a decision his superiors said they did not anticipate, did not encourage and do not fully understand.

The Rev. E. William Beauchamp, the university's executive vice president, and Michael Wadsworth, the athletic director, have compiled a list of fewer than half a dozen potential successors, with a target hiring date of early December.

"Lou has not given to me or to Father Beauchamp any clearer reason for his decision other than what he has expressed to you," Wadsworth said. "He feels it's time. Our position is, quite frankly, if that's the way he feels, we'll respect that. I'm not going to badger him into satisfying my curiosity."

Holtz did not rule out the possibility of coaching again at the professional or college level. "Let me put it this way," Holtz said. "Either I've got to get a job or my wife does. I've got a pretty good idea which way that will go."

The 59-year-old coach said he had not been contacted by anyone from the Minnesota Vikings' organization, as had been reported, and said that while he felt as if he wanted to coach again, he had not made a decision.

The two most prominently mentioned candidates for the Notre Dame job, Northwestern coach Gary Barnett and Bob Davie, the Irish defensive coordinator, had little to say.

L Barnett confirmed that he had been approached by Notre Dame.

"I am taking this under consideration once I have had time to fully consider my options," his statement read.

Davie said: "I don't think this football team deserves to have another distraction. So Bob Davie is not going to be that distraction."

Louisiana State coach Gerry DiNardo said last night that he is not interested in returning to his alma mater and succeeding Holtz.

Holtz, whose 99-29-2 record leaves him six victories behind Knute Rockne's school record of 105, told his superiors of his final decision on Monday afternoon, and later was surprised by ++ the emotional response of his players. "I just expected indifference," he said.

"Whenever Coach Holtz comes in and doesn't look happy, it's not going to be good news," said Bert Berry, a senior linebacker. "We could just tell from the way he came in -- 'Oh, no, Coach is leaving.' What a shame for the University of Notre Dame."

Irish eyes are on...

...several possible candidates to replace Lou Holtz. A look at those being mentioned:

Gary Barnett: Northwestern coach has built up Wildcats, has ties to Notre Dame board member.

Bob Davie: Irish defensive coordinator has strong reputation as coach and recruiter.

Terry Donahue: After 20 years as UCLA coach, Donahue now a CBS analyst.

Barry Alvarez: Ex-Irish assistant coach turned around Wisconsin, but is struggling for second year in a row.

Pub Date: 11/20/96

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