Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2022

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

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Page 43 of 47

44 FEBRUARY 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED IRISH ECHOES JIM LEFEBVRE A s Marcus Freeman puts the fin- ishing touches on his first slate of assistant coaches, it's interest- ing to look back and see how top aides have played important roles on several of Notre Dame's championship football teams. Yes, it's the head coach who gets the accolades, including a sculpture out- side Notre Dame Stadium, but assis- tants down through the years have made significant contributions to success. FROM TRACK TO FOOTBALL The first great Notre Dame assistant football coach was Knute Rockne him- self. In the early 20th century, the foot- ball staff usually consisted of the head coach, one varsity assistant typically in charge of the linemen and a coach for the freshman squad. Rockne, upon graduation from Notre Dame in 1914, was hired to coach the line under head coach Jesse Harper. Rock's additional role in athletics was head coach of track and field. A teaching assignment in the chemistry depart- ment of the Notre Dame prep school rounded out his employment. Over the next four seasons (1914-17), Rockne ascended to become essentially a co-coach more so than assistant. He commanded enormous respect from his charges, drilled deeply into the finer points of the game, and led the way in innovations such as spring practice. In addition, he coached a significant num- ber of football players during track and field season. For the final game of 1916, a trip to Lincoln to take on rival Nebraska, Harper put Rockne in charge of the team, choosing instead to travel to Chi- cago for the post-season meetings of the Western Conference, which Notre Dame was very interested in joining. The 28-year-old Rockne came back with a 20-0 victory against the power- ful Cornhuskers. One man Rockne mentored in both football and track, Tom Lieb, later be- came his trusted assistant. After com- peting for Notre Dame from 1919-23, Lieb went on to win the bronze medal in discus at the 1924 Paris Olympics, then returned to the Notre Dame sideline to coach the Seven Mules in their champi- onship run along with the Four Horse- men to an undefeated season, Rose Bowl victory and national championship. Lieb spent the next three seasons as a Wisconsin assistant, then returned to play an essential role in Notre Dame's 1929 season. As Rockne lay disabled by thrombophlebitis, Lieb stepped in as acting head coach for several games that season, helping guide the Irish to their second national crown. Lieb went on to coach at Loyola College of Los Angeles, Florida and Alabama. TEXAN MAKES A NAME UP NORTH When Frank Leahy took over as Notre Dame's head coach in 1941, he brought with him Ed McKeever, who had as- sisted him at Boston College the previ- ous two seasons, when the Eagles were 20-2 against a big-time schedule. McK- eever had some familiarity with Notre Dame, having attended as a freshman in 1930-31. But he transferred to Texas Tech to be closer to home, playing for the Matadors in 1932-34, then coaching their backfield from 1935-38 when they became known as the Red Raiders. When Leahy became the Boston Col- lege head coach in 1939, he brought McKeever back north to be his assistant. They went on to coach together the next five seasons, including 1943, when they led the Irish to a 9-1 record and the first national championship since Rockne's last in 1930. When Leahy left campus to join the U.S. Navy, McKeever took over as interim coach for the 1944 season. McKeever's Irish went 8-2, losing only to the wartime powerhouse teams of Army and Navy. McKeever went on to become head coach at Cornell, the University of San Francisco and the Chicago Rockets of the All-American Football Conference, as well as the first general manager of the Boston Patriots. ARA'S STAFF INCLUDED LEGENDS Ara Parseghian not only won two national championships and brought Notre Dame to a consistent level of ex- cellence, he also surrounded himself with some of the most beloved figures in Notre Dame history. Tom Pagna. Joe Yonto. Wally Moore. George Kelly. Brian Boulac. When their names are mentioned, the stories flow. Their passion for football, and impact- ing the lives of the young men they coached, was legendary. Pagna was a Little All-American run- ning back under Ara at Miami (Ohio), then joined him as assistant coach, staying with him through his years at Northwestern, before moving on to Notre Dame to play a major role in coor- dinating Ara's offensive units from 1964 to 1974, winning consensus national titles in 1966 and 1973. He was widely known as a charismatic personality, Tom Pagna, bottom, who played for Ara Parseghian, top, at Miami (Ohio) and was his assistant coach for five years at Northwestern, came to Notre Dame with Ara in 1964 and helped steer the Irish offense to two national champion- ships in the next 11 years. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Talented Assistants Have Been Key To Notre Dame Championship Teams

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