BISMARCK — Lou Holtz joked Thursday that the last time he was in North Dakota, oil was $100 a barrel and he wasn’t homeless.
The former college football coach and ESPN commentator, who lost a Florida home in a fire last summer, encouraged energy industry leaders and workers to take the recent oil downturn in stride during a speech preceding Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s appearance at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference.
“Quitting is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” he said. “Until you fly on solar energy, oil is going to continue to be very, very important.”
Holtz, a former board member for Watford City-based Nuverra Environmental Solutions, only lightly touched on energy in his speech and went through standard motivational material that has made him a sought-after speaker nationwide.
Holtz peppered multiple jokes throughout his 40-minute speech. His few moments speaking about oil were tied into his motivational theme, and for a moment, Holtz even got political.
“We all have injustices done,” he said. “It would bother the daylights out of me in this oil business, where our government subsidizes all kinds of fancy things and puts all kinds of restrictions on me. But you can’t be bitter about it.”
He said his experiences at the University of Arkansas, where he was fired in 1983 after six seasons, taught him not to be bitter and that led to building traits that made his Notre Dame football teams successful enough to win a national championship in 1988.
Holtz was initially supposed to be the keynote speaker for the conference, but he took a backseat to Trump.
Still, the 79-year-old said he didn’t mind. He said he has publicly endorsed Trump multiple times and particularly likes his anti-politically correct tone.
“I think being politically correct has hurt this country tremendously,” Holtz said. “I was smaller. People beat up on me, bullied me, made fun of me. But you know what? You learn how to handle it, you learn how to live with that and move on. Instead, ‘You hurt somebody’s feelings.’ Good lord no, don’t worry about being politically correct. Let’s worry about being correct.”
Holtz speaks highly of Bison football, Wentz
In an interview before his speech, Holtz spoke highly of North Dakota State football and its former quarterback Carson Wentz, who went second overall in the NFL draft to the Philadelphia Eagles..
“The tradition and the accomplishments are really impressive,” he said. “I think people will look back 10 years from now, 20 years from now and say, ‘Wow, that’s really special.’ You consider five national championships. John Wooden is the only one I know who’s done anything close to that.”
Holtz said he thinks Wentz may be in for a challenge with the Philadelphia Eagles, saying he’s with “a difficult team who drafted second for a reason.”
Still, he said he’s a fan of the Bismarck native who became the first player from North Dakota selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
“I think also his character, his integrity, his leadership and his intelligence go a great deal to being successful in the NFL,” Holtz said.