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Daily Dose of Notre Dame football (12/18) Frank Leahy

  • Chris Walsh

    6. Frank Leahy
    1941–1943, 1946–1953

    He was known as the Master.

    Frank Leahy’s winning percentage of .855 at Notre Dame ranks second only to Knute Rockne’s in Division I-A (Bowl Subdivision) history. Add his two years from Boston College in 1939 and 1940, and his career percentage rises to .864. Consequently, Leahy and Rockne are the only coaches of 10 or more years to have fewer losses than seasons coached (11 losses in 11 seasons at Notre Dame; 13 losses in 13 seasons total).

    Leahy played tackle for Rockne in 1928–29 but missed his senior season (1930) due to injuries. Following graduation he embarked on a career as a line coach, first at Georgetown in 1931, then at Michigan State in 1932. He spent 1933-38 on the staff at Fordham under head coach Jim Crowley, a halfback in Notre Dame’s Four Horsemen backfield of 1924.

    From 1935-37, Leahy’s Ram line earned fame as the Seven Blocks of Granite, one of whom was future legendary Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi.

    In 1939, Leahy moved to Boston College for his first head coaching gig and guided the Eagles through the greatest two-year run in school history, 20–2 including a 19–13 victory over Tennessee in the 1941 Sugar Bowl. The Volunteers, coached by the legendary Bob Neyland, had not lost a regular-season game in more than three years, and Leahy’s win landed him back at his alma mater.

    In 1941, his inaugural season at Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish went 8–0–1 with a No. 3 national ranking, and Leahy was named coach of the year. Two seasons later, in 1943, the Fighting Irish were national champions with quarterback Angelo Bertelli winning Notre Dame’s first Heisman Trophy.

    Leahy spent 1944-45 in the Navy during World War II, and upon his return the Fighting Irish dominated college football. After losing the season finale in 1945, Notre Dame didn’t experience another defeat until 1950. An entire class of students went through four years of school and graduated without the football team losing a single game. That hasn’t happened since in major college football.

    Those Leahy-coached teams of the late ’40s claimed three national titles (1946, 1947 and 1949), two Heisman Trophies (Johnny Lujack in 1947, Leon Hart in 1949) and two Outland Trophies (George Connor in 1946, Bill Fischer in 1948).

    Similar to Paul W. “Bear” Bryant, Leahy’s practices were said to be grueling that the games themselves were considered to be easier. He would be quoted in the press before every season saying things like, “We’ll be lucky to make a first down,” then proceed to win another national title. He also refused to run up gaudy scores against his opponents.

    Leahy retired for health reasons after the 1953 season. More than half of his teams finished undefeated, and five won national championships. He produced 20 consensus All-Americans and four Heisman Trophy winners (Bertelli, Lujack, Hart and Johnny Lattner in 1953). Leahy was inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1970.

    Leahy at Notre Dame
    Year record
    1941 8–0–1
    1942 7–2–2
    1943** 9–1
    1946** 8–0–1
    1947** 9–0
    1948 9–0–1
    1949** 10–0
    1950 4–4–1
    1951 7–2–1
    1952 7–2–1
    1953* 9–0–1
    *national champions
    ** consensus national champions

    signature image signature image

    Christopher Walsh covers Alabama football for BamaOnline, 247Sports, and is the author of 18 books.

  • Impressive resume to say the least. Thanks Chris.

  • Thats some strong amonia piss!