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Football coach Louis Leo “Lou” Holtz was born in Follansbee, Brooke County, on January 6, 1937, to Andrew Holtz (1911-1977) and Anne Marie Tychonievich Holtz (1917-1999). Andrew’s father, Leo Holtz – Lou’s grandfather — had moved his family from the coalfields of Rossiter, Pennsylvania, to Follansbee during the 1920s to work for Wheeling Steel. By 1930, Leo was managing a grocery store in Follansbee.

According to Lou Holtz, his father Andrew “picked up odd jobs here and there,” working on the railroad and driving a truck and bus in Follansbee. Based on census records, Andrew worked as a steel mill “catcher” in 1930 and as a shipper for Scott Lumber in 1940. Anna, born in East Liverpool, Ohio, was the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants from Chernobyl.

Lou entered this world in the “two-room cellar” his parents rented in Follansbee, delivered by Dr. Ralph McGraw. According to Holtz, Andrew had dropped out of school after third grade, and his family struggled financially during the Great Depression. In Holtz’s autobiography, he compared his early childhood to the protagonists in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, published two years after his birth: “How bad was it? Well, we weren’t Okies, in the sense that we weren’t from Oklahoma, but in every other respect the Holtzes of West Virginia could have been mistaken for the Joads of the dust bowl South.”

By 1940, the Holtzes, including Lou’s older sister Shirley, were renting a home at 601-R Virginia Avenue in Follansbee. The previous year, Andrew had earned an annual salary of $1,200, less than the national average but on par with, or more than, most of his neighbors. Lou wrote, “We never went without food, but like most people in town we lived on the bare minimum,” adding wryly, “we needed a raise to be considered poor.” But he grasped an important life lesson: “You couldn’t survive in our time and not learn somehow to focus on what was really important in life.”

In October 1940, Andrew registered for the draft. He was shipped overseas in 1944 and served in some of the deadliest Pacific naval operations during the last year of World War II.

In the absence of Andrew’s income, Anne moved the family about 30 miles north along the Ohio River to East Liverpool, Ohio, to live with her parents, but they returned to visit relatives and friends in Follansbee annually for a few years. Holtz has said he would have grown up in Follansbee if not for World War II. While his memories of those brief years in Brooke County are limited, he does recall playing sandlot football there and being friends with Daniel, Gino, Art, and Bob Quattrocchi. He also stayed in touch with childhood friends and future West Virginia University (WVU) football players Ralph Anastasio and Whitey Mikanik.

After Andrew returned home from the war, the family continued to reside in East Liverpool. Holtz later commented on being a child of both Follansbee and East Liverpool, “Every summer I would go back to Follansbee until about the age of 13 when I got involved in baseball. Then, when my dad got out of the service, they decided not to relocate because my sister and I were pretty well established in school. So I consider both places my home.”

In East Liverpool, the Holtzes greeted another child, Victoria (1947-2006), and Andrew got a job as a night watchman at a garage. He later owned and operated Holtz Transportation and drove a bus for St. Aloysius School, where Lou attended grade school.

Lou Holtz graduated from East Liverpool High School in 1956 and wanted to work in the local steel mills, but his parents talked him into attending Kent State University (1956-57), where he played linebacker and earned a history degree. Holtz’s mother took on an evening job as a nurse to help cover his tuition.

He began his long football coaching career as an assistant at the University of Iowa (1960), where he earned a master’s degree in arts and education. He then served as an assistant college coach at William & Mary (1961-63), Connecticut (1964-65), South Carolina (1966-67), and Ohio State (1968). William & Mary gave him his first head coaching job in 1969. In his first year, the team won the Southern Conference and earned a berth in the Tangerine Bowl. After three years at William & Mary, he moved on to North Carolina State and led the Wolfpack to a 33-12-3 record (1972-75).

In 1976, he made his only foray into the professional ranks, coaching the New York Jets to a 3-10 record before resigning with one game left in the season. After stepping down, he commented, “God did not put Lou Holtz on this earth to coach in the pros.” He kept his word and never again coached in the NFL.

From 1977 to 1983, he compiled a 60-21-2 record as head coach of the University of Arkansas. His outstanding run with the Razorbacks included a dominating 31-6 Orange Bowl victory that kept Oklahoma from winning the 1977 national championship. Holtz’s team hit a wall in 1983, going 6-5, and he was fired. Rumors swirled that he was let go not for his record but for his openly conservative political stances and for missing university events to give speeches. Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles fueled that speculation over the years by providing vague and somewhat contradictory explanations for dismissing Holtz. After leading the University of Minnesota football program for the next two years (1984-85), Holtz accepted the job for which he is best remembered: head coach of the University of Notre Dame.

Within two years, he turned Notre Dame’s struggling program around. He won the 1988 national championship by defeating WVU, 34-21, in the Fiesta Bowl on January 2, 1989; WVU star quarterback Major Harris separated his shoulder on the third play of that game. When Holtz retired after the 1996 season, he was the second-winningest coach in Notre Dame history (100-30-2), behind Knute Rockne; coach Brian Kelly later broke Rockne’s record, relegating Holtz to third on Notre Dame’s all-time list.

Holtz came out of retirement to coach the University of South Carolina to a 37-39 record from 1999 to 2004 before retiring from coaching for good. The NCAA later sanctioned both Notre Dame and South Carolina for violations committed during Holtz’s time at those schools.

He became a sometimes-admired, sometimes-controversial, but always outspoken football analyst for ESPN until retiring in 2015. During his coaching career and in retirement, Holtz has been a popular motivational speaker and written or co-written 11 books. He was elected to the Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame in 1998 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2020, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Holtz was married to the former Beth Barcus from 1961 until her death in 2020. They had four children together.

Follansbee declared May 5, 2017, Lou Holtz Day and, with the coach in attendance, unveiled signs commemorating the city as his birthplace. The signs feature a variation of a quote Holtz gave many times about his hometown, “Having been born in extreme poverty in Follansbee I was born with a Silver Spoon — I learned the values of hard work, education and commitment to excellence.”

Last Revised on April 27, 2023


CBS News. Lou Holtz's Mother Dead at 82. CBS Interactive, August 6, 1999.

Davis, Lynn. Follansbee Honors Former Football Coach Lou Holtz. The Brooke County Review, May 5, 2017.

Eskenazi, Gerald. New York Jets Go Rolling Along. The New York Times, November 24, 1996.

Hendricks, Nancy. Louis Leo (Lou) Holtz. Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Holtz, Lou. Wins, Losses, and Lessons: An Autobiography. New York: Morrow, 2006.

Holtz Returns to Follansbee. Steubenville (OH) Herald-Star, June 27, 2014.

U.S. Census, Brooke County, WV, Population Schedule, 1930.

U.S. Census, Brooke County, WV, Population Schedule, 1940.

U.S. Census, Columbiana County, OH, Population Schedule, 1950.

U.S. World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947, for Andrew H. Holtz, 1940.

U.S. World War II Muster Rolls, 1938-1947, for Andrew H. Holtz, 1944.

Vingle, Mitch. 'Dr. Lou' Holtz on His Home and WVU. Charleston Gazette-Mail, May 6, 2017.

Cite This Article

e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "Lou Holtz." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 27 April 2023. Web. 25 May 2024.


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