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The Midweek Motivator – Iconic Coaches and a Dose Of Reality

College Football fan or a behaviorist, this story is worth the read. No two college coaches earned more respect than Bobby Bowden and Lou Holtz. At every stop on their major college coaching climb they left their mark, elevating also-ran teams to champions. 

In 1970, Lou Holtz was a fledgling coach at William & Mary. One opening day he took his team from beautiful Williamsburg, Virginia up to Morgantown, West Virginia to meet the heavily favored Mountaineers coached by his friend Bobby Bowden. Holtz remembers it was an exciting moment since he had grown up in nearby Liverpool, Ohio. He got tickets for everyone he knew; friends and relatives came from everywhere on that perfect early fall Saturday. 

Holtz must have been thrilled when his team took the field, but the glow didn’t last long. Lou knew his out-manned William & Mary team was much improved and believed they wouldn’t be embarrassed by Bowden’s Mountaineers. Even though West Virginia with two NFL-bound backs scored on their first possession, Holtz was confident his long time friend wouldn’t let the game get out of hand. Said Holtz in reflection, “Bobby was a friend of mind…I knew he had too much class to leave his starters in to run it up.” 

Holtz’ team played its heart out, and with a minute left in the game W&M trailed respectably 34-7. Just then, one of WVU’s bruising running backs broke free making the final score 41-7. Holtz was humbled in front of his retinue of followers. 

When he met Bowden at mid-field, piqued that his friend had run up the score, Holtz addressed Bowden asking, “Bobby, I thought we were friends. How could you leave your starters in and keep rolling up points in front of my family and friends?” Bowden’s calm, sincere reply was a classic, said Holtz. “Lou, it’s your job to keep the score down, not mine. You can only coach one team at a time and that’s yours. If you don’t want to get beat badly, get better athletes, coach better, or change your schedule.” It was harsh but reality. Holtz recounts that lesson as a model for dealing with problems. Simply put; if you have a problem, it’s YOUR problem. Coach reminds us, “Don’t blame other people; ninety percent of the people you’ll meet don’t care about your problems and the other ten percent are glad you have them!” 

Our business is a lot like coaching (if we do it right): instant gratification and the time-honored “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” syndrome. Wins sometimes seem father apart and their relative sweetness diminished by the crises we face; football defeats, ratings ambush, or a much tougher opponent like a global pandemic. 

So as you’re trying to find some solace or rationalization to current problems and are tempted to play the “if it weren’t for ____” game, remember two great American football coaches meeting at mid-field in Morgantown on a sun-dappled Saturday long ago. Remember Bowden’s lasting message: “You can only coach one team at a time and that’s yours.”