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Top Ten Greatest Notre Dame Football Coaches: #1 Frank Leahy

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The Man Won a National Title in 1943, Served in World War II, and Then Proceeded to Not Lose a Game from 1946-1949

Portrait of Frank W. Leahy

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football has one of the richest histories in the sport of college football. Despite not winning a national championship since 1988, the Irish are firmly entrenched as one of the elites in the sport. With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at the top ten greatest head coaches in the history of Irish Football. This will be a ten-part series.

1. Frank Leahy

Tenure: 1941-1943, 1946-1953

Record: 87-11-9

Frank Leahy was born on August 27, 1908 in O’ Neill, Nebraska. Leahy’s family moved to Winner, South Dakota in 1910. In high school, Leahy soon discovered his talent in football, beginning his career at halfback. During his senior year, Leahy transferred schools in order to complete the necessary course work to attend Notre Dame. Along with switching schools, Leahy also moved from halfback to tackle during his last year of prep football. Following the completion of his high school career, Leahy moved on to begin his college career at Notre Dame under the esteemed Knute Rockne. At Notre Dame, Leahy played tackle from 1928-1930 and was a member of the 1929 and 1930 National Championship teams. Leahy developed a strong relationship with Rockne during his playing career. During the 1930 season, Leahy suffered a knee injury that kept him out of most of the season. Instead of sulking, he used the time to observe and learn from Rockne. In fact, this relationship served as a strong motivator in his own coaching career. According to Mr. Fred Leahy, Frank’s son, Frank’s love of Rockne drove him in his own personal goal of besting Rockne’s career winning percentage. In Frank’s mind, this was the best way that he could honor Rockne for all he had taught him about the game of football. At the conclusion of the 1930 season, Knute Rockne traveled to Mayo Clinic to receive treatment for a leg issue. Rockne insisted that Leahy join him on the journey and receive surgery to repair his knee injury. For the next two weeks, the two men were laid up in bed recovering and spent the time discussing football strategy. Rockne invited one of his friends to come see him and meet Leahy. Rockne was quoted as saying, “The reason I want you to meet him is that someday he will be recognized as the greatest football coach of all time.”

After Leahy graduated from Notre Dame in 1931, he moved directly into coaching, beginning his career as line coach at Georgetown during the 1931 season. In 1932, Leahy accepted the same position with Michigan State. Following the completion of the 1932 season, he was on the move again, accepting a position as line coach with Fordham. He stayed at Fordham from 1933-1938. During his stint with the Rams, Leahy coached the famed “Seven Blocks of Granite” from 1935-1937. Proving his acumen as a line coach, schools began to consider him for head coaching positions. Prior to the 1939 season, he accepted the head coaching job at Boston College. In his first year in Chestnut Hill, Leahy led the Eagles to a 9-2 mark. He improved upon the mark in 1940, coaching the team to an 11-0 record, including an upset of undefeated Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. Not wanting to lose their star in the making, Boston College inked Leahy to a 5 year deal following the 1940 campaign.

Soon after he signed the contract extension the craziness began. Searching for Elmer Layden’s replacement, Notre Dame called Leahy a mere 24 hours after he had signed his deal, gauging his interest about becoming Notre Dame’s next head coach. Leahy could hardly contain his excitement. Despite leaving in 1931, his passion for the school still burned bright. Leahy accepted the Irish offer and then set about seeking his freedom from Boston College. Not only did he petition the Boston College administration to void his contract, he went to the mayor of Boston and governor of Massachusetts to seek their help as well. His desperate pleas fell on deaf ears. Thus, Leahy decided to take matters into his own hands. He called a press conference on his own and requested the presence of 50 sports reporters. He announced erroneously that Boston College had voided his contract and that he would be promptly accepting the Irish offer. As news of his press conference spread around town, Leahy received a phone call from the vice president. The vice president stated, “You may go wherever you want, and whenever you want. Good-bye.” With those simple words, Leahy was released from his contract. Notre Dame got the man they wanted, and the man got the job he wanted. Irish history was about to be changed forever.

Coach Frank Leahy Instructing Football Players

As he readied himself to begin his career at Notre Dame, Leahy set a personal goal of going undefeated for 10 straight seasons. Certainly lofty but as we will see later, he came closer than most could have ever imagined. Although he was familiar to many in the Irish community, fans would come to find out that Leahy’s personality stood in stark contrast to Rockne’s. While Rockne possessed a unique charisma and sought to connect with most everyone he came into contact with, Leahy was on the quieter side, preferring to treat players and reporters with formality. On the field, Leahy’s team roared out of the gates. The Irish defeated Arizona 38-7, Indiana 19-6, and Georgia Tech 20-0 during the first 3 weeks of the season. These 3 wins helped push the Irish from unranked to #8 in the country. Not resting on their laurels, Notre Dame mowed through Carnegie Tech 16-0 and Illinois 49-14. Next, the team traveled to Yankee Stadium for a much anticipated showdown with #14 Army. A heavy rainstorm on the day of the game forced both teams to settle for 3 runs and a punt on most offensive possessions. Neither team seriously threatened to find the end zone until Notre Dame’s final drive. Taking possession with just under 2 minutes remaining, the team advanced as far as the Cadet 20-yard line but saw time expire before they could find the end zone. Thus, the game ended in a 0-0 tie. The scheduled stiffened the following week as the team took on #6 Navy. The Irish prevailed 20-13 on the strength of Angelo Bertelli’s right arm. Bertelli threw for a 35-yard touchdown pass and completed another 42-yard pass that set up a short touchdown for the Irish. After two hard fought contests against the service academies, #5 Notre Dame returned to the Midwest and took on #8 Northwestern in Evanston. The first half evolved into a duel between the punters as the score stood 0-0 at halftime. Each team scored a touchdown in the 3rd quarter; however, a blocked Wildcat PAT left the score at 7-6 heading into the 4th quarter. Northwestern threatened twice more in the final period to score but saw a missed 43-yard field goal and an interception in the end zone sink their chances of defeating Notre Dame. The Irish managed to hang on for a scintillating 7-6 victory and returned home for the regular season finale against USC. Three consecutive weeks of physical matchups left the Irish running on fumes. Yet, they mustered one final effort against the hated Trojans, emerging with a 20-18 victory. For the first time since 1930, Rockne’s last year as head coach, the Irish finished a season unbeaten with an 8-0-1 record. The Irish were rewarded with a #3 final ranking in the AP Poll. As the season drew to a close, Irish fans were cautiously optimistic they had found their next Rockne.

Leahy’s goodwill he had earned from the 1941 season was quickly erased prior to the 1942 season. Making the tough decision to discard Rockne’s famed box formation, Leahy opted to install the T formation in which 3 running backs lined up about 5 yards behind the quarterback. The results on the field did not validate Leahy’s decision. In the opening game of the season, the Irish could only manage a 7-7 tie with Wisconsin. Then, in the home opener the following week, Notre Dame lost to 13-7 to Georgia Tech, who at the time was unranked but would go on to finish #5 in the country. Leahy would right the ship following the inauspicious start. In consecutive weeks Notre Dame would defeat Stanford 27-0 and Iowa Pre-Flight 28-0, helping push them to #8 in the polls. Standing at 2-1-1, Notre Dame went on the road and snuck past the #5 Illinois Fighting Illini, 21-14. The defense carried the team the next two week’s pitching shutouts against Navy and #19 Army. While the defense thrived, the offense could only muster 9 and 13 points in the 2 games, respectively. Next, the #4 Irish welcomed #6 Michigan into Notre Dame Stadium. Unfortunately, the Wolverines got the best of Leahy’s group on the day, defeating Notre Dame 32-20. Appearing to suffer a hangover from the previous week’s loss, Notre Dame barely snuck past Northwestern 27-20. Then, in one of the rare years after the series began, Notre Dame traveled to USC in the 2nd last weekend of the season, dispatching of the Trojans 13-0. The team proceeded to return to face Great Lakes Navy in Chicago for the regular season finale. The teams were evenly matched on the day, reflected by the final score of 13-13. Finishing with a 7-2-2 record, the Irish ended at #6 in the AP Poll. Despite completely revamping his offense, Leahy was able to withstand a 0-1-1 start and still finish in the top ten at the end of the season. After 2 years on the job, it was clear that Leahy was an outstanding coach. However, very few could have guessed that the upcoming season was about to kick off the greatest dynasty in college football history.

Entering 1943, many teams were losing their top players to the draft as World War II engulfed the world. Luckily, Notre Dame returned senior quarterback, Angelo Bertelli. Unswayed by the 2 losses and 2 ties the previous season, Leahy elected to stick with the T Formation as he prepared for the season. The Irish began the season with a 41-0 rout of Pittsburgh. Proving they were not a fluke; the team came out in week 2 and whipped Georgia Tech 55-13. In week 3, all eyes in college football were focused on Ann Arbor for the monumental clash between #1 Notre Dame and #2 Michigan. Many expected a “Game of The Century.” Instead, the maize and blue were treated to a 35-12 whipping by Leahy’s Lads. The defeat stood as the worst loss ever in Fritz Crisler’s career. Previously, the largest margin of defeat experienced during his tenure was a 14-point road loss. Thoroughly embarrassed, Crisler and the administration at Michigan would duck Notre Dame for 35 years with the teams finally meeting again in 1978. Looking even stronger the next week, Notre Dame breezed past Wisconsin 51-0. Illinois suffered a similar fate in week 5 of the season, losing 47-0 to the Irish. At the halfway point of the season, the Irish offense was averaging an astounding 45.8 points per game, while merely surrendering an average of 5 points per game.

The might of the 1943 squad would be tested during the 2nd half of the season as 4 top ten teams remained on the schedule. Kicking off the slate, Notre Dame took on #3 Navy. Now keep in mind, at the height of World War II, Navy had the pick of the litter in terms of football talent with all the young men training in Annapolis to serve out country. This made little difference to Leahy’s squad as they “only” won by the score of 33-6. Following the Navy game, something happened that would have derailed most college program’s seasons during an era. Starting quarterback Angelo Bertelli received notice that the Marine Corps had selected him for active duty. Bertelli set off to serve his country as Notre Dame was left without their top playmaker for the remainder of the year. To give you an idea of how special Bertelli was, he did not play in the final 4 games of the season and still managed to capture the Heisman Trophy in 1943 thanks to gaudy (at the time) passing statistics. On the year, he finished 25/36 on passing attempts with 10 touchdowns.

To replace Bertelli, Leahy turned to unknown sophomore, Johnny Lujack. Lujack received the honor of facing #3 Army at Yankee Stadium in his first collegiate start. Welcome to college football, kid. Irish fans had little reason to fret as Lujack played like a seasoned vet, throwing for 2 touchdowns, running for 1 touchdown, and intercepting a pass on defense. Notre Dame won going away, 26-0. Facing their 3rd road game in a row against a top ten opponent, the Irish traveled to Evanston to take on #8 Northwestern. Lujack acquitted himself quite well in his 2nd start, throwing for 2 touchdowns and keying a 25-6 Irish victory. Concluding their run against elite opposition, Notre Dame welcomed #2 Iowa Pre-Flight into Notre Dame Stadium on the penultimate weekend of the year. The Seahawks had several former pro players among their ranks, yet Notre Dame was still favored heading into the game. The contest was close through the opening 30 minutes of play. With the score 7-0 in favor of the Seahawks, time expired in the 1st half as Notre Dame stood on the Seahawk 4-yard line. The opening possession of the 2nd half resulted in a 64-yard drive, culminating with an Irish touchdown. Taking advantage of a Lujack fumble late in the 3rd quarter, Iowa Pre-Flight jumped back in the lead early in the 4th quarter with a touchdown but missed the extra point. Notre Dame quickly responded with another touchdown drive and converted the PAT to nudge ahead 14-13. The Irish then held on for dear life. Iowa Pre-Flight put together a drive to advance to the Irish 11-yard line but missed a go-ahead field goal. In the closing minutes, Notre Dame fumbled, giving the Seahawks one last chance. Not to be denied, the defense stiffened and allowed the team to scrape by with a 14-13 victory. The last remaining roadblock in an otherwise fabulous season was a 9-2 Great Lakes Navy team. Notre Dame got on the scoreboard first with a Lujack rushing touchdown. In the 2nd quarter, Notre Dame struggled to advance the ball, committing 2 turnovers, yet held on to their 7-0 advantage at halftime. In the 3rd quarter, Great Lakes found the end zone twice but missed the extra point both times, resulting in a slim 12-7 lead. Astonishingly, Notre Dame was held scoreless in the 3rd quarter for the first time all season. The teams traded possessions until late in the 4th quarter when Lujack and the offense strung together an 80-yard touchdown drive to pull ahead 14-12. With only 1:06 remaining, the outcome of the game seemed to be determined. However, Great Lakes continued to fight. After beginning their drive with a 15-yard pass, disaster struck for the Irish. Committing a cardinal sin as a safety, Julie Rykovich fell for a run fake, allowing Great Lakes to connect on a 46-yard touchdown pass. The Great Lakes touchdown was the final points scored during the game, resulting in a 19-14 loss for the Irish. Unbelievably, Leahy’s group had been defeated. Despite the loss, Notre Dame was awarded the 1943 National Championship on the strength of defeating 5 top ten opponents. The team is often still regarded as one of the greatest college football team’s of all time. After waiting 13 seasons for another title, fans were ecstatic. Unknown at the end of the season, the war would force a pause on the budding Notre Dame dynasty for the next two seasons.

Frank Leahy with Notre Dame Team in Huddle

Now picture this, Nick Saban wraps up his 3rd national title in 2012 and elects to join the military for several seasons. This is the best example of what occurred following the 1943 season. Leahy’s assistant, Moose Krause, advised Leahy that World War II would forever alter the way of life in America. In order for coaches to maintain authority over their players and be able to relate to them, coaches needed to have also served the country during the war. Thus, Leahy enlisted in the Navy and received the title of supervisor of athletic activities for submarines. While he probably did not see much front-line action, Leahy still served the country for 2 seasons. What Leahy did do a lot of was recruiting for Notre Dame thanks to his interactions with younger soldiers. Notre Dame welcomed almost 200 men to campus for football tryouts in the fall of 1946. Among some of the more impressive names in the class of 1946 were Leon Hart (actually an 18-year old freshman), George Connor, Jim Martin, and Emil Sitko. In addition to the phenomenal recruiting class, Johnny Lujack returned to campus following the war. What no one could predict at the time was that the 1946 recruiting class would lead directly to the reduction of scholarships in 1948, and bring an end to the Leahy dynasty.

With Leahy reinstalled as head coach, the program readied itself to kick off arguably the greatest 4-year run in college football history. During fall camp, Leahy drove the men hard. It was common practice for full-contact scrimmages to occur throughout camp. Players in later years would admit that the practices throughout the season in 1946 were tougher than the actual games on Saturday. Leahy was a stickler for perfection and sought to impress upon his time the need to pursue perfection. On the Thursday before the season opener, Leahy held a full-contact, 2-hour scrimmage to determine the last two men that would make the traveling roster. An assistant coach remarked, “The survivors made the trip.” In Leahy’s return to college football, Notre Dame easily defeated Illinois 26-6. The team ran roughshod over their next 4 opponents, defeating Pittsburgh 33-0, Purdue 49-6, #17 Iowa 41-6, and Navy 28-0. Holding the #2 ranking the country, the team next faced #1 Army. At the time, Army was coming off consecutive national championships and was riding a 25-game winning streak. In addition, the Cadets hammered Notre Dame by the combined score of 107-0 over the previous 2 seasons. The game stood as the most eagerly anticipated contest of the year. The storylines were plentiful: #1 vs. #2, 2 of the most storied programs in college football, war veterans on both sides, and Franky Leahy against Earl “Red” Blaik. Billed as a “Game of the Century,” the game was a literal stalemate. Defense ruled the day for both sides. Despite being inside the Cadet 10-yard line twice, Leahy elected 4th down plays over field goals. After the game he said, “It was stupid on our part not to try the field goal. So it was a rather stupid coaching job from the bench, and I’m the first to admit it.” Army’s best scoring chance on the day was when Doc Blanchard broke into the open field. However, Johnny Lujack ran him down from behind to prevent a Cadet score. The game would end in a 0-0 tie, and both teams retained their rankings. As a side note, this game remains the only game in college football history in which 4 Heisman Trophy winners (Johnny Lujack, Leon Hart, Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard) all played in the same game. Following the Army game, Notre Dame steamrolled their remaining 3 opponents. In order, they defeated Northwestern 27-0, Tulane 41-0, and #16 USC 26-6. The team finished with an 8-0-1 record, averaged 30.1 points per game and 441.3 yards per game on offense, while merely yielding 2.7 points per game and 141.7 yards per game on defense. Acknowledging their sheer dominance on the season, the writers flip flopped Army and Notre Dame at the end of the year, awarding the 1946 National Championship to the Irish. With many players on the team just wrapping up their freshman season, opponents dared not think what the team could look like in 1947.

In writing about the 1947 season, the simple fact is that the team was an absolute powerhouse. Forty-six players from the roster would go on to play in professional football, and 7 were enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. Quarterback Johnny Lujack won the Heisman Trophy at the end of the season, and several other players would be awarded trophies as well. Kicking off the season-long coronation, Notre Dame trounced Pittsburgh 40-6. The following week against Purdue Notre Dame won 22-7. Notably, Leahy saw his team make its first successful field goal attempt since 1942. Over the next 3 weeks, the team did not allow a single point, defeating Nebraska 31-0, Iowa 21-0, and Navy 27-0. On the 2nd weekend in November, Notre Dame fans were treated to the first home contest against #9 Army in 16 seasons. The game was over after a mere 18 seconds as Terry Brennan ran back the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Eschewing their lethal passing attack, Notre Dame repeatedly ripped through the Army line on the ground. The Irish rushing attack piled up 361 yards, propelling the team to a 20-0 lead and a 27-7 victory. Army had been so soundly defeated that Army refused to play Notre Dame until 1957. The following weekend, Notre Dame traveled to Evanston to take on Northwestern. Perhaps due to an emotional hangover, the team struggled against Northwestern. The first 8 minutes of the game actually hinted at an Irish blowout as the Irish found the end zone twice to hold a 12-0 lead. Northwestern hung around throughout the 1st half, trailing 20-6 at halftime. Northwestern scored again early in the 3rd period to draw within 20-12. Neither team scored until Lujack threw a 6-yard touchdown early in 4th quarter to push the lead to a more comfortable 26-12. Refusing to go away, Northwestern answered with another touchdown drive, leaving the score 26-19. Luckily, neither team would score the rest of the game, allowing the Irish to claim a hard-earned victory. Returning to their customary ways, the team trounced Tulane 59-6 the following weekend. An unusual late season bye left Leahy and his staff 2 weeks to prepare his #1 Fighting Irish to take on the #3 USC Trojans in the season finale. The Los Angeles papers crowed about how they would be the team to defeat Notre Dame. Instead, Leahy’s squad whipped the Trojans 38-7. Riding an 18 game unbeaten streak, the writers awarded the 1947 National Championship to Notre Dame. This meant Leahy had won 3 titles in his last 3 years as a head coach in college football, something no coach has accomplished before or since. The team did not trail for a single second during the season. The defense allowed a grand total of 52 points during the season and held 3 opponents scoreless. Beano Cook, “The Pope of College Football,” stated in later years about the 1947 team, “It is the greatest collection of talent ever assembled in one college team-and it isn’t close.” Although the 1943 team is regarded as one of the best teams of all-time for the teams they defeated, the 1947 team was definitely the most talented team Leahy ever coached in South Bend.

In the midst of their dominant run, there was little doubt throughout the nation who the best program in college football was. As a result, Notre Dame began to develop the reputation as a football factory. Fans of the program wholeheartedly embraced this label, but administration was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the idea. Thus, administration decided to reduce the number of scholarships available to the football team from 33 to 18. The decision did not immediately cut the legs out from underneath the Leahy dynasty but dealt it a crippling blow, which would become apparent in a couple of seasons. With the roster still comprised mostly of war veterans, another title was the expectation heading into the 1948 season. The season opener against Purdue nearly derailed this plan from the get-go. The game began innocently enough as Notre Dame grabbed 14-0 lead in the 1st quarter. Purdue got on the board with 3 minutes remaining in the half thanks to a 17-yard passing touchdown. Then, on the opening possession on the 2nd half, Purdue used a 15-play drive to record another touchdown, pulling ahead 13-12. This marked the 1st time a Leahy-coached team had trailed in a game since 1943. Not trailing for long, the Irish returned a partially blocked punt 70 yards to reclaim the lead at 18-13 in the 3rd quarter. At the beginning of the 4th quarter, Leahy elected to attempt a 40-yard field goal. Despite missing 3 extra points on the day, Irish converted the kick, extending their lead to 21-13. Purdue answered right back with a 51-yard touchdown pass to pull back within a point. Clinging to their slim lead, the defense added the final touchdown of the day on a 7-yard interception return for a touchdown. Purdue kept fighting and added a touchdown with under 5 minutes remaining in the game. In a bizarre move, Purdue elected to kick an extra point rather than trying a 2-point conversion. As a result, the game ended 28-27 in favor of Notre Dame.

After surviving the scare, the 1948 team quickly found their stride. In order, the Irish defeated Pittsburgh 40-0, Michigan State 26-7, Nebraska 44-13, Iowa 27-12, Navy 41-7, and Indiana 42-6. The main competition for Notre Dame did not come on the field but in the polls. Michigan and Notre Dame had been trading places at #1 and #2 throughout the year. Notre Dame had held the top spot for 2 weeks up to the 7th week of the season, and Michigan had held the top spot for 3 weeks (rankings did not come out until week 3 typically). In week 8, Notre Dame took on their toughest opponent of the season in #8 Northwestern. Proving yet again to be a thorn in Notre Dame’s side, the teams engaged in a hard-fought contest. In the 1st quarter, Northwestern immediately found success, driving down to the Irish 9-yard line. However, on 4th and inches the defense stiffened and forced a turnover on downs. Notre Dame turned around and embarked on a 91-yard touchdown drive but missed the extra point. The Wildcats put together two drives inside Notre Dame territory but came away empty handed each time. Holding a 6-0 lead in the 3rd quarter, Notre Dame stood on the Northwestern 10-yard line looking to extend their lead. Instead, Northwestern intercepted an Irish pass and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown to pull ahead 7-6. In the 4th quarter, the Irish turned to the ground attack on offense. Putting together a 63-yard touchdown drive, Notre Dame scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the quarter and pulled out a 12-7 win. After defeating Washington 46-0, the team traveled west to face USC in the season finale. Needing a statement victory to leapfrog Michigan in the polls, the team instead tied USC 14-14. Notre Dame was lucky to have even recorded a tie after falling behind USC 14-7 with under 3 minutes left in the game. After surrendering the go ahead touchdown, Billy Gay returned the ensuing kickoff 87 yards. Four plays later, the Irish were in the end zone to salvage the tie. On the season, the team finished 9-0-1, running their unbeaten streak to 28 games. Unfortunately, Michigan finished the year 9-0. Perhaps due to voter fatigue, Michigan was awarded the national championship at the conclusion of the season, and Notre Dame finished the season #2 in the AP Poll.

Entering the 1949 season, the star studded 1946 recruiting class entered their senior seasons. With the curtain beginning to drop on the Leahy dynasty, players such as Leon Hart, Bob Williams, Red Sitko, and Jim Martin were determined to achieve one final title. As if to prove they, not Michigan, should have been awarded the 1948 title, the team came roaring out of the gates. Notre Dame easily dispatched Indiana 49-6 in the season opener. Next, the team headed West and defeated Washington 27-7. In-state rival Purdue gave it their all against the Irish but were easily defeated 35-12 in week 3. Finally, in week 4 #4 Tulane traveled to Notre Dame Stadium. Many felt the Irish would finally be tested and may even lose. Instead, #1 Notre Dame rolled to a 46-7 victory. Navy stepped forward for their annual beating, absorbing a 40-0 loss at the hands of Leahy’s crew. Set to face their 2nd ranked team of the year, the Irish traveled to up and coming #10 Michigan State. Several in the media had the audacity to suggest the Spartans may upset the Irish. Winning by a comfortable 34-21 margin, Notre Dame displayed their championship poise. Over the next 3 weeks, the defense allowed a total of 13 points while defeating North Carolina, Iowa, and #17 USC. This left SMU as the lone hurdle left in the season. Despite having nothing of significance to play for, the Mustangs severely threatened Notre Dame’s title hopes. With 7 minutes to go, the game was deadlocked at 20. Summoning a final championship effort, the Notre Dame offense ran the ball 10 consecutive times as they worked their way down the field. On the 10th rush of the drive, Notre Dame found the end zone and scored the decisive touchdown in a 27-20 victory. Although 3 other teams finished the year unbeaten, voters awarded the 1949 National Championship to Notre Dame. Leon Hart brought home the Heisman Trophy, the 3rd Irish player to do so under Leahy. The team’s 10-0 mark on the year brought their unbeaten streak to 38 games. For Leahy, it was his 4th national championship in 7 seasons. Over the previous 4 seasons, his teams had finished #1, #1, #2, and #1 in the country. The 1949 title would cap the greatest dynasty in college football history. Thanks to the reduction in scholarships in 1948, disaster was lurking on the horizon.

As the country embarked on a new decade, change was in the air in college football. The AP Poll published a preseason poll for the first time in its history. Coming off a dominant 4-year stretch, voters overwhelmingly placed the Irish at #1 to start the 1950 season. Despite the media accolades, Frank Leahy was less than optimistic about the year. Privately, he suggested the team may lose 3 or 4 games. The team simply did not have the talent of previous years. For starters, the reduction in scholarships from 33 to 18 had severely hampered Leahy’s ability to stock his program with talent. In the past injuries were not much of a concern as there was often another player who was just as talented ready to step in. Now, not only was that luxury gone, but Leahy also lost his margin for error when evaluating players. A missed evaluation on a prospect stung much more when you only had 18 new players per season.

Beginning the season at home, Notre Dame welcomed #20 North Carolina to South Bend. North Carolina appeared intimidated by the Irish in the opening minutes, committing 2 turnovers within the first 3 minutes of the game. Notre Dame’s offense capitalized on the 2nd turnover, using the short field to their advantage and finding the end zone thanks to a passing touchdown by Bob Williams. However, the momentum was short-lived, and the game quickly turned into a battle of the punters. At halftime, Notre Dame held a slim 7-0 lead. After halftime, the crowd expected Notre Dame to come charging out of the gates. Instead, the offense struggled to find any rhythm. After making stop after stop, the defense finally broke and allowed a Tar Heel touchdown to tie the game late in the 3rd quarter. The majority of the 4th quarter produced a stalemate. As the minutes ticked away in the 4th, the crowd began to get nervous. The Irish wouldn’t actually lose a game would they? The tension continued to rise throughout the stadium as each offensive possession came and went in the blink of an eye. Finally, with just under 3 minutes remaining, Notre Dame connected on a 36-yard touchdown pass. The late touchdown helped the team survive 14-7. In week 2, the unbeaten streak was put to a screeching halt. Showing little regard for their prestige, Purdue whipped #1 Notre Dame 28-14. Holding a 21-0 lead at halftime, the Boilermakers hung on for their first win over Notre Dame since 1933. For the first time in 39 games, Leahy was forced to deliver a postgame speech to a losing locker room.

A pall hung over the program throughout the week. Despite the fact that everyone knew the team would have to lose at some point, it still didn’t sit right with many. In week 3, the team traveled to New Orleans to take on Tulane. Things appeared ominous when Tulane marched 63 yards in 5 plays to score a touchdown. Thanks to a 58-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing possession, Notre Dame answered right back to tie the score at 7. In the 2nd quarter, Notre Dame put together their own 63-yard touchdown drive to take a 13-7 lead. The score would hold up the rest of the way as Leahy was able to get his team back into the win column. Looking to build on the momentum, the team laid an egg the following week against Indiana, losing 20-7. Standing at 2-2, Notre Dame was unranked heading into their game against #15 Michigan State. Fans were treated to 33 points in the game’s opening 16 minutes as the Spartans grabbed a 20-13 lead. In the 3rd quarter the Irish fell behind by 10 points before scoring 2 touchdowns on Michigan State in the 3rd quarter to grab a 26-23 lead. However, the Spartan answered back with 2 touchdowns of their own, ultimately securing the 36-33 victory. Despite the loss, the valiant effort did not go unnoticed by the fans, resulting in a 5-minute ovation for the team after the game had ended. Over the next two weeks Notre Dame would muck their way through to an 19-10 win over Navy and 18-7 win over Pittsburgh. In the second to last game of the season, Notre Dame secured a non-losing season with their tie of Iowa. Against the Hawkeyes, Bob Williams threw 2 interceptions that were returned for touchdowns and was benched in favor of John Mazur. Mazur led the team to a touchdown in the 2nd quarter. After halftime, Williams was reinserted into the game and scored on a rushing touchdown to tie the game. Neither team was able to generate anything of substance in the 4th quarter, resulting in a 14-14 tie. Prior to the season finale against USC, Leahy came down with the flu and had to remain in Indiana. Leahy’s presence may not have made much of a difference on the day. Notre Dame lost 9 players to injury during the game. On the day, Notre Dame outrushed the Trojans 145 yards to 70 yards, threw for 104 yards compared to USC’s 4 yards, and held a 13-1 lead in 1st downs. Unfortunately, the Trojans were able to score on a kickoff return and on a blocked punt that resulted in a safety. The Irish offense, worn down and inexperienced, could only muster 1 touchdown on the day. Despite their horrendous showing, the Irish still had a chance to pull out a victory late in the 4th quarter after a bad punt put the team on the USC 36-yard line. Thanks to a pass interference call, the team quickly moved to the 21-yard line but would go no further. On 4th and 10, the staff elected to kick a field goal from the 26-yard line. However, the ball did not come close to the uprights, and USC secured their first win over Notre Dame since 1939. On the year, the team would finish 4-4-1, by far Leahy’s worst record as a head coach. Unfortunately for Leahy, the university did not seem to upset with the showing on the field. The reduction in scholarships in 1948 had reared its ugly head and meant Leahy would have to work even harder to keep his beloved Irish on top of the college football mountain.

Following the disheartening season, Leahy set about trying to prevent the disastrous campaign from causing his program to crumble. Spring and summer practices were intense and featured a healthy dose of full-pad scrimmages. The team entered the year ranked #14 in the country. In Leahy’s 100th game as Notre Dame head coach, his team began the year against Indiana. The Irish blew the doors off the Hoosiers, rolling to a 48-6 victory. In an amazing display of offensive firepower, Notre Dame tallied 5 touchdowns in the 2nd quarter, 4 of which were scored by sophomore fullback, Neil Worden. Notice was served that the Irish were “back.” Following an easy 40-6 win over Detroit, Notre Dame welcomed SMU to town. The aerial attack from the Mustangs carved up the Notre Dame defense throughout the afternoon. Surrendering 4 touchdowns through air, SMU recorded a stunning 27-20 upset victory over Notre Dame. Over the next 3 weeks, Leahy got his team back on track as they defeated Pittsburgh 33-0, Purdue 30-9, and Navy 19-0. The 3 victories helped the team climb back to the #11 spot in the AP Poll prior to taking on #5 Michigan State on the road. Against the Spartans, Notre Dame’s day was effectively over following the first Michigan State play of the day, which resulted in an 88-yard touchdown romp. Handing Leahy his worst loss ever at Notre Dame, Michigan State stomped Notre Dame 35-0. Having suffered their 2nd loss of the season, many fans were starting to get concerned about the season devolving into the 1950 season.

The following week’s contest against a 2-6 North Carolina Tarheel team did little to inspire anybody that the team would avoid a similar fate. Notre Dame turned the ball over 3 times in the 1st half, but the Irish defense held on each occasion. Midway through the 2nd quarter, Notre Dame put together an 11 play, 55-yard touchdown drive to hold a 6-0 lead at halftime. Then, just minutes into the 3rd quarter, Notre Dame capped an 84-yard touchdown drive with a 4-yard rushing touchdown to extend their lead to 12-0. The defense continued to battle in the 2nd half, only permitting 1 touchdown on the day and stopping the Tar Heels on the Irish 5-yard line in the final minutes of the game. Though it wasn’t pretty, Notre Dame emerged with a 12-7 victory. Notre Dame struggled again to defend the pass against Iowa during the home finale. In the 1st quarter, the Irish defense surrendered a 58-yard touchdown pass to fall behind 7-0. After a Notre Dame touchdown, Iowa went right back down to score another touchdown in 5 plays. Facing a 14-6 deficit as he headed into the locker room, Leahy revamped his defense during the break. The good news is the changes slowed down the passing attack; however, Iowa proceeded to cover 62 yards on their opening possession, mainly on the ground, to score another touchdown. As the 4th quarter began, Notre Dame faced a 20-6 deficit. Ralph Gugliemi and Johnny Lattner connected for a 44-yard touchdown pass early in the 4th quarter, helping the team to draw within 7 at 20-13. Following a stop by the defense, Notre Dame took over on their own 22-yard line needing a touchdown to tie the game. Early in the drive, Notre Dame faced a 4th and 10. The team lined up to punt, but Lattner faked the kick and threw for a 15-yard completion to keep the drive going. With merely 55 seconds remaining, Irish quarterback John Mazur threw a high, arching pass to the end zone where an Iowa defender committed pass interference against the Irish. The ball was placed at the 1-yard line, and Lattner plunged in for a touchdown on the next play to help Notre Dame salvage a 20-20 tie. To close the year, Notre Dame traveled to Los Angeles to face #20 USC for a 2nd consecutive time on the road. After the two teams battled to a stalemate in the 1st quarter, USC quickly got on the board with an 8-yard touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter. However, Gugliemi and Lattner immediately combined to lead the Irish on a 13 play, 78-yard touchdown drive to knot the score at 7. USC notched their 2nd touchdown of the day in the 3rd quarter following an Irish interception. Notre Dame again answered back with a touchdown of their own to leave the score tied at 13. In the 4th quarter, Gugliemi and Lattner continued to shoulder the offensive load, spearheading an Irish touchdown drive that was capped by a decisive 8-yard rushing touchdown by John Pettibon. Notre Dame left the Coliseum with a 20-13 win, ending the season on a positive note. Finishing the year with a 7-2-1 record, the AP voters surprisingly left the Irish out of the final rankings. It marked the only time in Leahy’s career at Notre Dame that he did not finish in the top ten of the final AP Poll after recording a winning record.

Despite coming off back to back seasons in which Notre Dame was not ranked in the final AP Poll, voters gave Leahy the benefit of the doubt to begin the 1952 season by placing his squad #10 in the preseason polls. Right out of the gates Notre Dame was challenged with a road contest against #12 Penn. Resembling a vintage Leahy team, the offense took their first possession and drove 89 yards in 15 plays to grab an early 7-0 lead. On the ensuing Penn possession, the Quakers fumbled, and Notre Dame fell on the loose ball. On Notre Dame’s next play, Ralph Gugliemi threw what appeared to be a 44-yard touchdown pass, but the Irish drew a penalty on the play that negated the phenomenal pass. Suddenly, it seemed as though someone flipped a switch on the Irish offense as their ability to move the ball ground to a screeching halt. Neither team was able to score the remainder of the 1st half, and Notre Dame took a 7-0 lead into halftime. With the Irish attack still stuck in neutral, the Quakers struck quickly for a 65-yard touchdown pass midway through the 3rd quarter to tie the game at 7. As the teams continued to play to a draw, Notre Dame took possession of the ball on their own 20-yard line with 2 minutes remaining in the game. The offense found its stride and began to move the ball down the field with ease. Unfortunately, after catching a pass on the Penn 25-yard line, Johnny Lattner fumbled the ball while attempting a spin move. Penn fell on the ball and ran out the clock to preserve the 7-7 tie.

In week 2, the team traveled to Austin to face the #5 Texas Longhorns. Displaying his precise attention to detail, Leahy had noted that the Irish sideline would be baking in the sun all day long. Thus, Leahy made a request to the Texas athletic director. Noting that his main hope was to not get embarrassed by the Longhorns, Leahy requested that both teams share a sideline. Furthermore, Leahy asked for the Irish to be placed to the left of Texas, again noting that when the sun was at its hottest, it would be positioned directly on the Texas team. The move paid off as the temperature neared triple digits on the day. In the 1st half, the only scoring came on a Longhorn field goal. However, after totaling only 55 yards of offense in the opening 30 minutes, Notre Dame’s ground attack began to wear down the Longhorns in the 2nd half. Putting together an 85-yard touchdown drive early in the 3rd quarter, Notre Dame moved ahead 7-3. Then, in the 4th quarter, Texas muffed a punt on their own 2-yard line. Notre Dame pounced on the loose ball and scored on a 2-yard rush the next play to take a 14-3 lead. Neither team would score the remainder of the game. Though the players won the game on the field, Leahy’s logistical maneuvering was the unsung hero of the game.

Riding high after their upset victory, the #8 Irish welcomed Pittsburgh to town in week 3. The Panthers jumped on Notre Dame early, holding a 13-0 advantage after the 1st quarter. The Irish offense looked completely disjointed as they fumbled the ball multiple times, committed uncharacteristic penalties, and struggled to figure out the aggressive Pittsburgh defense. Though the team rallied in the 2nd half, it was too little, too late as Pittsburgh claimed a 22-19 upset victory. Following the loss, Notre Dame put together a 3-game winning streak. They defeated #9 Purdue 26-14, North Carolina 34-14, and Navy 17-6. Standing at 4-1-1, Notre Dame held the #10 ranking in the polls. In week 7, Notre Dame took on #4 Oklahoma at Notre Dame Stadium. The contest would be the first game ever broadcast on television from the stadium. Notre Dame fell behind Oklahoma 3 times throughout the game but rose off the mat each time to answer back with a touchdown. After drawing even at 21, Notre Dame kicked off to the Sooners. On the return, an Irish defender caused a fumble, which the Irish recovered. Two plays later Notre Dame was in the end zone and in front to stay at 26-21. Though 13 minutes remained in the game, the Irish defense repeatedly turned back the Sooners to preserve the upset win. Moving up to #6 in the country, Notre Dame traveled to take on the up and coming power, #1 Michigan State. Unfortunately for the Irish, they were soundly defeated for the 3rd year in a row by the Spartans by the score of 21-3. Though the statistics showed that Notre Dame was the better team in almost every category, 7 lost fumbles doomed the upset bid. Rebounding the following week, Notre Dame dispatched Iowa 27-0. Facing one final test on the season, Notre Dame welcomed #2 USC to town. The story of the game was the Irish defense as they held the Trojans to a mere 64 yards rushing and caught 5 interceptions on the day. The offense did just enough to pull out a 9-0 victory. The win over USC meant that Notre Dame had claimed victories over the Southwest Conference champ, Big 8 Conference champ, Pac-8 Conference champ, and co-Big Ten Conference champ. Had the team not turned in such a sloppy performance against Michigan State, they would have had an outside shot to have claimed another national championship for Leahy. Instead, the 7-2-1 record was good enough for a #3 ranking in the final AP Poll.

Though the team turned in the same record in 1951 and 1952, the feeling throughout the program was dramatically different following the 1952 season. With the talent returning for the 1953 season, many fans were hopeful that the program would secure its first national title since 1949. The team would be led by 3rd year starting quarterback Ralph Gugliemi and talented halfback Johnny Lattner. Notre Dame began the season ranked #1 and opened in Norman, Oklahoma against the #6 Sooners. The air was quickly let out of the Irish balloon after a fumble on their own 23-yard line on the opening possession of the season. Oklahoma quickly capitalized and scored a touchdown to take a 7-0 mere minutes into the game. The Irish offense returned to the field and began to move the ball. However, Notre Dame again fumbled as they were nearing the Sooner end zone. Rising to the occasion, the defense forced a Sooner fumble a few plays later. This time, the offense took advantage and scored a touchdown 4 plays later to tie the game at 7. Each team added a touchdown in the 2nd quarter and headed to halftime with the score 14-14. In the 3rd quarter, Gugliemi intercepted a Sooner pass on the Sooner 41-yard line. On the very next play, he heaved a touchdown pass to push the Irish out in front at 21-14. Oklahoma fumbled on their own 38-yard line on their next possession. Taking advantage of the gift, Notre Dame added another touchdown 7 plays later to extend their lead to 28-14. Oklahoma added a touchdown with 5 minutes left in the game to pull within 7. Unable to run out the clock, Notre Dame was forced to punt the ball back to Oklahoma. Oklahoma started to move the ball down the field with ease, putting a scare into Irish fans. Thankfully, Lattner came up with an interception on the Irish 32-yard line, securing the victory.

Following the heart-pounding win, Notre Dame rolled through their next several games. In order, they defeated Purdue 37-7, #15 Pittsburgh 23-14, #4 Georgia Tech 23-14, #20 Navy 38-7, Penn 28-20, and North Carolina 34-14. The most notable of those games came against Georgia Tech. For starters, the game was supposed to be played in at Georgia Tech. However, Tech would not host Notre Dame because they had 2 black players on the team, and the game had to be moved to South Bend. Additionally, Georgia Tech entered the game on a 31-game winning streak. However, the most newsworthy item to happen during the game came at halftime when Leahy collapsed in the locker room. Initially, it was feared that Leahy had suffered a heart attack. The situation appeared so dire that Reverend Edmund Joyce administered Leahy his last rites before he was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Ultimately, it was revealed that Leahy had suffered an acute pancreatic attack. Though he was stuck in the hospital for several more days, he passed the time by watching the Irish practice thanks to a local television hookup. Leahy returned the following week against Navy to coach his team. However, many began to wonder if the stressors of the job and the immense pressure Leahy placed on himself were taking a physical toll.

Holding the #1 ranking and sporting a 7-0 record, Notre Dame put its undefeated season on the line against #20 Iowa. Iowa got on the board first in the opening quarter to hold a 7-0 lead. Just prior to halftime, the Notre Dame offense finally found its stride and was advancing towards the end zone. However, time was rapidly evaporating, and Notre Dame was out of timeouts. With 2 seconds remaining in the half, tackle Frank Varrichione fell to the ground screaming in agony. The officials awarded Notre Dame an injury timeout. On the final play of the half, Gugliemi threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to knot the score at 7. After a scoreless 3rd quarter, the tension continued to build. Much of the 4th quarter came and went without any scoring. Following a Gugliemi interception, Iowa put together a time-consuming drive that ended with an Iowa touchdown with only 2 minutes remaining in the game. After returning the kickoff to their own 42-yard line, Notre Dame set about tying the game. Within 4 plays the team had advanced to the Hawkeye 9-yard line. With 6 seconds remaining and Notre Dame again out of timeouts, tackle Al Hunter suddenly fell down in pain. The officials again awarded Notre Dame an injury timeout allowing them to discuss what play they wanted to run. On the game’s final play, Gugliemi threw a 14-yard touchdown pass, allowing the Irish to pull out a 14-14 tie against the pesky Hawkeyes. Following the game, Notre Dame received a large amount of negative publicity for the way in which they had tied Iowa. Many felt the Irish had faked injuries at the end of each half to gain an extra timeout out. Frank Varrichione would even admit years later that that is exactly what Notre Dame had done. Reporters across the country couldn’t believe that Leahy and his team would stoop so low. Grantland Rice was quoted as saying, “I consider it a complete violation of the spirit and ethics of the game, and was sorry to see Notre Dame, of all teams, using this method.” Thanks to the tie and the negativity surrounding it, Notre Dame dropped to #2 in the polls as undefeated Maryland claimed the #1 spot.

Citing health concerns, Frank Leahy did not travel with the team to take on USC in Los Angeles. However, many speculated that Leahy was attempting to put to bed the negative publicity by staying out of the public eye for a week. The Irish did not miss him as they pummeled #20 USC 48-14. Though the USC game was typically the season finale, Notre Dame still had to play SMU. As was the custom at the time, the AP Poll awarded their national championship prior to any games in December and the bowl season. 10-0 Maryland claimed the title, and 9-0-1 Notre Dame finished #2 in the final AP Poll. While Notre Dame’s 40-14 victory over SMU would not have impacted the polls, what did matter was that Maryland was scheduled to face Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. What mattered even more was that Maryland lost to Oklahoma. Thus, Maryland actually finished the season at 10-1 and lost to a team that Notre Dame had defeated. Perhaps due to the negativity already surrounding the program from the Iowa tie, Leahy had very little to say about the controversy and publicly complimented the Terrapins. Privately, one would have to imagine that Leahy thought his team would have whipped Maryland. Not to be lost in the controversial ending to the season, Johnny Lattner also captured the 1953 Heisman Trophy, the 4th player to do so under Leahy’s tutelage.

Despite losing Lattner to graduation, Ralph Gugliemi was returning for his 4th season under center. This alone gave fans hope that 1954 would be another magnificent one on the field. However, a bombshell was dropped on the college football world in late January. On January 31, 1954, Frank Leahy announced that he was resigning due to health reasons. Despite only being 45 years old and having 2 years left on his contract, Leahy was gone. In his wake, he left a shocked nation and a deeply saddened fan base. In later years, Leahy revealed that the real reason he resigned was that he felt he was no longer wanted by the university. Again, Mr. Fred Leahy backs this up when he mentioned that, “It killed him (Frank) when they let him go.” Frank Leahy would never coach another game of football in his life.

When I went searching for further information regarding Leahy’s decision to leave, there was not a whole lot more information regarding the move. The only thing I could find that went any further in depth was an article in which Reverend Theodore Hesburgh stated he was worried about Leahy’s health and convinced him to retire. Hesburgh goes so far as to say that, “It (football) may have killed him.”Despite losing Lattner to graduation, Ralph Gugliemi was returning for his 4th season under center. This alone gave fans hope that 1954 would be another magnificent one on the field. However, a bombshell was dropped on the college football world in late January. On January 31, 1954, Frank Leahy announced that he was resigning due to health reasons. Despite only being 45 years old and having 2 years left on his contract, Leahy was gone. In his wake, he left a shocked nation and a deeply saddened fan base. In later years, Leahy revealed that the real reason he resigned was that he felt he was no longer wanted by the university. Again, Mr. Fred Leahy backs this up when he mentioned that, “It killed him (Frank) when they let him go.” Frank Leahy would never coach another game of football in his life.

When I went searching for further information regarding Leahy’s decision to leave, there was not a whole lot more information regarding the move. The only thing I could find that went any further in depth was an article in which Reverend Theodore Hesburgh stated he was worried about Leahy’s health and convinced him to retire. Hesburgh goes so far as to say that, “It (football) may have killed him.”Despite losing Lattner to graduation, Ralph Gugliemi was returning for his 4th season under center. This alone gave fans hope that 1954 would be another magnificent one on the field. However, a bombshell was dropped on the college football world in late January. On January 31, 1954, Frank Leahy announced that he was resigning due to health reasons. Despite only being 45 years old and having 2 years left on his contract, Leahy was gone. In his wake, he left a shocked nation and a deeply saddened fan base. In later years, Leahy revealed that the real reason he resigned was that he felt he was no longer wanted by the university. Again, Mr. Fred Leahy backs this up when he mentioned that, “It killed him (Frank) when they let him go.” Frank Leahy would never coach another game of football in his life.

When I went searching for further information regarding Leahy’s decision to leave, there was not a whole lot more information regarding the move. The only thing I could find that went any further in depth was an article in which Reverend Theodore Hesburgh stated he was worried about Leahy’s health and convinced him to retire. Hesburgh goes so far as to say that, “It (football) may have killed him.”

It is a true shame that college football and Notre Dame lost out on watching Leahy coach for several more seasons. He was a true master of his craft and seemed to dedicate his entire being to the success of Notre Dame Football. Though many will argue that Knute Rockne is the greatest coach to ever roam the sidelines at Notre Dame, they are mistaken. Yes, Leahy’s winning percentage of .855 trails the .881 of Rockne’s. However, Leahy claimed 4 (1943, 1946, 1947, and 1949) national championships to Rockne’s 3. An argument could be made that Leahy should have 6 titles if his team had rightfully been awarded the 1948 and 1953 National Championship. Furthermore, if his administration had not cut his legs out from underneath him when they reduced scholarships from 33 to 18, there is no telling how his remaining 4 seasons in South Bend would have played out. He might have even stuck around past the 1953 season. Over the course of 11 seasons, Leahy compiled a 29-4-4 record against ranked opponents. He only lost back to back games one time in his career, which came during the ill-fated 1950 season. On top of all of that, Leahy beat Michigan and Army so badly that they essentially both refused to play Notre Dame, Michigan for 35 more seasons and Army for 11 more seasons. Finally, Leahy coached 4 Heisman Trophy winners, while recruiting a 5th (Paul Hornung).

In addition to those staggering numbers, Leahy fashioned the most dominant dynasty in college football history. Keep in mind that after he won his first national title in 1943, Leahy went off to serve our country during World War II. Then, when he returned in 1946, his teams went unbeaten for 4 seasons in a row, compiling a 38-game winning streak and winning 3 national titles over that time-frame. No program before or since has been able to accomplish such a feat. As previously mentioned, Notre Dame had become so good that Leahy essentially forced administration into de-emphasizing football for a couple of seasons through the reduction in scholarships in order to shed the label of a football factory. Name me any other school that has done that to their head coach. All in all, Leahy finished ranked within the top ten of the final AP Poll 9 times in 11 seasons. He finished ranked within top three in the final AP Poll in 8 of his 11 seasons. I know it pains many people to admit that Leahy was a better coach than Rockne, but the numbers back it up. Regardless of who you believe to be the top football head coach in Notre Dame history, take a moment to appreciate his service to his country during war and marvel at his truly astounding career at Notre Dame.

Frank Leahy Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

This concludes my series on the top ten greatest head coaches in the history of Irish Football. I hope you enjoyed it and learned a thing or two about many of these men like I did. Below are links to the other articles from the series. Thank you for following along!

https://www.onefootdown.com/2020/7/19/21328860/top-ten-greatest-notre-dame-football-coaches-2-ara-parseghian-game-of-the-century-orange-cotton-nd

https://www.onefootdown.com/2020/5/21/21265119/top-ten-greatest-notre-dame-football-coaches-3-knute-rockne-george-gipp-four-horsemen-rose-bowl

https://www.onefootdown.com/2020/5/9/21253015/top-ten-greatest-notre-dame-football-coaches-4-lou-holtz-1988-national-championship-miami-orange-nd

https://www.onefootdown.com/2020/4/26/21236758/top-ten-greatest-notre-dame-football-coaches-5-dan-devine-joe-montana-1977-green-jersey-game-cotton#comments

https://www.onefootdown.com/2020/4/18/21226537/top-10-greatest-notre-dame-football-head-coaches-6-brian-kelly-matt-balis-college-football-playoff

https://www.onefootdown.com/2020/4/5/21208689/top-10-greatest-notre-dame-football-head-coaches-7-jesse-harper-knute-rockne-army-fielding-yost#comments

https://www.onefootdown.com/2020/3/29/21198730/top-10-greatest-notre-dame-football-head-coaches-8-elmer-layden-nfl-commissioner-four-horseman

https://www.onefootdown.com/2020/3/21/21189636/top-10-greatest-notre-dame-football-head-coaches-terry-brennan-hesburgh-oklahoma-iowa-michigan-state

https://www.onefootdown.com/2020/3/16/21182139/top-ten-greatest-notre-dame-football-head-coaches-10-tyrone-willingham-brady-quinn-jeff-samardzija