Both Lou Holtz and Bobby Knight strike a monolithic pose in Indiana, with legacies that extend beyond their mastery of amateur athletics. Outside the boundaries of the Hoosier state, few similarities spring up when comparing the sports icons.
Now the men, Holtz an example of class and composure, Knight an outspoken hothead known for throwing chairs across the court, have found common ground amid the 2016 presidential election: Donald Trump.“There’s nothing but winners in Indiana,” Holtz said Monday during his video endorsement, while wearing the gold Notre Dame football helmet on his chest. "The main reason I'm endorsing [Trump]: I've played his golf course, I've stayed in his hotel -- he does nothing but go first class in everything. He wants this country to be first class as well."
The tenets of Holtz’s reign at the helm of the Fighting Irish were of discipline and structure. Holtz managed to out-coach his football rivals, who often boasted superior talent to what Holtz could bring to South Bend due to the stringent academic requirements of Notre Dame.
The Irish faithful expected their alma mater to contend with schools with a more open recruiting process. Never was this more apparent than the infamous “Catholics vs. Convicts” game, where Holtz managed to best the Miami Hurricanes during the height of their controversially “vibrant” behavior. Holtz spent a decade in South Bend and led the Irish their last National Championship in 1988.
Knight, on the other hand, has become a folk hero to an aging generation who more vividly remember a now-dying era of college athletics. Despite winning three national titles at Indiana, and putting together the sport’s last undefeated season in 1987, Knight was known for berating his stars to get the best out of them. His long rap sheet of confrontations with players and administrators culminated in him being dismissed in 2000 when footage surfaced of Knight choking a player during an argument in practice.
Still, many still believe Knight’s “uncivil, defiant, and unacceptable” turn as The General was right for turning players into men: He boasted a graduation rate of 80 percent, nearly double the national average during his three decades leading the team. It’s not a coincidence Knight is the hero to America’s favorite fictional libertarian (and Indiana native), Ron Swanson.
Given the aforementioned, Knight seemed as natural a surrogate as any for the equally brash and aggressive Trump in the Hoosier state. "This man is not a Republican. He's not a Democrat at heart. He's just a great American,” Knight said while introducing Trump in Evansville last week. He added that, like Harry Truman, Trump would have had “the guts” to drop the bomb in 1944.
Never mind that Holtz donated to the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008, he never felt like a realistic fit for the larger Trump political family. His decision to endorse the real estate mogul, whose path to the nomination now feels like a fait accompli, seems odd and somewhat superficial, but genuine coming from a man so known for his principles.
The 2016 GOP presidential primary continues to cast familiar figures in unfamiliar roles.