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Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Louis L. Holtz and an Exchange With Reporters

December 03, 2020

The President. Well, thank you very much. Today it's my privilege to present our Nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to one of the greatest coaches in American history: the legendary Lou Holtz—a friend of mine. Great gentleman. Great man.

We're delighted to be joined this afternoon by members of Lou's wonderful family, along with the Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe—John, thank you for being here; and Senator Lindsey Graham, who I think most people know—I would say they know you, for the most part; and Pat Cipollone, a big fan of Notre Dame. Right? Thank you, Pat, for being here.

Lou was born during the Great Depression in the steel town of Follansbee, West Virginia. We love West Virginia. 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."

As a child, Lou sat on his uncle and grandfather's lap and listened to Notre Dame football games on the radio. They were big fans of Notre Dame, I guess, even before you. That wasn't too long ago, was it? [Laughter] They were big fans. And you—so he learned at an early age about Notre Dame.

At the age of 9, he took the field in his first game. He then played throughout high school. And Lou went on to attend Kent State, where he did very well, on an ROTC scholarship.

After graduation, Lou served as an officer in the United States Army and then pursued his dream of coaching. He wanted to be a coach right from the beginning, because he knew he was a leader. He didn't have to say it; he knew he was a leader.

In 1961, Lou made what he described as "the smartest decision of my life." And I knew your wife, and I will tell you, that was your smartest decision, right? [Laughter] We got to know her well. She was strong and good. He married his wife of 59 years. Beth passed away just a short while ago, and it was a very tough time, I will tell you. It was a very tough time for Lou and the family. But we know that she's looking down from heaven right now with incredible pride. She's so proud of this man. I got to know her over the last few years, and she was a great woman. But she's looking down right now. She's very proud of you, Lou.

In 1969, Lou became head coach of William and Mary. And over three seasons, he won the Southern Conference and led the Tribe to their first bowl game in 22 years.

And by the way—and I have to tell you, when we were researching this out, I knew he was supposed to be a good coach, but I didn't know how good he was, because these stats are very amazing. You'll see. I was really very impressed, John, I will tell you.

Lou then became head coach of North Carolina State, which had won only nine games over the previous 3 years. Not too good. He took it off—he took it over, and under Coach Holtz, they won the ACC title and achieved the highest national ranking in NC State's history.

Lou went on to coach, and so I guess you were making a lot of money by this time because they were trying to get him to go to all these different schools. He was a hot coach. Nothing like being hot, right? [Laughter] He had his choice. He had his choice to go into a lot of different places. Lou went on to coach at the University of Arkansas. He built the Razorbacks up from a five-and-five record into a top-five team in the Nation. They won everything. Lou left Arkansas with the best win-loss record ever and a very fat bank account. [Laughter] He then coached at the University of—you were making a lot of money all of the sudden. [Laughter] Huh? I know how that works.

He then coached at the University of Minnesota, which was ranked dead last in the Big Ten. Before he signed his contract, he prayed, and then he did something that was unprecedented. He inserted a clause—with great negotiation talent, which he has—that they call today the "Notre Dame clause." [Laughter] It stipulated that if Lou did really well and went to a bowl game, he would be free to go to Notre Dame should they ask him to go.

So he had something going, right? You great football player. You are—you are some player, I'll tell you. [Laughter] You are something. You just—and you're—you weigh about 30 pounds less than you weighed when you played in the NFL, right? [Laughter] I'm very impressed.

In just 2 years, he secured a top-20 ranking and propelled the Golden Gophers to victory at the Independence Bowl. So he was on his way to Notre Dame. He knew it. Nobody else did. I guess the Notre Dame officials knew it.

He was offered a coaching job at Notre Dame immediately, and he also took it immediately, as much as he loved the team that he just left. When he became the head coach a year later, the Fighting Irish were losing team. They were doing very, very poorly. Lou got to work and quickly returned Notre Dame to the status of a football powerhouse and the legend that they were.

At the end of Lou's first season, the team faced off against their archrivals, the University of Southern California Trojans. The Fighting Irish were down 17 points in the fourth quarter, but they soon pulled off—Notre Dame—one of the greatest comebacks in college football history. They scored two touchdowns in less than 8 minutes and then kicked a field goal in the final 2 seconds of the game. At that moment, Holtz said he felt the spirit of Notre Dame. He loved Notre Dame. And do you still remember that game?

Mr. Holtz. Oh, very—my son roughed the punter. [Laughter]

The President. Oh, I—[laughter]—you weren't too happy about that.

Mr. Holtz. Oh, no. I understood why a certain species of animals devour their young. [Laughter]

The President. So your son has a little of you in him. [Laughter] That's what happened.

For the next decade, the Fighting Irish won 80 percent of their games and went to nine consecutive New Year's Day bowls. And in 1988, the cover of Sports Illustrated said, "Notre Dame is back." "Notre Dame is back." He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and many other covers. Notre Dame remained number one in the country for the longest stretch in the school's history.

See, I didn't know all this stuff. I knew you were a great coach; I didn't know you were this good, to be honest with you. [Laughter] This is beyond a great coach. So you had the longest streak in the history of Notre Dame at number one. What do you think about that, Lindsey? Sounds like you in the Senate.

Senator Lindsey O. Graham. Yes. [Laughter] Except, we don't play with helmets.

The President. He had an easy race. You know, he had an easy race. The problem was his opponent had $140 million. That's—that was a record, I guess. Wasn't it, huh? Guess what? Here's Lindsey. During the tenure at Notre Dame, he coached a—Lou coached a record number of games, secured 100 victories, and delivered Notre Dame's most recent national championship. So he did some job at Notre Dame.

Then, Lou became the head coach at the University of South Carolina, which he loves. He loves South Carolina—which had won only one bowl game in 108 years. He was going to take it easy, and then he gets another offer. Man, oh, man. I'm watching that money just pile up. [Laughter]

He was going to go and just relax now. He did his thing at Notre Dame. He won national championships, the longest streak. Then, he goes to University of South Carolina, and I can imagine why. He loves—you do like money a little bit, don't you? Right? He was offered a big deal. Lou tripled that number and secured a top-20 ranking immediately.

Over the course of his career, Lou won nearly 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. Think of that. Wherever Lou went, football glory followed. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

And I will say this about Lou: Everybody loves him. Everybody respects him. He's tough as hell, and yet they all respect Lou. They just—it's amazing. They love him, and they respect him. Sometimes, it's a combination that doesn't come together, you know? They respect, but you are—you are something. "I never coached football; I coached life," he said. And it's true. His players really always loved him.

He's turned his inspirational story and motivational message into three best selling books. He's also been an exceptional philanthropist. That's all that stuff that he collected. He's opened educational opportunities for students, provided insulin pumps to diabetic children.

And we've just brought down the price and the cost of insulin. Right? You're shaking your head. It's amazing what we did, right? Insulin—you couldn't buy it. It was destroying families. People were going without it. Now it's $35, right? You can't believe it. I see you're an insulin pro. You're involved, right? Family.

Audience member. [Inaudible]

The President. That's great. No, it's—we've done a great job with costs. But insulin, maybe, Lindsey, is one of the best—$35. They were paying 10 times that amount. You couldn't get it. So we changed that around, Lou.

And supported cancer research. And has traveled to 13 countries to visit the American troops. Lou's leadership and his faith and kindness have inspired and uplifted millions of fellow citizens.

He's one of the greatest titans in American football history. And 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. That's what he is; he's a life teacher. He teaches people how to live and how to live properly and how to live with dignity.

So I'd like to now ask the Military Aide to come forward and prepare for me to give our highest medal. We have the congressional Medal of Honor, and we have the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And I will say, I give away a lot of congressional Medal of Honors, and that's a tough one to get. You know, that's a tough one to get, because they come in with—when they come in, a lot of times, mostly, they can't come in for obvious reasons. But they come in where—they're unbelievably brave people. And they have had more bullet holes and bullets shot at them and in them. That's the congressional Medal of Honor.

Your route is a much easier one. [Laughter] As tough as it may have been, it's a much easier one.

Mr. Holtz. That's true.

The President. I always say that about the two.

Mr. Holtz. I'll remember that. [Laughter]

The President. It's—your route is a much easier—the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

So I'd like to ask first Lou to say a few words, and then we're going to present. Thank you very much.

Audience members. Lou! Lou! Lou!

Mr. Holtz. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. I'm humbled by the various comments and the opportunity to receive this award.

But I want to assure you how proud I am not only to receive the award; I'm even prouder to receive it from President Donald Trump, who I think was the greatest President during my lifetime. And the things you've done for this country have given people the opportunity.

As far as making money—I do have to correct one thing, Mr. President. You talk about making money. When I went to Notre Dame, they had a policy: The head football coach was not allowed to make more than the president of Notre Dame. The president of Notre Dame was a priest who took a vow of poverty. [Laughter] I made $95,000—[inaudible].

I get this award; I accept it humbly. And you don't go in life saying "I want to win this award." You just wake up one day, and it happens. But 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. As I think it was said, the two most important days of your life: one is the day you were born; the other is the day you discover why you're born. When we discover we're born basically—[inaudible]—other people and overcome problems and difficulties that are going to come our way. And I just cannot be prouder to be a part of this country. I could not be prouder to receive this award from an individual I respect and admire as much as President Trump.

Thank you, sir.

The President. Thank you. So nice. Thank you very much.

[At this point, Lt. Cmdr. Jayna G. McCarron, USCG, Coast Guard Aide to the President, read the citation, and the President presented the medal, assisted by Maj. William T. Kerrigan, USMC, Marine Corps Aide to the President.]

The President. Beautiful.

Mr. Holtz. Thank you. Whoa. Okay, that's it. [Laughter]

Q. Mr. Holtz, congratulations. How are you feeling?

Mr. Holtz. I feel so indebted to so many people in my life that had such a positive influence on it. For a guy that graduated in the lower third of his high school class—[laughter]—I feel fortunate to be able to be here, but also to be part of this great country and to be next to an individual that I respect as much as him.

So I say it: You've honored a lot of people. You go look at all the people—and Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus—they're recognized for what they did. I'm recognized for what other people did. I never made a block or a tackle, but I did try to teach people to make good choices. That's all I've ever tried to do. But thank you.

The President. Such a great statement. Thank you, Lou.

Coronavirus Relief Legislation

Q. Mr. President, Mitch McConnell says COVID relief may be in sight. Will you support this bill? Do you support——

The President. I will. And I think——

Q. ——the 900-billion-dollar——

The President. ——we're getting very close. And I want it to happen, and I believe that they're getting very close to a deal. Yes.

Q. And you'll support it? You'll sign it?

The President. I will. I will. Absolutely. Yes.

Attorney General William P. Barr/The President's Claims of Election Fraud

Q. Okay. And, Mr. President, can I ask you to respond to the comments by your Attorney General who indicated he has not seen, at this point, any evidence of fraud enough to overturn the election results? And given that, why is now not the time to concede?

The President. Well, he hasn't done anything. So he hasn't looked. When he looks, he'll see the kind of evidence that right now you're seeing in the Georgia Senate. You know, they're going through hearings right now in Georgia, and they're finding tremendous volume. So they haven't looked very hard, which is a disappointment, to be honest with you, because it's massive fraud.

Whether you go to Wisconsin, where we just filed a case, or Michigan, or if you look at what's happening in Georgia, as an example, or Pennsylvania; if you look at Nevada, which is moving along very rapidly, or Arizona—you saw those numbers come out yesterday—we found massive fraud. And in other States also. This is a—probably the most fraudulent election that anyone has ever seen.

Q. Do you still have confidence in Bill Barr?

The President. Uh, ask me that in a number of weeks from now. They should be looking at all of this fraud. This is not civil; he thought it was civil. This is not civil; this is criminal stuff. This is very bad criminal stuff.

So I just say this: We went through an election. At 10 o'clock, everybody said, "That was an easy victory for Trump." All of a sudden, the votes started disappearing—miraculously disappearing. We found much of it, but we found far more votes than we need in almost all of these States. And I think I can say in all of these States, far more votes than we need to win every one of them.

And I want to just thank my team, because my team is doing an unbelievable job. And more importantly, I want to thank the 74 million-plus people that voted, which, Lou, is the largest amount of people that a sitting President has ever had—74 million-plus. And because the level of loyalty, I've never seen anything like it. All over the country, they know it was a fixed election. It was a rigged election. They know it, and I appreciate their support.

Thank you all very much.

Q. Mr. President, just to clarify——

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:46 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to White House Counsel Pat A. Cipollone; Louis L. "Skip" Holtz, son of Mr. Holtz; and South Carolina Democratic senatorial candidate Jamie Harrison. Mr. Holtz referred to professional golfers Eldrick T. "Tiger" Woods and Jack W. Nicklaus. A reporter referred to Senate Majority Leader A. Mitchell McConnell.

Donald J. Trump, Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Louis L. Holtz and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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