Frank Polich/Getty ImagesAugust 18, 2010
As the 2010 football season approaches, we are inundated with countless acts of bold prognostications, high hopes, and the ever present top 10 list of whatever.
Out of the haystack of articles, a majority of the pile can be attributed to a few subjects and a handful of schools. The SEC is always the best conference; Texas will rack up every five-star recruit, and the ones that don't commit to Texas, Texas didn't want anyway; whichever Rich-Rod or USC scandal is the hot topic; and, of course, whether or not Notre Dame will win the National Championship.
If there were a National Championship for predicting National Championship wins, I think Domers take the cake.
So how does my nonsense differ?
Well, I wanted to take a look at the long storied history of Notre Dame coaches to see how they've fared in their first seasons. More so, what does it mean, if anything?
As we all know, National Championships of old were fuzzy at best, with numerous different organizations and agencies declaring their own champion. For the sake of brevity I will only use consensus National Championships awarded. I mean, Knute Rockne truly should have five or six NCs, but is generally credited with three. That's neither here nor there and an argument for another post.
So what about his contemporaries, who have held the sacred position, and where did they end up?
I'll start with Jesse Harper—the great Jesse Harper. College football was much different then, but I saw it fit to be a good starting point. Jesse Harper's first season was 1913, and he ended up 7-0-0. Although he never had a NC awarded, in his five seasons as head coach, Notre Dame never lost more than two games.
Knute Rockne began his dynasty in 1918 with a 3-1-2 record, but, of course, strung together two back-to-back 9-0 seasons afterwards. And I will say that he still stands as the greatest college football coach of all time, regardless of era.
Elmer Layden went 6-3 in 1934. He strung together some very decent seasons, but lacked the success of the Notre Dame greats.
Frank Leahy had two first years, 8-0 and 8-0! And of course he won four NCs. I will go ahead and say that Frank Leahy should be considered one of the very best coaches of all time—in that top five list with five undefeated seasons and one one-loss season!
Terry Brennan started off at 9-1 in 1954 but never repeated that success.
Joe Kuharich went 5-5 in 1959. There's not much to say about the Kuharich era as far as I'm concerned. That was about the peak of it.
Ara Parseghian shot out of the cannon in 1964 at 9-1 and never looked back, with two consensus NCs and a few other contenders. He's another one of the all-time greats, probably top 10 in my book, maybe right outside that top five.
Dan Devine in 1975 went 8-3. Not a bad start and not the worst tenure at all with the 1977 NC. He had some very good wins in the late 1970s (as far as what I've read at least)!
Gerry Faust started out a loser at 5-6 and pretty much maintained status quo. Although some, including myself, say otherwise, Faust is considered to be the worst of the bunch.
The great Lou Holtz also started off with a dud at 5-6. There were probably some who didn't know what to think after 1986. In two years, he put together one of the greatest college football teams ever—at least in the modern era—with the 1988 NC. He coached five of his teams to double digit wins, won five bowl games, and nearly two more NCs. He's yet another one of the all-time greats!
Bob Davie took the reins in 1997 and went 7-6. Although he did take the Irish to their first BCS bid, he is another considered towards the bottom of the Notre Dame coaching list, although I tend to disagree.
Tyrone Willingham was hired amidst controversy and after the botched hiring/firing of George O'Leary. He shut down most of the haters after coaching a 10-3 team to nearly another BCS bid in 2002. Unluckily for him, it was kind of a steady decline from there, even if only given three years on the job.
Then came the most recent savior of saviors, Charlie Weis, in 2005. Some were skeptical, but after a 9-3 start and a BCS bid, the echoes started to awaken a bit. After a 10-3 second season and yet another BCS bid, the Notre Dame checkbook awakened. All were deflated the next season and the following two, with some of the most memorable losses in history. I consider the era to be the lowest point in Notre Dame history regardless of the few successes.
Looking back, minus the few one-and-doners I skipped, only two coaches started out below .500. One was a huge success, the other a huge flop—Holtz and Faust respectively. Davie and Kuharich finished near and at .500 and both were other than memorable. The all-time greats, most of them, started out great, but so did the all-time duds in Willingham and Weis.
So here we are, amidst another inaugural season for a new Chief of Staff, a five-star general , the savior of all that can be saved, restorer of glory, etc., etc., etc. Bla bla bla.
Some think they are BCS bound, naturally, see above. Some are more realistic and point to a marginally successful season, seven or eight wins.
I suppose the point is that the first season truly means nothing.
That said, based on the analysis of historical data rather than logical data, i.e. players, system, and schedule, I predict a 9-3 season and they will win their bowl, so a 10-3 season with all said and done.
The difference between the previous three-loss inaugural seasons is that Kelly will coach a NC Notre Dame football season in one the following three seasons—possibly in the third season.
Where's the sense in this you say? Well, there is none, that's the point!