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July 15, 2005

Aiken: Cons outweigh pros under Holtz

Columns are about opinions, but in this case before I share mine I'd like to do a simple listing of the pros and cons of the Holtz era now that it officially is complete with Wednesday's release of USC's 10 NCAA violations (of course, we still don't know if the NCAA will accept USC's punishments - after all, USC's self-reporting before the NCAA ruling showed it still didn't have a clear grasp on everything that went wrong, so who knows). Let's start with the pros.

Lou Holtz brought more national exposure in the way of televised games and media attention to the USC program than any of his predecessors
Holtz was responsible for the biggest turnaround in SEC history in 2000 (eight wins), good for fourth-best nationally. His nine wins total that year are second-most in school history behind Joe Morrison's 10 in 1984
Was named the 2000 SEC Coach of the Year
Guided USC to it's most-successful two-year run in school history with 17 wins
Won back-to-back Outback Bowls over Ohio State University, also a school first
Guided USC to consecutive top-20 final national rankings (including No. 13 in 2001) for the first time in school history
Had back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes, a school first, in 2002 and 2003
Most players to sign NFL contracts (11), in 2002 and 2003
USC remained ranked in the top 25 the entire 2001 season, a school first

With apologies for any missed highlights, let's visit the cons

Lou Holtz guided the University of South Carolina to a 33-37 overall record, 19-29 conference play. I'd bet if someone could have shown fans those numbers the day he was hired, very few would have believed them. Regardless, to say they're not impressive is stating the obvious.
USC won zero conference titles and zero SEC East crowns in six years.
USC was 1-5 against Clemson under Holtz
Holtz's 2003 team suffered the most lopsided loss to Clemson in school history, 63-17
Immediately after that game, Holtz fired four assistant coaches his son Skip had brought to the program, displacing four families, and demoted Skip without informing him, by all published accounts.
Won zero games overall in 1999
Finished with losing seasons in three of his six years
Had an overall November record of 3-15 in the month of November, with one of the three wins coming against Wofford
Went to bowl games in two of six years
The brawl
10 total NCAA violations under his watch, six of them major. Penalties to follow.
Brought unprecedented negative coverage to USC thanks to the brawl, player conduct problems immediately following that game into the offseason and the NICAA investigation

With apologies for any missed lowlights, to me it's a simple matter of one side of the ledger outweighing the other, especially since the last real highlight was on January 1, 2002. The two-year run was remarkable, but clearly the program's wheels came off somewhere after that last Outback Bowl win and Holtz never got them put back on. The fact that USC was bowl-eligible last season is nice, but the circumstances that unfolded in yet another loss by Holtz to Clemson far, far overshadowed anything else that happened that season.

And I think for many fans, the worst thing you can say about Holtz doesn't involve the NCAA or player conduct. All someone has to do is say any of the following - 1-5, 63-17, the brawl - for USC fans heads to sink into their chins. Holtz's failure to come close to just breaking even against Clemson is, again more than the NCAA violations, unforgivable to many who will always put that game above all others on the schedule.

Holtz was nice in public, a devout Catholic and successful public speaker. His overall coaching record speaks for itself. How you will look back on his time largely depends on what you consider important. If you think a few black eyes are worth two mid-level bowl wins, then you're likely to defend Holtz to the bitter end. Most I've come across think the opposite. Whichever side you're on regarding Holtz, I think it's tough to say that most all USC fans didn't become a little disillusioned along the way with Holtz's early promise, especially the past three years. I say let his record speak for itself, let's close the book on this chapter of USC's football history and look forward to one positive legacy of Lou Holtz than no one can deny - without Holtz, there likely is no way Steve Spurrier is hired. Ten years from now, that may mean more than any of the other highlights or lowlights listed above. Here's hoping so.

To view other columns written by Aiken, click here.

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