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(Columbia) Nov. 22, 2004 - December 4th, 1998 was a landmark day in the history of USC football when legendary coach Lou Holtz was hired to lead the Gamecocks.
Holtz took over a program mired in 106 years of futility. During that span, Carolina had one bowl victory and one conference championship. Only once had USC won more than 8 games in a season and that was the 1984 Black Magic team.
South Carolina began competing in the prestigious Southeastern Conference in 1992, but they had never finished with a winning league record.
And, 1998 was especially painful. After barely defeating Ball State in the season opener, USC went on to lose all of its remaining ten games. That led to the dismissal of head coach Brad Scott.
The Gamecock program needed a proven coach, and they found their man in Lou Holtz.
Holtz had a reputation for taking struggling programs and turning them into winners. He solidified his standing as one of the nation's best coaches at the University of Notre Dame. After just two years on the job, Holtz led the Fighting Irish to a 12-0 record and the 1988 national championship.
Lou raised the bar higher than it had ever been for the Garnet and Black as soon as he made his way into Williams-Brice Stadium, "There is no reason in this world why we can't be as good as anybody in the country, and our goal is to win the national championship."
Lou's talk of championships inspired hope in a Gamecock nation starving for success. Season tickets were soon sold out. The state's top prep prospect, running back Derek Watson, picked the Gamecocks over several other high profile schools.
Holtz also made his mark off the field. He held yearly football clinics for women and established an emergency homeless shelter, which bears his name.
More than 10,000 fans, more than double the usual crowd, showed up to get their first look at Lou's Gamecocks when he first took the field for the 1999 spring game.
Success didn't come right away, despite the enthusiasm that arrived with Lou.
Lou's first game as head coach came on September 4th, 1999 against one of his former teams: North Carolina State. Despite an outstanding defensive effort, the Gamecocks fell to the Wolfpack 10-to-nothing and the losing continued. The 1999 squad lost all 11 of its games.
It was the first time in history that a USC squad was winless for an entire season. The team was shut out twice and scored more than one touchdown in just two games, "What's that movie, Groundhog Day? Every day seems the same, every game seems the same way."
Holtz and the Gamecocks made a stunning turnaround the following year. The 2000 season opener marked the end of Carolina's 21 game losing streak. They defeated New Mexico State 31-to-nothing.
The following weekend, eighth ranked Georgia came to Williams-Brice Stadium, led by quarterback Quincey Carter, a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. The Bulldogs were also a favorite to win the Southeastern Conference championship. It was the Gamecocks that looked like a championship team as they intercepted five of Carter's passes.
The goalposts and Carter's Heisman hopes came tumbling down following USC's 21-10 upset victory.
The Gamecocks found themselves in the top 25 after two more wins against Eastern Michigan and Mississippi State.
The Gamecocks ended the 2000 regular season with a 7 and 4 record and a bid to play in the Outback Bowl. Coach Holtz was named coach of the year in the Southeastern Conference.
That bowl game would go down in history as one of South Carolina's most exciting. USC running back Ryan Brewer rushed for three touchdowns as USC knocked off the Buckeyes 24-7 on New Year's day to finish with an 8-4 record.
There were more good times for Holtz and the Gamecocks in 2001. USC won 9 games, including victories over Georgia, Alabama and Clemson.
Their final victory of the season came again against Ohio State in the Outback Bowl. It would be Ohio State's last defeat before winning the 2002 national championship..
Two straight bowl victories and a flood of new talent had Gamecock nation talking about the SEC championship and a BCS bowl appearance in 2002, but those plans were put on hold.
After narrowly defeating New Mexico State in the opener, USC was trounced by Virginia 34-to-21. It was one of the worst performances by a Lou Holtz coached team
The team started 5-2, but lost their last 5 games to finish the year 5 and 7.
The 2003 campaign started off on a more positive note. The Gamecocks began with victories over Louisiana-Lafayette and 24th ranked Virginia, but the Georgia game set the tone for the rest of the season. The Bulldogs trounced the Gamecocks 30-to-7.
Injuries also took a toll on the USC squad as Carolina again went 5 and 7.
The final blow was also the hardest. Archrival Clemson came to town and handed USC a 63-to-17 defeat. Their worst loss in the series history.
After two straight losing seasons, Holtz was a target for criticism from both the media and fans. He reshuffled his coaching staff, hired five new assistants and stripped his son Skip of the title of offensive coordinator.
Holtz also talked to his players about changing the culture of USC football and developing a winning attitude as he prepared for the 2004 campaign.
At first it looked like the culture had indeed changed. The Gamecocks rolled over Vanderbilt in the season opener.
Third ranked Georgia came to USC the following week. A 57 yard interception return for a touchdown gave Carolina a 16-0 lead, but Georgia quarterback David Greene led the Bulldogs to 20 unanswered points and a four point victory.
Three weeks later, the Gamecocks went to Tuscaloosa and picked up a milestone victory. They defeated Alabama 20-to-3 for their first ever victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium as their record improved to 4-1.
It didn't take long for the Gamecocks to fall back into their old ways. The next week, Ole Miss came to Carolina as a double digit underdog, but they scored the winning points with 65 seconds left to play as they stunned USC 31-to-28.
The Gamecocks rebounded against hapless Kentucky. They overcame six turnovers and were rescued by fourth string quarterback Michael Rathe, who hit Troy Williamson with the game winning TD pass with 1:28 left on the clock.
Two weeks later, Tennessee handed USC their worst loss of the season 43-29, leaving them with a 5-and-3 record.
A 35-to-32 win over Arkansas made Carolina bowl eligible for the first time in three years.
But most of the talk the following week centered around the future of Lou Holtz as the coach was non-committal about returning for another season.
Rumors that former Gator Coach Steve Spurrier would take over the USC program upon Lou's retirement began popping up all over Columbia as the Gamecocks headed into the Florida game. Lou wouldn't confirm or deny his intention to step down at season's end. He wouldn't put the Spurrier rumors to rest either.
Most of the talk around the Gamecock camp focused on Holtz and his future, even during the week of the Clemson game. Two days before the game, a Nashville, Tennessee newspaper reported that Spurrier had agreed to replace Holtz if he decided to retire.
Holtz officially announced his retirement Monday morning following Saturday's 29-7 loss to arch-rival Clemson at Death Valley.
Holtz is in 33rd year overall as a college head coach, and he ranks third in victories among active coaches, trailing only Penn State's Joe Paterno and Florida State's Bobby Bowden. Holtz's 249 ranks eight alltime.
He is the only coach ever to lead six teams to postseason bowl games: William & Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina. He's also the only coach to have four different programs (all but William & Mary and Minnesota) finish the season ranked in the top 20.
South Carolina firsts under Coach Holtz:
Winning two consecutive New Year’s Day Bowl games (2001, 2002 Outback Bowls)
Finishing with top 20 national rankings for two straight years (19th in 2000 and 13th in 2001)
Ranked in the national polls for an entire season (2001)
The most victories in consecutive seasons (17 from 2000-01)
Record-setting home attendance (82,614 average in 2001 and 82,138 in 2002)
Most players (11) to sign NFL contracts in one season (2002 and again in 2003)
Back-to-back top 10 rated recruiting classes (2002, 2003)
Coach Holtz was named 2000 SEC Coach of the Year, AFCA Region 2 Coach of the Year, and received National Coach of the Year honors from Football News and American Football Coach Quarterly.
Holtz came to Notre Dame after rebuilding programs at Minnesota (1984-85), Arkansas (1977-83), North Carolina State (1972-75) and William & Mary (1969-71). He spent the 1976 season as head coach of the NFL’s New York Jets.
Before becoming head coach at William & Mary, Holtz served as an assistant coach at Iowa (1960), William & Mary (1961-63), Connecticut (1964-65), South Carolina (1966-67), and Ohio State (1968).
In 2001, he and his wife, Beth, initiated a $25,000 endowment for USC’s Thomas Cooper Library.
Born Louis Leo Holtz on Jan. 6, 1937 in Follansbee, WV, Holtz grew up in nearby East Liverpool, Ohio. He graduated from East Liverpool High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Kent State in 1959 and a master’s degree from Iowa in arts and education in 1961.
He played linebacker at Kent State for two seasons before an injury ended his career.
Holtz married Beth Barcus of East Liverpool on July 22, 1961, and they have four children: Luanne Altenbaumer, Skip (Gamecock assistant head coach and offensive coordinator), Kevin, and Elizabeth Messaglia.