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Skip Holtz, Urban Meyer struck up a fast friendship

It was 14 years ago, and Lou Holtz, then Notre Dame's football coach, made it clear to his son, Skip, then Connecticut's head coach, that he knew who he wanted as his receivers coach. He didn't need to hear about his son's recommendation for the job, another young coach who had followed him six years earlier as receivers coach at Colorado State.

"I told him: 'I don't know Urban Meyer. I have no intentions of hiring him on. I've already decided. I don't want to talk to him. I don't want to waste his time or mine,' " the elder Holtz recalled this week.

So the night before the final day of the annual coaches convention in New Orleans, Skip Holtz backed off and asked his dad to meet him for breakfast at 7 the next morning before both headed back home. Then he called Meyer and asked him to meet him for breakfast at 7.

"I set up the blind date," Skip Holtz said this week, preparing to face his friend and colleague for the first time at any level when the Bulls play the No. 8 Gators today in Gainesville. "They were at the breakfast table, and I got up, walked away and said: 'I'm going to get the car. I'll meet you back here in an hour.' He did the rest. … Urban sold himself, as he has done on more than one occasion. We got into the car, and I remember Coach Holtz saying, 'He's really impressive.' "

Skip Holtz doesn't want to take credit for matching Meyer with Notre Dame, saying he just gave him the window to show his father why he was the right man for the job.

But Meyer is more blunt.

"He got me hired at Notre Dame," he said this week. "I had people call (Lou), and Coach said he has no interest. … He didn't want to have breakfast with Urban Meyer, not at all. We hit it off pretty good."

The elder Holtz's summary of the process? "So Urban ended up at Notre Dame, because of Skip's, let me say … deceit," he said.

Today's two coaches are both 46 years old, both got their college degrees in 1986, both have their father's names (Skip is Louis Leo Holtz Jr.; Meyer is Urban III) and both now have three children. For 20 years, they have been friends, meeting for dinner at coaching conventions, leaning on each other for advice as they moved up the national coaching ladder. Holtz can remember calling Meyer as he drove from South Carolina to East Carolina to interview for the head coaching job there, and Meyer called Holtz when he was deciding between opportunities at Notre Dame and Florida.

"I have a lot of respect for the Holtz family," Meyer said. "Our families are great friends."

When Meyer briefly stepped down as coach in December citing health concerns, then chose a leave of absence and returned to the Gators, Holtz again was on the other end of the phone, not as anything more than a good friend.

"I talked to him quite a bit at the beginning, just as a vote of confidence and support, to let him know if he ever needed anything, I was there," Holtz said. "He went through some tough things, but I'm glad to see he's doing well and his health is good. Winning and losing is important, but relationships that go back 20 years, in family and life, are pretty important as well."

Former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, who was coach at Colorado State when both Holtz and Meyer were assistants there, said the two share some traits as coaches, especially in their personal approach to players.

"Both of them love coaching, that's No. 1," said Bruce, who started as a head coach at the University of Tampa in 1972. "They're good teachers, and they know how to get their message across. They enjoy their players and have great relationships with their players."

Lou Holtz, who coached with his son for four years and Meyer for three years at Notre Dame, sees differences in their personalities.

"I have the utmost respect for both of them, but Urban and I are very similar. Skip is more like Coach (Bobby) Bowden," he said. "I get impatient with people. I get mad and want to beat the world down, but Skip will remain calm in that situation. When Lew Perkins hired him at Connecticut, he said he was getting the best of both worlds: Lou Holtz's mind and Mrs. (Beth) Holtz's personality."

They have never coached against each other. They were days away from doing so until nine years ago today, when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, shook the nation and ultimately canceled a scheduled game between Bowling Green — Meyer's second game as a head coach — and South Carolina, where Holtz was offensive coordinator on his father's staff.

As was the case in 2001, today's game wasn't scheduled as a long-awaited meeting of friends, and Lou Holtz said even though he's excited about seeing two of his former assistants go head-to-head (as will be the case when USF faces Louisville and Charlie Strong this season), he also knows that this is a rare week when one of the two will be disappointed with the outcome.

USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch is in his 14th season working with Skip Holtz, but actually he has known Meyer longer, going back to their college days at Ohio Wesleyan and Cincinnati, respectively.

"They motivate in different ways probably, but the end result is the same, that players follow them," Fitch said. "They both have a plan, and there are a lot of different ways you can steer people, but they both get very positive results. Both have worked with Coach Bruce and Coach (Lou) Holtz, much like myself, so you are where you come from. There's other people who have touched them, but those are the two most resounding people in their lives, those two people."

Holtz said he has cherished the chances to "sit and talk ball" with Meyer, from the nuances of coaching receivers in their early years to the comparably enormous decisions of leading a major college football program today. The admiration is mutual.

"I think he's one of the top coaches in the country, with his record and success," Meyer said. "I have watched (Holtz's rise) very closely, and when I say we're really good friends, we're really good friends. It's been that way for a long time."

Times staff writer Antonya English contributed to this report. Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected]

Skip Holtz, Urban Meyer struck up a fast friendship 09/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 10, 2010 10:54pm]
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