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Ask Lou Holtz about a college football playoff and he'll tell you about Mark Twain. Ask Holtz about his success at Notre Dame and he'll talk about his failures.

Ask Holtz his feelings on society, and he'll tell you his feelings about . . . society. And families, parenthood, love and the human psyche.Holtz enjoys a chance to philosophize about life, delivering often moving messages in a quirky drawl-lisp. He has ironclad beliefs and expansive interests - a renaissance man in the unceremonious world in which he makes a living.

Entering his ninth season at Notre Dame with yet another national championship contender and a chance to pass Frank Leahy on the school's all-time win list, Holtz needed little prompting recently to turn the discussion away from the 1994 season.

"I think society has changed tremendously in the last 25 years," he said. "Today, everybody talks about their rights and privileges. Twenty-five years ago, everybody talked about their obligations and responsibilities."

Holtz will enter this season with 77 wins, needing 11 to pass Leahy and become the third-winningest coach in Notre Dame history behind Knute Rockne (105) and Ara Parseghian .

But he also has lost 19 games, a figure surpassed by only two coaches. Gerry Faust, Holtz's predecessor, lost 26 games from 1981-85, and Joe Kuharich, the only coach with a losing record in Notre Dame history, lost 23 games from 1959-62.

"I just don't like to lose at anything I do," Holtz said. "If you're going to do something, let's do it to the best of our ability."

That is his philosophy of life, not just of football, and he has very clear ideas of the big picture.

- On single-parent homes: "Young people get on TV all the time and they say, `Hi mom,' because love is sacrifice, and nobody sacrifices more than a mother. But there are very important roles that a father has to take in the leadership of a child, and a lot of them don't have that any longer."

- On schools: "We don't have as much discipline in the school. We don't have the demands for excellence. We have lost a lot of the competitiveness."