Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 25, 2023

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

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52 NOV. 25, 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED IRISH ECHOES JIM LEFEBVRE BY JIM LEFEBVRE S ince the recent death of Indiana basketball coaching legend Bob Knight, there have been numerous reflections, by columnists and coaches nationwide, about his contributions to the sport and his methods in leading teams to great success. The kindest profiles have painted Knight as a "complicated" figure; the more blunt assessments have reflected on his treatment of players that ranged from "hard coaching" to outright emo- tional and sometimes physical abuse. How do Notre Dame's coaches of multiple national championship teams compare in dealing with their players? Here's an overview of their techniques and temperaments: ROCKNE, WHO COULD BE VOLATILE, WOULD ALWAYS SMOOTH THINGS OVER Knute Rockne was a demanding task- master with an encyclopedic knowledge of the game, and he expected his players to follow along. It wasn't just enough to know the duties of one's position; they were expected to understand what each man was doing on every play. Rockne had a hair-trigger temper that could explode at any moment. Yet, it was often balanced with humor and humanity. He could eviscerate a player on the practice field, then end up leading the team in song in the locker room. Wrote someone who knew him best, his student publicity aide Frank Wallace, later a New York sportswriter and early Rockne biographer: "He was never mean or malicious. In the after quiet, he would go around soothing whatever hurts he may have thought it necessary to inflict on an individual in or- der that the team might win. "I think that he permitted himself to be aroused to emo- tional surges, so that he might better arouse his charges. He honed himself to sharpness so that he might cut more swiftly and surely in combat. Even in what looked like a tantrum, I think he always knew what he was do- ing, how far it was wise to go." Rockne made it a point to get to know the personality of each player and know it well. He found the perfect point of moti- vation for each individual — be it humor or humiliation. In the end, wrote Wallace, "He did treat them like a father — a stern father who never spoiled them; a father who taught them to win honorably; who would apologize if he got too rough." LEAHY'S 'RUTHLESS WAYS' WERE FINALLY DIALED BACK I was privileged to enjoy a fascinating lunch conversation with one of Frank Leahy's greatest stars in 2012, a few years before his death. He was the type of player you might have expected to share only superlatives about his champion- ship-winning college coach. Um, no. Leahy was known for a hard-edged exterior that could be seen by his men as ruthless. "He worked his players mercilessly, to the point where there were numerous injuries on a regular basis. It was brutal." Leahy had the luxury of a stacked roster, especially after World War II, when the Irish were absolutely loaded with talent. "When someone got hurt, there was always a talented guy ready to take his place," my lunch mate said. Spring ball, this player recalled, went from mid-February until the intrasquad game in June. And if you excelled in a spring sport like baseball or track, forget it. "Leahy wouldn't let anyone play any spring sports. Not just guys trying to get out of spring football, but guys who were really standouts at another sport." During football season, late in each week's practice would be a "death match" scrimmage pitting the second and third teams. "And the fellows still standing after that battle would be the backups for the game on Saturday." Finally, one player, All-America tackle George Connor, worked up the courage to confront Leahy over his tactics. Chi- cago sportswriter Warren Brown played a role as an intermediary, sometimes telling Leahy that he needed to back off, or he would lose the squad completely. Without a doubt, it was a more ma- ture and measured Leahy who guided the 1947 and 1949 Irish to their national championships. PARSEGHIAN 'MADE EVERYONE FEEL SPECIAL' Ara Parseghian insisted on effort and preparation in guiding the Fighting Irish Knute Rockne had a hair-trigger temper that could explode at any moment. Yet, it was often balanced with humor and humanity. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Frank Leahy was known for a hard-edged exterior that could be seen by his men as ruthless. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Championship Coaches And Their Differing Styles Guiding Players

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