Brian Kelly is the latest in a long line of many play-callers to have stood on the sidelines in South Bend in blue and gold. In this article we will compile a list of the premiere play callers in Notre Dame history.
1. Knute Rockne (1918-1930)
The most well known and beloved Fighting Irish coach tops our list. He is best remembered for his infamous 1928 halftime speech highlighted by the phrase “Lets win one for the Gipper.”
Rockne’s pedigree as coach of Notre Dame is unmatched. Rockne’s record of 105-12-5 still stands as the school’s all-time best. His teams attained three national championships and went undefeated for five seasons.
His importance to college football extends well beyond that in South Bend. Rockne was critical in bringing national recognition to the sport and his team by barnstorming around the country, including games played on the West coast and courting the press and media.
The legendary coach is also given credit for helping to popularize the use of the forward pass in the game.
Rockne is a larger than life figure. He has appeared on a postage stamp. He is memorialized in his home city of Voss, Norway, in a statue and a plaque.
Rockne’s life has even served as the basis for the popular film “Knute Rockne: All American” in which he was portrayed by the ex-president and actor Ronald Reagan.
2. Ara Parseghian (1964-1974)
Parseghian came to Notre Dame with considerable coaching experience under his belt, having helmed both Miami University (1951-1955) and Northwestern University (1956-1963) to respectable records.
Prior to his blue and gold tenure, the Notre Dame football program was languishing . Persaghian returned respectability back to the program by compiling an impressive 95-17-4 record.
The Irish appeared in five bowl games, enjoyed an undefeated season in 1973 (11-0) and captured two national titles (1966, 1973) under his watch.
He was inducted into the National College Football Hall of Fame in 1980 and a statue was unveiled in his honor in 2007 in South Bend. In fact a second statue of the late great coach was unveiled in his honor at Miami University where he is even wearing a Notre Dame sweater.
3. Frank Leahy (1941-43, 1946-53)
Who is Frank Leahy you ask? This forgotten coach is considered to be one of the most formidable play-callers in Fighting Irish history and perhaps in the history of the sport.
Sporting an all-time record of 87-11-9 (second all-time in Notre Dame history) Leahy guided his teams to four national championships and an eye-popping six undefeated seasons in the late 40s. In fact, one team of his went on a 39-game unbeaten streak. Four players received Heisman trophies under his guidance. Leahy was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1970.
4. Lou Holz (1986-1996)
Known these days as a popular college football commentator on ESPN, Holz was the best coach for the blue and gold in recent years.
Like Parseghian, Lou adopted a team that was stuck in the doldrums and absent from the national stage. Holz led the Fighting Irish to one undefeated season (1988) and three one loss seasons on his way to a 100-32-2 career record in South Bend. His teams appeared in nine bowl games over his eleven years.
Holz secured one championship in 1988 with a Fiesta Bowl victory and was elected to the college football player hall of fame in 2008.
5. Dan Devine (1975-80)
You may best know him as the bitter antagonist to the loveable player who could, “Rudy” Rudigger in the Movie of the same name. His crowning achievement came in 1977 with a Joe Montana-led 1977 championship. While at South Bend Devine accumulated a 53-16-1 and four bowl appearances. He was inducted into the college football hall of fame in 1977.
Can Brian Kelly be the next Lou Holz or Ara Persehgian? Or will he wind up being the second coming of Gerry Faust? Only time will tell.
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