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Michigan Football: Coach's Corner -- A Look at Notre Dame History

Posted at 6:00am — 9/18/2012

Michigan Football: Coach’s Corner — A Look at Notre Dame History

The intent of this initial article of Notre Dame week is to focus on Notre Dame as a historic, successful academic entity and trace its successful football history. Specific game talk will come later as the week progresses toward Saturday’s night game at what will be an amped up event.

Many people believe that the University of Notre Dame is a Jesuit institution, like St. Louis, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Creighton, Holy Cross, several Loyola’s, Boston College, Xavier, San Francisco, and Detroit Mercy. The Congregation of Holy Cross headed by Father Sorin founded Notre Dame in 1842. The land was allotted by the Bishop of Vincennes.

Like many universities in the 1800’s, Notre Dame did not take on its current mission or academic status until decades after being founded. Father Sorin passed away in the late 1800’s after making Notre Dame his life mission. Science and education took off as expanded ventures and the curriculum broadened, most notably the founding of a very successful law school. It is the post war period of the 1940’s that saw Notre Dame under Father Cavanaugh and Father Hesburgh change Notre Dame to today’s elite institution that expanded the number of students, degree programs, endowment, graduate courses and distinguished faculty hirings.

Notre Dame, like Michigan, does not hold the position that football was invented in 1951. Michigan is on team 133 and Notre Dame is on team 125, having stated in 1887. The beginning was not stellar as Michigan beat Notre Dame in its very first game and the next couple of years yielded few games and fewer victories. Michigan won a few games and finally Notre Dame won the match-up in 1909. For whatever reason the series took a three-decade break.

The most storied era of a long and glory filled history is the legendary Knute Rockne era, which objectively is similar to Michigan’s Yost era. Coach Rockne put up the highest long-term winning percentage ever winning 88% of his games. The team won three national championships, garnered great glory, and won a Rose Bowl. Then came the tragic plane crash in 1931.

The next ten years saw continued success but no national championships. Coach Elmer Layden left South Bend to be NFL Commissioner.

The second great era of Notre Dame football was the Frank Leahy era. Leahy’s success nearly mirrored Knute Rockne’s. Leahy won over 86% of his games, had a very long three season undefeated string, and won five national titles in a career interrupted by World War II.

The 1950’s saw a downtrend in wins, but Notre Dame was not in the football poorhouse and had two key events. First, Paul Hornung won the Heisman with a losing team, and second Notre Dame pulled off a massive upset of powerful Oklahoma ending the Boomer’s 47 game win streak.

Notre Dame cycled slightly down again until another legend, Ara Parseghian, took over in 1964 after leaving Northwestern. He became the third Notre Dame coach to win over 80% of his games and added two more national championships to the Irish trophy case.

Dan Devine, a fine coach, was in the unenviable position of replacing another legend and he was followed by Gerry Faust who finished with a slightly above .500 record.

Veteran coach Lou Holtz was next to take a venerable place in Irish history. He gathered a final win total of 100 games and a national title, along with several big upsets of top powers.

Bob Davies, Ty Willingham, and Charlie Weiss followed: all successful but not to the level Irish fans demanded. And so Brian Kelly entered as Head Coach and his legacy is in the making.

Michigan will take the field Saturday with 897 victories and Notre Dame 856. Every time the two play a record is set for most combined victories. Some colleges can claim tradition, but few are in the same sentence as the two most successful programs in history. That is one thing that always creates excitement, even during the so-called down decade of UM-ND match-ups.

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff

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