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Hall of Fame honor ‘Wows’ Holtz

Last December, for the first time in nearly two decades, former South Carolina athletics director Mike McGee had to skip the annual College Football Hall of Fame banquet due to a family conflict.

He’s not planning on missing ceremonies for the Class of 2009 — not with Lou Holtz among the inductees.

Holtz, whose college football coaching career of nearly 30 years concluded in 2004 when he retired at USC after a six-year stint, is among 15 former players and coaches elected Thursday to the Hall of Fame.

“When I first heard I was going into the Hall of Fame, I went ‘Wow! Wow! How’d this happen?’” Holtz said during a National Football Foundation news conference in New York.

Also among those chosen were former LSU All-American Billy Cannon and Troy Aikman, who played at Oklahoma and UCLA before starring with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.

Holtz, who works as a college football studio analyst for ESPN and as a motivational speaker, was traveling Thursday from New York to his home in Orlando, Fla., and could not be reached for comment. But his wife, Beth, said from their home that her husband was “thrilled.

“It’s a wonderful honor. I think all coaches aspire to that honor,” Beth Holtz said.

McGee, a member of the Hall of Fame since 1990, and who hired Holtz at USC in 1999, said he also is “thrilled for Lou.”

“Absolutely, I will be there, cheering him on,” when the new class is honored at a NFF banquet in December, McGee said. Inductees will be enshrined in the summer of 2009 at the Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind.

“I know of no coach — or if any, very few — who deserve this as much as Lou Holtz does,” McGee said from his home in Colorado. “He’s a unique guy in many respects, and I feel privileged to have worked with him.”

George Rogers, the Gamecocks’ 1980 Heisman Trophy winner, is also a Hall of Fame member. Rogers was inducted in 1997.

Holtz enters the Hall of Fame with 249 career victories and is the only coach to lead six schools to bowl games. Nationally, he is best known for coaching Notre Dame to the 1988 national championship and winning 100 games with the Fighting Irish.

McGee hired Holtz to replace Brad Scott after a 1-10 season in 1998. The Gamecocks were 0-11 in Holtz’s first season, but then went 8-4 and 9-3 in 2000-01 — the most wins by USC in a two-year span — and won back-to-back Outback Bowls.

Holtz’s success waned his final three seasons at USC, with a pair of 5-7 records and a 6-5 mark in 2004 that was marred by a benches-clearing brawl between members of his team and Clemson players in the season finale.

Holtz resigned the day after USC and Clemson officials decided to decline bowl bids because of the incident. His record at USC was 33-37.

McGee credits Holtz with turning around USC’s football fortunes. During a visit to Columbia last basketball season, McGee said he urged school officials to “do something to recognize Lou for his enormous contributions.”

“When we hired Steve (Spurrier, who replaced Holtz), Lou was helpful in the process,” he said. “If he hadn’t built the foundation that he did,” the Gamecocks might not have been able to attract Spurrier, he said.

Besides USC and Notre Dame, Holtz coached William & Mary, N.C. State, Arkansas and Minnesota. His final record was 249-132-7.

Reach senior writer Bob Gillespie at (803) 771-8304.