South Bend Stories: Dick Vitale and the Holtzes
Living in Lakewood Ranch, ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale has become a fan of USF athletics, but his family has strong ties to Notre Dame -- his daughters Terri and Sherri both went there on tennis scholarships, graduated with MBAs and married fellow Notre Dame graduates. He's endowed the Dick Vitale Family Scholarship, which goes to a student involved in Fighting Irish athletics in areas that don't have financial aid, like the marching band or spirit squads.
Vitale will be up in South Bend this weekend for USF's football opener at Notre Dame, and while he'll be pulling for the home team, he has a long friendship with the Holtz family. Next May, when Vitale hosts his annual charity gala in Sarasota to support the V Foundation for Cancer Research (last year's raised $1.3 million in one night), Lou Holtz will be one of the main honorees.
"He represented everything the university was about," Vitale said of the elder Holtz. "In terms of spirit, enthusiasm, doing things the right way, graduating players. He was just perfect, like a (Mike) Krzyzewski fits at a Duke, a guy like Roy Williams at North Carolina, (Joe) Paterno at Penn State. Certain guys fit certain puzzles, and he fit the puzzle. I was reallyl hurt when he left, because I think the world of him."
Vitale's son-in-law, Thomas Krug, now a circuit court judge, played quarterback for the Fighting Irish and started three games, including the 1996 Orange Bowl, before a neck injury ended his playing career. Skip Holtz was Notre Dame's offensive coordinator during Krug's freshman year in 1993. "You could see he had the enthusiasm and energy that was really contagious with players," Vitale said.
So when USF went searching for a head football coach in January 2010, Vitale wrote a letter to Bulls athletic director Doug Woolard and later talked with him on the phone, saying that Skip Holtz could be the same kind of fit for USF's still-growing program.
"I said, 'Skip Holtz is the perfect guy.' This guy to me should have been in a big-time place a lot sooner. He did a heck of a job at Connecticut, a terrific job at East Carolina. These aren't schools to win at. I was at Rutgers, so I understand what he's faced with in terms of recruiting. I felt South Florida, with the players he had in the state, that he would be perfect."
Vitale goes to plenty of sporting events beyond college basketball, but said a football weekend in South Bend is one of his favorite experiences, having enjoyed lots of them when his daughters were in school there.
"They were there six years, and every year we would go to every football weekend," Vitale said. "It cost me a lot of cash, man. I turned down all kinds of speaking engagements, told my agent not to book me on those weekends. ... It's one of the great weekends in all of sports. I've been to you name it, World Series, Super Bowls, NBA championships, college championships. It's the luncheon on Friday with 2,000 people. It's the pep rally, it's walking the campus, going to the Grotto, hearing the band play. We've taken hundreds of pictures. The whole festivity makes the tradition."
Vitale has referenced the USF-Notre Dame game on Twitter often in the past month -- he's up to 173,000 followers -- but said Wednesday he sees a Notre Dame victory. "I am worried, and I'll root for South Florida in all its other games," he said. "But when it's all said and done, 31 for the Irish, 24 South Florida in a nailbiter. They'll battle and battle, but the 12th man, the spirit, the Golden Dome ultimately takes Notre Dame to the winner's circle."