MIAMI, DEC. 30 -- In the last four days, Lou Holtz has complained about the following items: a lack of focus on his team; quarterback Rick Mirer's sore passing arm; defensive tackle Chris Zorich's injured leg; no respect for his team from the Colorado Buffaloes; Mirer's mental state; and, finally, his own inability to concentrate.
"I feel like I'm losing my mind sometimes," the Notre Dame coach said this weekend as he prepared his team to play top-ranked Colorado in the Orange Bowl Tuesday night. "I told Rick Mirer that after I miscalled a play in practice today."
Holtz is the coach who cries wolf, so no one is certain if he may finally be feeling the pressure of the incredible news and rumors swirling about him. Holtz has been reported to have paid off players while he was coaching at Minnesota, condoned steroid use at Notre Dame and been interested in coaching jobs with the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There can be no doubt that this man is the focus of this bowl game, that while college-aged men will play in the game and older men will coach it, Holtz has been, and will remain, its central character, its hero or its villain, its overriding image.
Not long after he arrived in town, he picked up the Miami Herald and read a column suggesting that he might want to leave Notre Dame because of all the distractions and scrutiny he has brought to the school.
"I just hope my family doesn't read it," Holtz said.
He refuses to discuss his off-the-field problems and says he will stay at Notre Dame as long as the school wants him. Notre Dame answers by saying it wants Holtz as its coach "as long as he chooses."
It's a game of hot potato.
Furthermore, Holtz said last Wednesday the rumors don't bother him.
"I'm a professional," he said. "I have never worked any harder or prepared myself any better for a bowl game than I have for this one thus far."
The very next day, he said of the distractions, "I can't put it out of my mind. Even though I try, I just can't."
His players say he's handling the pressure well.
"He's joking and laughing at practice," said Zorich, who had a partially dislocated right kneecap during the season and "will play on one leg" against the Buffaloes, Holtz said.
But some aren't certain what to expect from him.
"He said he's staying here," said linebacker Michael Stonebreaker. "But that was three weeks ago."
Other Holtzisms: Some of the Colorado players have said they want to gain Notre Dame's respect in this game after a poor showing a year ago in the Orange Bowl. Holtz was asked what Notre Dame wanted to prove in this game.
"We need to gain a little respect," Holtz said. "I'm not sure if Colorado has much respect for Notre Dame."
To most listeners, this was a puzzlement. If Notre Dame has anything in the sports world, it's respect.
Holtz also said his team wasn't focusing properly on the game in early practices and he couldn't put his finger on why. Now, he said, things are much better.
Watching from afar is Colorado Coach Bill McCartney, who knows what it's like to be hounded by reporters, especially in the wake of his fifth-down controversy this fall against Missouri in which his team was given an extra down.
"The brightest light of all is the one that follows Notre Dame," he said referring to the media spotlight. "I can hardly imagine it."
McCartney said he is not at all like Holtz.
"But I respect what he does," he said. "Generally speaking, when he goes somewhere and speaks or lectures, I try to get a copy of that and learn from that. I find the things he says always have rationale behind them and a lot of logic. I think he's a master of preparing a team."
McCartney remembered with a laugh that in last year's Orange Bowl game, Holtz said Raghib "Rocket" Ismail "wasn't going to play."
Not only did Ismail play, he gained 108 yards on 16 carries and was named the game's MVP.
That's Holtz. When his team was the defending national champion coming into the 1989 season, Holtz wondered aloud if he had a "top 50" team.
In a world of colorless coaches, Holtz stands out. So do some of his players.
Holtz asked Zorich at practice this morning how his right leg felt.
"Is it a hundred percent?" Holtz asked his senior captain.
"No, it's five percent," Zorich replied.
Holtz later explained to reporters that Zorich is probably closer to 75 percent.
"Chris Zorich overstates some things," Holtz said with a smile, perhaps realizing his pupil had learned his lesson well.