SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Lou Holtz and John Cooper were enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night wishing they had another team to lead out on the field.
“I would love to get back coaching. I miss coaching. I miss the competition. I miss game day,” said Cooper, who coached at Ohio State, Arizona State and Tulsa. “I don’t miss compliance and academics and recruiting.”
Holtz couldn’t speak much louder than a whisper after coaching a group of former Notre Dame players for three days as they practiced for an exhibition game in Japan. He still sounded like his old self, though, hardly giving his team a chance against the Japanese.
“If Rudy came back he would be our star,” Holtz said of the school’s most famous walk-on. “And Charlie Weis runs faster than any running back we have.”
Jim Donnan, who coached at Marshall and Georgia, poked at Holtz for choosing an overseas opponent.
“One thing about Lou, he knows how to schedule,” Donnan said. “Playing the Japanese he has a good chance of winning.”
Holtz and Cooper agreed that the key to their successful careers were great players.
“The difference between a good coach and a Hall of Fame coach is players,” Cooper said. “You win with people. Show me a winning coach and I’ll show you a coach that has good players.”
Among the others honored Saturday were former Washington State running back Rueben Mayes, former UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman, former Oklahoma State tailback Thurman Thomas and former Army quarterback Arnold Tucker.
Thomas, who still holds the Oklahoma State record for career rushing with 4,595 yards and went to four straight Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills, joked his biggest accomplishment might have been keeping Barry Sanders on the bench for two years.
“I practiced real hard and kept giving my coach a lot of money,” he said.
Former Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson, the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1987, said being enshrined was a surreal experience.
“Because I don’t see myself in the same class as some of the guys that are in the Hall of Fame, like this guy right here,” McPherson said as former Arizona State offensive guard Randall McDaniel walked past. “It’s fun just to be associated with these guys. I’m just a fan of college football. So for me, it’s just fun to be around.”
The festivities began Saturday with a parade and a pep rally, where those being honored were given their Hall of Fame blazers. The biggest applause was for Holtz. Shouts of “Looouuu” rang out when he was introduced and again when he was given his jacket.
Former LSU tailback Billy Cannon was enshrined into the hall 26 years after he was first elected. He was selected for the Hall of Fame in 1983, but that honor was rescinded after he was arrested on federal counterfeiting charges. Cannon pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison in 1983. He served 21/2 years.
Cannon, who won the Heisman in 1959 and played on the national championship team in 1958, said he holds no grudges about being the only person to ever have his selection rescinded.
“I thank the people who voted for me initially, and I really thank the people who voted for me the second time,” said Cannon, who is now the dental director at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
“To be in this hall and to be associated with the great players who have played this game in the past and to be associated with the great players who will play this game in the future, it’s just an unbelievable thrill,” he said.
Cannon didn’t have the longest wait to get in, though. That honor went to former Army quarterback Arnold Tucker, who went undefeated at Army, going 27-0-1 from 1944-46 playing with Heisman Trophy winners Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, known as Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside.
“It came as quite a surprise, and it certainly was unanticipated,” Tucker said. “I’m a big fan of Troy Aikman and Billy Cannon. I’m a fan of them and their play. So it’s a real distinct honor to be associated with them.”
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