Father and son football coaches visit USSOCOM, talk leadership

By: Michael Bottoms - 2/1/2024

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Coach Lou Holtz gives remarks as Gen. Bryan Fenton, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, looks on during a leadership seminar at the headquarters on MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, Jan. 26, 2024. Photo by U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Demetrius Munnerlyn.

​​Legendary football coach Lou Holtz and his son Skip, also a successful football coach, visited the headquarters to give a seminar on leadership on Jan. 26, 2024. This was the first time the father and son spoke together lecturing a seminar.

The father son duo touched on many aspects on how to be a successful leader.

Holtz senior began by saying he got his MBA in that he was “made by the army.”

“I learned more in the Army than I ever did in college classes,” said Holtz senior. “I got to travel to 16 countries to speak to troops from Korea to Afghanistan.”

Holtz senior would go on breakdown techniques and methods behind successful leadership.

“Never lower the standard to be well liked or popular. Have a vision. Lead by example. Get rid of the excuses why you cannot do something,” he said. “When you are a leader it is your obligation to make them to the best by showing them how to reach it.

“There are three rules to follow if you want to lead an effective team. First, do what is right, know the difference between right and wrong … be honest, on time, loyal … racism, sexism, spousal abuse are wrong. Second, do everything to the best of your ability… maintain the little things … when you let them slide, the big ones go,” he continued. “Last, show people you care.”

The younger Holtz would take over for his father and expounded on his leadership principles.

“What I learned from my father is that accountability and attitude are everything,” he said. “You stop worrying about what’s in your way, you achieve success.”

He would relate a story when he was fired from college head coaching job and how he did not think it was fair, so he called his father and asked him what he thought.

“He told me ‘Your job is not to make people happy. It is to lead the team. Write down what you would do differently. Instead thinking it is unfair, look internally at what you can do,’” he said. “It’s great advice.”

The younger Holtz would also explain leadership is easy when things are going well, but a real leader gets evaluated in challenging times.

“Adversity is a leader’s dream; adversity brings us together. You must lead with substance,” he said. “A football team, like the military, is like an iceberg – the hype is the 15% you see, 85% under water is the real value. That is where the heart and intangibles are.”

The younger Holtz would go on to what he thinks makes a championship team.​

(From left to right) Coaches Skip and Lou Holtz, Gen. Bryan Fenton, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command and Command Sgt. Major Shane Shorter conduct a leadership seminar at the headquarters on MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, Jan. 26, 2024. Photo by U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Demetrius Munnerlyn.​

“You must learn how to compete because you execute the fundamentals. You learn how to win because you do the little things right. You need to learn how to manage winning – some teams win so much they take it for granted. Get the players/soldiers to take charge of the culture … get on each other without the leader/coach,” he said. “Talented people determine capability – how well you do is determined by attitude … we choose whether we succeed or fail. We choose to be positive or negative… proactive or reactive. We cannot be managed by public opinion. You need to lead from the inside out, not the outside in.”

A question was asked how can you tell when your team owns their culture?

“When your people understand what you are trying to do, and they buy into it. Your championship ring will be the same size. When your team takes charge and have pride,” the elder Holtz said. “They believe that what you have built is something special. They have pride and understand what they are doing is important.”

“Your people must learn to follow before you learn how to lead. Culture is taught every day. People need to have a goal,” the younger Holtz said.

Another question raised is how do you maintain your energy?

“Everyone has problems. Those smiling are the ones who can manage them. You cannot have a bad day. You cannot have a low day. Every morning wake up, choose to be positive,” the younger Holtz said. “When you are leading your organization your frame of mind is to be successful.”

The father and son really became connected near the end of the seminar with a touching moment on stage. Holtz senior looked at his son, and said “Son, I’m so proud of you.”

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