Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct 9, 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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52 OCT. 9, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED IRISH ECHOES JIM LEFEBVRE C oach Brian Kelly deserves plenty of congratulations for surpassing Knute Rockne for the most wins by any Notre Dame football coach in history. It is a feat that's required many years of sustained effort, consistency, adaptability, the dedication of assistant coaches and hard work on the part of the players. While sending many Irish on to the NFL, Kelly has won the right way, with nation-leading graduation rates and preparing his student-athletes to be productive citizens after football is over. It is also an opportunity to take a closer look at the coaching careers of the two men who, among the literally thousands that have coached major col- lege and professional football, rank atop the list of all-time winning percentage. (We'll give a parenthetical shout out here to Larry Kehres of Division III Mount Union in Ohio, who guided the Purple Raiders to a record of 332-24-3 in 27 seasons from 1986-2012, good for a .929 winning percentage and 11 national championships.) Rockne won at a clip of .881, with a record of 105-12-5 in 13 seasons, and Frank Leahy's .864, with career totals of 107-13-9, sits at No. 2. It would take an incredible effort for someone to break into that territory. For perspective, Alabama's Nick Sa- ban could finish 15-0 this season, then post 15-0 marks for the next 14 seasons, and he'd be at .880, still a hair behind Rockne in career winning percentage. Here's a closer look at how Rockne and Leahy achieved their marks. ONLY ONE OPPONENT HAD HIS NUMBER Rockne faced 40 different opponents while head coach of the Irish and had a losing record against just one of them — the Iowa Hawkeyes, who won their only meeting with Rockne. Ironically, that game occurred 100 years ago this week, on Oct. 8, 1921. Notre Dame brought a 20-game win- ning streak to Iowa City, including 9-0 marks in 1919 and 1920 with George Gipp displaying his versatile wizardry. The Irish still had plenty of power in '21, with Roger Mohardt, Paul Castner and Roger Kiley leading the way. Notre Dame was considered a heavy favorite to dispatch the Hawkeyes of coach Howard Jones. In front of a record crowd, Iowa played a game for the ages. They were led by star lineman Frederick "Duke" Slater, one of the first Black stars in the Big Ten and one of the last college foot- ball players to compete without a hel- met. Slater cleared the way for Hawk- eyes rushers and led a stifling defense that stopped nearly everything Notre Dame could throw at him. The Hawks built a 10-0 halftime lead, which Notre Dame cut to 10-7 on a pass from Mohardt to Kiley. Nearly the entire fourth quarter was played in Iowa's end of the field, but Slater and his mates withstood every Notre Dame charge, and held on to win, 10-7. After the game, the Irish sat dis- traught in the locker room. Rockne came in and said, "There will be no ali- bis." Then he went from player to player, checking for injuries and consoling each man with a few quiet words. While waiting for the train on Sunday, Rockne confided to a friend that he was begin- ning to question whether he could con- tinue in all his roles — athletics director, football coach, athletic trainer, ticket manager, track coach. He was down. As the train completed its lengthy trip and approached the station in South Bend, distinct sounds of cheering could be heard. More than a thousand students and townspeople had gathered to greet and cheer the team. Rockne accepted their pleas for a speech, in which he praised Iowa while defending the efforts of his men. His words were drowned in a tumult of cheer- ing, and he was emotionally moved. He vowed never to leave Notre Dame. (Yes, this scene appears in the film "Knute Rockne: All American," though it is attrib- uted to another game in another season.) During Rockne's 13 seasons he lost a total of 12 games to eight opponents. And he compiled an overall mark of 35-12-2 against those eight, for a .735 mark: Opponent Record Army 9-2-1 Georgia Tech 7-1-0 Carnegie Tech 6-2-0 Southern Cal 4-1-0 Nebraska 4-3-1 Michigan State 3-1-0 Wisconsin 2-1-0 Iowa 0-1-0 Knute Rockne's all-time Division I winning percentage of .881 at Notre Dame should remain forever untouched. Even if current Alabama head coach Nick Saban finished 15-0 this year and in each of the next 14 seasons, he would still trail Rockne in that category. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Kelly Wins No. 106; Rockne And Leahy's Win-Percentage Leads Remain Safe

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