CLEVELAND - One of college football's winningest coaches dipped his toe into the race for Ohio secretary of state yesterday, playing the part of a stalwart ball carrier in the largest fund-raising drive of Democrat Bryan Flannery's campaign.
Lou Holtz, who coached Mr. Flannery for four years while at Notre Dame - including the 1988 national champions - spoke highly of his former player, saying he had the makings of an important leader.
“Bryan has a tremendous attitude,” Mr. Holtz, now the coach of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, told a crowd of more than 400 people gathered for breakfast. “I think everything starts with attitude. The only type of person who is ever going to be a leader is a person who has a vision, a person who has a plan. That's why Bryan Flannery is going to be a leader.”
While praising Mr. Flannery, who is now a state representative from the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, the football coach said he would not commit illegal procedure by dictating how anyone should vote.
“There's no way Lou Holtz is here to try to influence an election. I am sure [incumbent Secretary of State Kenneth] Blackwell is a fine man. I am here because of my loyalty to Bryan Flannery,” Mr. Holtz said, adding that he tells his players that if they give him four years of dedication during college on the football field, he will be dedicated to them for the rest of his life.
Mr. Holtz, one of the nation's leading motivational speakers, said his visit to Cleveland yesterday was an example of how he pays his players back for their hard work. The event raised $75,000 for the Flannery campaign.
Most of Mr. Holtz' speech, flavored with several amusing anecdotes from his career, stuck to motivational themes.
“Anybody can be successful, but when you die, that success ends,” he said. By contrast, he said Mr. Flannery, by running for public office, “is trying to be significant. When you are significant, you are helping other people. That lives on long after you are gone.”
“I'm proud of you, Bryan, for trying to help other people,” he said.
“It's completely overwhelming, that he would come back and do this,” Mr. Flannery said. “He is the most sought-after speaker in the country. For him to take time to come back up here from South Carolina to do this means so much to me and my family,” the former defensive lineman said.
Carty Finkbeiner, former Toledo mayor and a former assistant football coach at the University of Toledo, praised the candidate for organizing the event.
“I think Bryan is a neat, neat, guy, a bright, young, guy, “ Mr. Finkbeiner said. “He is just the kind of guy you want in politics.”
Mr. Blackwell, a Republican who won the office four years ago, is a former state treasurer and local officeholder from Hamilton County. Despite the big Flannery fund-raiser, Mr. Blackwell, who was a college football standout at Xavier University in Cincinnati, still holds a substantial fund-raising lead over his challenger.
Republicans have controlled the secretary of state's office since 1990. Bob Taft held it for two terms before handing it off to Mr. Blackwell in 1998.
In the latest Ohio Poll released in April, Mr. Blackwell leads Mr. Flannery by a 12 point margin, 45 percent to 33 percent.