WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump will award the nation’s highest civilian honor on Thursday to former college football coach and political ally Lou Holtz.
Holtz, who had a storied 34-year coaching career that included winning the 1988 national title at the University of Notre Dame, was to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a private ceremony in the Oval Office.
Trump announced in September that he would bestow the honor on Holtz, an outspoken backer of the president.
Holtz had an impressive 249-132-7 record over a career that included head coaching jobs at William & Mary, North Carolina State, the University of Arkansas, the University of Minnesota, and the University of South Carolina. He also coached the NFL’s New York Jets in 1976 to a 3-10 record.
Holtz, 83, said in an interview Thursday on “Fox & Friends” that being honored by Trump made the award particularly meaningful.
“I’m sad he’s not going be with us for another four years because he’s done so much for his country and genuinely cares about it,” Holtz said. “So, I stand here very proudly to accept this award from President Trump.”
A graduate of Kent State, Holtz also served seven years as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves.
The West Virginia native was among speakers at this year’s Republican National Convention, offering Trump a strong endorsement while attacking the president’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden. In his remarks, Holtz called Biden a Catholic “in name only.” Biden is a practicing Catholic.
Notre Dame’s president, Father John I. Jenkins, later issued a statement admonishing the former coach for using the university’s name in his remarks, saying it “must not be taken to imply” that Notre Dame endorses Holtz’s views, any candidate or any political party. Jenkins also admonished Holtz for questioning the “sincerity” of Biden’s faith.
Trump announced the week after Holtz’s convention speech that he would honor the retired coach with the medal.
“We’ve analyzed it very closely. We’ve looked at all those recommendations. We’ve looked at Lou’s life and his career and what he’s done for charity, and the football is obvious,” Trump said. “He was a great coach but what he’s done beyond even coaching, so Lou will be getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
After his retirement from coaching in 2004, Holtz served as a college football analyst at ESPN and CBS.
Holtz is one of several sports figures Trump has awarded the Medal of Freedom during his time office.
Others include former NFL Hall of Famer and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, Olympic track and field athlete and former Rep. Jim Ryun, golfer Tiger Woods, businessman and motorsports icon Roger Penske, Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, pro basketball greats Bob Cousy and Jerry West and baseball legends Babe Ruth and Mariano Rivera.
Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani in Chicago and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.