Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 12, 2022

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

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4 NOV. 12, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T o say that Marcus Freeman has been on a wild ride since his arrival at Notre Dame last De- cember would be about as grand an understatement as saying that Irish junior tight end Michael Mayer is a pretty good football player. Upsets, blown leads, heartache, impressive wins, promise, momen- tum, Freeman has already seen it all in just 11 months on the job. "What I have learned in these first eight games, is that it's never as you plan," Freeman explained before his team's home matchup with Clemson Nov. 5. Rated No. 5 in the preseason, Free- man's Irish nosedived out of the poll after consecutive losses to Ohio State and Marshall to start the season. The baptism by inferno for Freeman was rude, but not unlike the ones that some of his predecessors underwent. The following is a look at how a few of the notable Irish coaches from yester- year fared in their first seasons on the Notre Dame sideline. KNUTE ROCKNE (1918-30) Overall Record: 105-12-5 First Season, 1918 (3-1-2): Playing only a six-game schedule that included games against Purdue, Michigan State and Nebraska, the Rockne era began rather mundanely during an influenza pandemic. FRANK LEAHY (1941-53) Overall Record: 87-11-9 First Season, 1941 (8-0-1): Leahy took over a healthy program that went 22-5 in the previous three seasons and hit the ground running as a first-year Irish coach, finishing No. 4 in the country. ARA PARSEGHIAN (1964-74) Overall Record: (95-17-4) First Season, 1964 (9-1): Par- seghian took over a program that went only 2-7 in 1963 under head coach Joe Kuharich. Parseghian's only blemish came when his No. 1 Irish lost their sea- son finale at USC to finish No. 3 in the country. DAN DEVINE (1975-80) Overall Record: 53-16-1 First Season, 1975 (8-3): Devine took over for Parseghian and moved his team to No. 8 in the country after start- ing 3-0. Devine finished his first season No. 17 in the final poll after losing three of his final eight games. GERRY FAUST (1981-85) Overall Record: 30-26-1 First Season, 1981 (5-6): Ranked No. 4 in the preseason, Faust's first Irish team jumped to No. 1 when it beat LSU in the season opener. But four losses in the five games to follow dropped Notre Dame out of the poll and into irrelevancy. LOU HOLTZ (1986-96) Overall Record: 100-30-2 First Season, 1986 (5-6): Playing a wicked schedule that in- cluded four top-10 teams — three in the top five — Holtz lost his first two games and four of his first five as Irish coach, making the start to his first sea- son even tougher than what Freeman has endured. BOB DAVIE (1997-2001) Overall Record: 35-25 First Season, 1997 (7-6): Promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach in the same way Freeman was, Davie took over a program that went 8-3 in 1996 during Holtz's final sea- son. Davie started his first year 1-4 and then rebounded with six wins in his final eight games. TYRONE WILLINGHAM Overall Record: 21-15 First Season, 2002 (10-3): Sit- ting at 8-0 and ranked No. 4 after a hot start to his first season, Willing- ham tempted fate in Game 9, busted out the green jerseys for the first time at home in 17 seasons, and was upset by unranked Boston College. Willingham lost three of his last five games and finished No. 17 in the final AP poll. CHARLIE WEIS (2005-09) Overall Record: 35-27 First season, 2005 (9-3): Weis took over a 6-6 team in 2005 and made a three-game improvement to earn a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. Unranked in the preseason, the Irish had a five-game winning streak to end the regular sea- son, lifting them to No. 5 before a loss to Ohio State in the bowl game dropped Notre Dame to No. 9 in the final AP poll. BRIAN KELLY (2010-21) Overall Record: 113-40 First Season, 2010 (8-5): Kelly ex- perienced a turbulent, troubling and forgettable first season in 2010, after taking over a 6-6 program when Weis was fired. Kelly beat Purdue in his first career game at Notre Dame, but then lost his next three and five of nine to start 4-5. To Kelly's credit, he won the final four games that season. One quarter of the 2022 regular sea- son still remains. But at least to this point, it appears Freeman's first season is following a similar pattern to that of his most recent Irish coaching prede- cessor, Brian Kelly. ✦ Brian Kelly was 4-5 nine games into his first season at Notre Dame and left the school as its all-time winningest coach with a record of 113-40. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Baptism By Inferno Is Not Unprecedented UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at

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