Trump honors legendary Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz with Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Donald J. Trump presents the Medal of Freedom to Lou Holtz Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House. | Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

President Donald Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to legendary Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz Thursday, describing him as a faithful and kind man who has "inspired and uplifted millions of fellow citizens.”

Holtz, the former head coach of Notre Dame’s football team, accepted the nation’s highest civilian honor at a White House ceremony. The president told the 83-year-old Holtz, whose wife of 59 years died earlier this year, that “she’s looking down right now with incredible pride.”

As he introduced Holtz, Trump detailed the coach’s accomplishments on behalf of Notre Dame and the other universities he coached at throughout his career: The College of William and Mary, North Carolina State University, the University of Arkansas, the University of Minnesota and the University of South Carolina. The president noted that Holtz presided over “the longest streak in the history of Notre Dame at No. 1.”

“Over the course of his career, Lou won over 250 games and is one of the highest ever, by the way, and is the only coach in NCAA history to take six different teams to a bowl game,” the president said. In addition to highlighting Holtz’s record as a football coach, Trump acknowledged his philanthropic efforts: “He’s opened educational opportunities for students (and) provided insulin pumps to diabetic children.”

Trump frequently referenced Holtz’s strong religious faith throughout the White House ceremony, saying: “He grew up in poverty in a two-room cellar but as Lou says, I knew God and my family loved me and their love was all the wealth I needed. That’s everything I needed. That’s all I wanted.” 

“Lou’s leadership and his faith and kindness have inspired and uplifted millions of fellow citizens,” the president added. “His towering reputation will endure forever in the chronicles of athletics but more importantly, in the chronicles of life because he’s really a life teacher.”

Following the introduction, Holtz, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 19 but has since recovered, remarked that he was “humbled” by “the opportunity to receive this award.” During his acceptance speech, Holtz praised Trump as “the greatest president during my lifetime.”

“This award, as great as it is, does not define who Lou Holtz is. My beautiful family, my precious wife, my friends, you have determined who I am and I just try to be a solid person,” he said.

Upon receiving the award, Holtz told the small crowd assembled in the Oval Office that “I feel so indebted to so many people in my life that had such a positive influence on it.” He also expressed gratitude that he was able to “be part of this great country and be next to an individual I respect as much as him,” referring to the president.

Holtz is an outspoken supporter of Trump and his speech at the Republican National Convention this summer made headlines after he criticized the Democrats’ presidential ticket, headed by former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., as “the most radically pro-abortion campaign in history.”

He described Biden, a pro-abortion Catholic, as one of several “Catholics in name only” who “abandon innocent lives” while maintaining that “nobody has been a stronger advocate for the unborn than President Trump.”

Holtz’s speech drew criticism from his former employer, with Notre Dame's President, Father John Jenkins, rebuking his characterization of Biden as a “Catholic in name only.”

According to Jenkins, “We Catholics should remind ourselves that while we may judge the objective moral quality of another’s actions, we must never question the sincerity of another’s faith, which is due to the mysterious working of grace in that person’s heart.”

The university reacted favorably, however, when it was announced that Holtz was slated to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Lou Holtz is among America’s greatest college football coaches, leading Notre Dame to a national championship in 1988,” said Paul J. Browne, vice president for public affairs and communications at Notre Dame.

“His contributions off the field have been equally inspiring, bringing attention and support to his hometown, alma mater, Catholic Charities, the Women’s Care Foundation, the Center for the Homeless in South Bend, and other worthy organizations through his charitable foundation. At Notre Dame, he and his late wife, Beth, served as research ambassadors, and the players he molded have added to his legacy through their own contributions through the Lou’s Lads Foundation,” he added.

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