Fact Check

Did Lou Holtz Praise Hitler as a Great Leader?

An old quote resurfaced as the former football coach was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in December 2020.

Published Dec 3, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 03: President Donald Trump presents the Medal of Freedom to former college football coach Lou Holtz in the Oval Office of the White House on December 3, 2020 in Washington, DC. Holtz is best known for his time as head coach of University of Notre Dame's football team, winning a national championship in the 1988 season. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images) (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
Image Via Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images
Claim:
Former college football coach Lou Holtz once praised Adolf Hitler as a great leader.
What's True

Lou Holtz once said "Hitler was a great leader."

What's False

Holtz later clarified that he meant to say a "bad leader." The football coach also issued an apology for making a Hitler reference during a sports broadcast.

On Dec. 3, 2020, former college football coach and television analyst Lou Holtz was awarded the Medal of Freedom by U.S. President Donald Trump during a ceremony in the Oval Office. CNN reported:

President Donald Trump awarded the Medal of Freedom to former football coach Lou Holtz on Thursday in an Oval Office ceremony.

Holtz, 83, has coached several college football teams, but most recently, he served as the head football coach of the University of Notre Dame and the University of South Carolina.

The Oval Office ceremony included a tightly packed audience of dozens of people, many of whom were not wearing masks, according to reporters in the room.

As Holtz was being honored for this award, some social media users noted that he had once praised the leadership of Nazi Führer Adolf Hitler:

Holtz truly did once say that Hitler was a great leader. The comment was made during a 2008 broadcast on the ESPN show "GameDay." Holtz was discussing the leadership of Michigan's head coach Rich Rodriguez when he said: "Ya know, Hitler was a great leader, too."

We have not been able to find a video of this remark. A contemporary article from the New York Daily News, however, noted that Holtz' walked back his comment after he was prompted by one of his co-analysts.

The New York Daily News wrote:

Holtz, a studio analyst for the network, said on a Friday night "GameDay" show that Rodriguez may well be a leader of men, but then added, "Ya know, Hitler was a great leader, too."

ESPN said it has no plans to suspend Holtz, as it did ESPN.com columnist Jemele Hill in June, after Hill compared rooting for the Boston Celtics to rooting for Hitler.

Holtz's comments apparently stunned follow studio analysts Mark May and Rece Davis. Davis attempted to bail Holtz out.

"You mean a bad leader, don't you?," Davis said.

Yes," Holtz said.

Holtz also issued an apology for the remark, saying:

"Last night while trying to make a point about leadership, I made an unfortunate reference. It was a mistake and I sincerely apologize."

Holtz truly did once say that "Hitler was a great leader." The football coach may have misspoken, however, and later issued an apology for the remark.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.