The Wolfpacker

January 2022

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 47 of 51

48 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY TIM PEELER T he story of how Lou Holtz and Willis Casey met sounds like the plot of a cheap 1970s spy parody. Holtz, the head coach of William & Mary, was the top target to be NC State's next foot- ball coach, replacing the longtime staff put in place by Earle Edwards, the winningest coach in Wolfpack football history. Holtz had an uninspiring 13-20 record at W&M, but he had a spark that caught the attention of the Wolfpack athletics director, who was look- ing to make a major change in the direction of the program. Edwards had retired suddenly just before the 1971 season, opening the door for his longtime defensive coordinator, Al Michaels, to serve as a one-year interim, with the idea he would be considered as permanent coach. In reality, Casey had grown tired of the conservative offensive and aggressive defen- sive approach that won games — Edwards captured four ACC titles in the 1960s, along with his first in 1957 — but didn't necessar- ily fill the still-new 41,000 seats at Carter Stadium. Attendance during Michaels' 3-9 season was 24,840, which still ranks as the lowest in the history of the football stadium. With an average of fewer than 30,000 spectators coming to see the Wolfpack in those early years, Casey and Chancellor John T. Caldwell wanted something a little more exciting. Holtz refused to meet with the NC State search committee, but agreed to a face-to- face meeting with Casey halfway between Williamsburg, Va., and Raleigh. They made arrangements to meet at a gas station in South Hills, Va., with the idea they would at least talk a little about the job. Casey arrived early, keeping his eyes out for someone brawny, not scrawny. Holtz ar- rived even earlier, sitting in his car on the lookout for someone with whom he could talk football. All he saw was a pudgy guy chain-smoking in the front seat of his car. Eventually, the two guys in the parking lot figured out they were waiting for each other. Casey walked up to Holtz, barely 5-foot-10 and 148 pounds, and introduced himself. "You don't look much like a football coach," said Casey, whose frame was as squat as Holtz's was stringy. "Well," answered Holtz, a semipro second baseman and 16-point scoring guard in a Williamsburg recreational league, "you don't look like a very athletic director, either." Thus began a relationship 50 years ago that in time was friendly, successful and eventually quite stormy. It also was an im- portant step toward what would become the most successful era in NC State athletics history, in which the Wolfpack won three ACC titles and one national championship in men's basketball, three consecutive league baseball titles, 13 consecutive ACC swim- ming and diving titles, and one conference football crown. Casey solidified his decision to pursue Holtz after the Indians (William & Mary's pre-Tribe nickname) nearly beat Casey's alma mater, North Carolina, in Chapel Hill, losing a 36-35 decision. The game was essen- tially decided in the final two minutes when the feisty Holtz, with his team protecting a seven-point lead over the heavily favored Tar Heels, earned a 15-yard unsportsman- like conduct penalty for arguing that a North Carolina receiver had trapped a critical pass. UNC scored, made the two-point conver- sion on a tipped pass and completed the regular season with a 9-2 record. Casey was sold. PACK PAST An Unusual Meeting Helped Bring Lou Holtz To NC State And Contributed To The Start Of A Golden Era NC State athletics director Willis Casey (left) thought that Holtz could help fill Carter Stadium after a period of declining attendance at Wolfpack games. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE ATHLETICS

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