Follansbee honors legendary coach Lou Holtz

FOLLANSBEE — A former coach and player guided by Lou Holtz joined Follansbee officials and area residents in honoring the successful college football coach, television sports commentator, author and motivational speaker on Friday.

National College Football Hall of Fame members Barry Alvarez, who served as defensive coordinator under Holtz, and Chris Zorich, a defensive tackle for the Holtz-led Notre Dame Fighting Irish, reflected on their relationship with Holtz before city officials unveiled one of two signs marking the city as Holtz’ birthplace that will be posted at the city’s north and south ends along state Route 2.

Mayor David Velegol Jr. said the idea to honor Holtz in that way was spurred by a remark he made as speaker at the 2014 Follansbee Community Days Dinner.

Velegol noted Holtz compared being born in Follansbee to being born with a silver spoon in his mouth because he learned at an early age the value of hard work, education and a commitment to excellence.

Holtz, who was born in 1937, said his mother moved his family to his maternal grandparents’ home in East Liverpool while his father was serving for four years in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. When his father returned, the decision was made not to uproot the children, he said.

“This is still my home and will always be my home,” said Holtz, who added whenever he visits Follansbee, he drives by the former home of his paternal grandmother on Jefferson Street.

Among attendees was Ralph Anastasio, a childhood friend who presented a photo of Holtz with him, Geno Quattrocchi and Paul “Whitey” Mikanik, all childhood friends who went on to college football in some respect.

“I’m proud to be from here and blessed in so many ways,” Holtz said, adding his parents made sacrifices so he could attend college and urged him to go, though he had other plans.

After earning his degree, Holtz went on to lead six college football teams to bowl games, win four bowl games with different teams and have four of his teams rank in the top 20.

His greatest success was at the University of Notre Dame, where he led the Fighting Irish to bowl games in nine consecutive seasons, setting a school record.

When Holtz came to Notre Dame, he called for the players’ names to be removed from their jerseys to emphasize teamwork, and he was known as a strict disciplinarian.

Alvarez, a Langeloth, Pa., native with his own successful career in college coaching, said while working as defensive coordinator for Holtz, Alvarez found him to be “very demanding but fair.”

He added, “You hear the things he preaches and the best thing about him is that’s what he lives.”

Alvarez said it was “an honor and a privilege” to join Follansbee in recognizing Holtz “because he’s meant so much to me and my family.”

Zorich, who went on to play professional football for several years before retiring to obtain a law degree from Notre Dame, said in his first year under Holtz, he often received reprimands that he probably deserved.

Zorich said Holtz came to be a male role model that Zorich lacked in childhood and through him, he learned to be a good husband and responsible parent.

“There’s thousands of guys like me out there on whom he’s made an impression,” he said.

Holtz said he’s been “for things others have accomplished. I can never thank my athletes enough. I learned more from them than they did from me.”

He also acknowledged the support of his wife of 56 years, Beth.

Holtz used his phone to take his own photos of the sign as it was unveiled and asked attendees to ask themselves a question that can be applied to work, family and other situations.

“If you didn’t show up, who would miss you and why?”