10:21 AM PT -- 12/3 -- Holtz just received the award at a ceremony at the White House on Thursday ... and the college football coaching legend raved about Trump after getting the honor.
"I want to assure you how proud I am not only to receive the award," Holtz said, "but I'm even prouder to receive it from President Donald Trump, who I think was the greatest president during my lifetime."
Holtz had a big smile on his face after Trump adorned him with the medal ... and POTUS gave a little fist pump as they were posing for pics.
It should be noted ... people at the ceremony were NOT wearing masks.
Both Holtz and Trump have had battles with coronavirus recently.
Ex-college football coach Lou Holtz will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Thursday, the White House announced.
The award is recognized as the "Nation's highest civilian honor," according to the White House ... usually given to someone who has "made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public endeavors."
So, why Lou? Here's what Trump's team is saying ...
"America recognizes Lou Holtz as one of the greatest football coaches of all time for his unmatched accomplishments on the gridiron, but he is also a philanthropist, author and true American patriot."
83-year-old Holtz is most well known for leading Notre Dame to a 12-0 record in 1988 -- when the Fighting Irish were crowned national champions.
His career record as a college football coach is 249-132-7 -- with 22 bowl appearances (he won 12 of them).
Outside of football, Holtz has been a staunch Trump supporter who campaigned for POTUS ... and even spoke at the Republican National Convention.
In fact, it was at the RNC when Holtz attacked Trump's opponent Joe Biden over his position on abortion -- saying the former Vice President is a "Catholic in name only."