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Lou Holtz I'm NOT A Racist Regrets Immigration Joke

7/23/2016 12:45 AM PDT

Lou Holtz: I'm NOT A Racist ... Regrets Immigration Joke

EXCLUSIVE

Lou Holtz says he regrets making a crack about foreigners at an event during the Republican National Convention ... telling TMZ Sports it was meant to be a joke, nothing more. 

The controversy began when Holtz was talking about immigration and said -- "I don’t want to speak your language, I don’t want to celebrate your holidays, I sure as hell don’t want to cheer for your soccer team!”

We spoke with Coach Lou ... who tells us he's sorry for SOME of what he said.

"I like to joke. I wished I hadn’t said, ‘I don’t want to celebrate your holidays, and cheer for your soccer teams.’ It was said in jest. But I stand by the rest of what I said about coming to America to become us."

Holtz says he strongly believes that immigrants who come to the U.S. should learn English and adapt to American culture -- and for that, he will not apologize. 

"All 4 of my grandparents were immigrants. They all came through Ellis Island. When they wouldn’t want me to know what they were saying, they’d speak Ukrainian. I’d ask them to teach me Ukrainian. They’d say, ‘No, you live in America. You speak English.'"

The coach is also adamant he's NOT a racist or a bigot -- "I challenge you, I defy you to find one person who I’ve ever been racist toward."

When asked if he was bothered by the criticism, he replied -- "It doesn’t bother me. I know who I am. It bothers my wife. She’s very upset."

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