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Holtz heightens story of Gamecocks' turnabout


South Carolina hired Lou Holtz to build a national program, one that would be visible and viable across the college football landscape, not just in the state or in the Southeast.

Holtz brought with him a name synonymous with winning football and rebuilding down-and-out programs. In conjunction with his reputation on the field, Holtz brought the kind of instant name recognition very few coaches can boast.

His star power has made the Gamecocks' 4-0 start one of the biggest sports stories in the nation.

While Holtz is quick to deflect any credit, saying he doesn't read newspapers or pay attention to the media blitz, his presence has added flavor to South Carolina's story, says CBS analyst Todd Blackledge, a former Penn State quarterback.

Certainly, any team that breaks a 21-game losing streak and starts a season with four straight wins would garner its share of media attention. Put Holtz on its sideline, and the story grows exponentially.

"If Sparky Woods or Brad Scott were still the coach at South Carolina, it would be a nice little story. What makes it a national story and causes shows like ESPN's "GameDay" to do pieces on it, is that it is Holtz working the magic," said Tony Barnhart, who reported live from Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., last week for "GameDay."

"He's done it at other stops, but nobody outside of the state of South Carolina thought he could do it there.

"His team now expects to win and will be surprised when they lose," Barnhart said. "Changing that mindset among his players and the fans in such a short time is a tremendous accomplishment."

The increase in media attention started before the Gamecocks won a game. Holtz was the subject of two ESPN promotional advertising spots for "GameDay" that started running in August. How many coaches of an 0-11 team are asked to do a national ad? It has continued through the season, with South Carolina upsetting nationally ranked Georgia and Mississippi State to vault into the Top 25.

Today, ESPN will have a crew in Tuscaloosa, at South Carolina's game against Alabama, for the sole purpose of taping Holtz's comments for "SportsCenter." Only a handful of coaches' comments air each Saturday night, and this is a first for a Gamecock coach.

Holtz's words are getting around. During his weekly teleconference last Sunday, when five or six reporters might normally listen in, there were 19, including representatives of USA Today, the Dallas Morning News and the San Antonio Express-News.

Stories have run in the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune and the New York Times. Twice, the Gamecocks have made an appearance in Sports Illustrated.

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