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Lou Holtz was a huge success at NC State, and he’s still underappreciated

Lou Holtz

Lou Holtz wasn’t at NC State very long, in part because his tenure in Raleigh was such a resounding success, and also because that’s who Lou Holtz is. Ever the transient, Holtz followed opportunism from place to place until he finally landed at Notre Dame. There is nothing wrong with that, but when you move that fast, it will just as quickly sour or bury the fond feelings of the folks at your previous stop.

Lou Holtz is pretty much an afterthought in NC State football history, because he was only in Raleigh for a blink. But man was he good.

SB Nation’s Bill Connelly has been going through past seasons and applying his statistical analysis to those years, lend some clarity to what has otherwise been a whole batch of confusion. The method isn’t perfect, but it does paint some vivid pictures.

See, for example, NC State finishing 116th in S&P+ the year prior to Lou Holtz’s arrival in Raleigh, then improving to 14th the year following, which was Holtz’s first as head coach. To put it more directly, State went from 3-8-0 in 1971 (the year before State hired Holtz) to 8-3-1 in 1972.

That turnaround is no bullshit, as back in the day teams weren’t so cynically calculating about their non-conference scheduling, and they weren’t handcuffed within their leagues by conference divisions, either.

Holtz is a huge outlier in NC State football history—he won 33 games in four seasons, losing only 12 times. He inherited a program that had endured three consecutive losing seasons. In the 1970s. Good luck explaining any of that.

The reason why State got so much better so fast was Holtz’s offense: in 1971 State ranked 113th in Offensive S&P+. Over the four years of Holtz’s tenure, State ranked No. 6, No. 6, No. 11, and No. 41. The defense improved as well, but it was the offense that drove the program’s turnaround.

If he’d stuck around, who knows what we might be saying about NC State football now. It’s also entirely understandable why he left. Regardless, what he did in his brief time in Raleigh was damn near incredible.