President Donald Trump on Thursday called Lou Holtz "one of the greatest coaches in American history” as he honored the college football Hall of Famer and political ally with the nation's highest civilian honor.
Holtz, whose 34-year coaching career included the 1988 national title at the University of Notre Dame, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom during an Oval Office ceremony. Holtz led six different programs to bowl games and is an outspoken Trump backer.
“He’s really a life teacher," said Trump, noting the respect and loyalty Holtz earned from the many players he mentored. “He teaches people how to live and how to live properly and how to live with dignity."
Holtz is one of several sports figures Trump has awarded the Medal of Freedom during his time office.
Others include former NFL Hall of Famer and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, Olympic track and field athlete and former Rep. Jim Ryun, golfer Tiger Woods, Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, pro basketball greats Bob Cousy and Jerry West and baseball legends Babe Ruth and Mariano Rivera.
“They’re recognized for what they did. I’m recognized for what other people did. I never made a block or a tackle, but I did try to teach people to make good choices. That’s all I ever tried to do,” Holtz said.
Holtz had a 249-132-7 record over a career that, in addition to Notre Dame, included stops at William & Mary, North Carolina State, the University of Arkansas, the University of Minnesota, and the University of South Carolina. He also coached the NFL’s New York Jets in 1976 to a 3-10 record.
Holtz, 83, said said that being honored by Trump made the award particularly meaningful.
“I’m even prouder to receive it from President Donald Trump," said Holtz, who added that Trump was the "greatest president in my lifetime”
A graduate of Kent State, Holtz also served seven years as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves.
The West Virginia native was among the speakers at this year’s Republican National Convention, offering Trump a strong endorsement while attacking the president’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden. In his remarks, Holtz called Biden a Catholic “in name only.” Biden is a practicing Catholic.
Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, later issued a statement admonishing the former coach for using the university’s name in his remarks, saying it “must not be taken to imply” that Notre Dame endorses Holtz’s views, any candidate or any political party. Jenkins also admonished Holtz for questioning the “sincerity” of Biden's faith.
Trump announced the week after Holtz's convention speech that he would honor the retired coach with the medal.
“Wherever Lou went football glory followed," Trump said at a ceremony that included about 30 people, most of whom did not wear masks. Holtz disclosed on Nov. 19 that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani in Chicago and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.