I have been a fan of Notre Dame football since the glory days when they were coached by Lou Holtz and had many seasons of greatness and winning bowl games. For many year’s thereafter they struggled to re-build their championship program since Lou Holtz retired with a record of 100-30-2 and a National Title (pre-BCS days) in 1988.
Lou Holtz’s overall winning percentage over 11 years was 0.765 and since that point Notre Dame has struggled to get back to championship form under a myriad of coaches since 1996 when Lou retired
1997 – 2001 – Bob Davie – 5 Seasons – 0.583
2001 – George O’Leary – 0 Seasons – 0.000 – although George was hired, he was let go soon after the board found out he misrepresented his academic credentials
2002-2004: Tyrone Willingham – 3 seasons – 0.583 winning % (same as Bob Davie)
2004 – Kent Baer – one game, served as interim head coach after Tyrone was fired
2005-2009: Charlie Weis – 5 seasons – 0.565 winning %
In 2010 they replaced Charlie who was a former offensive coordinator in the NFL, including the New England Patriots where they won three of their Superbowl’s with Brian Kelly.
Under Brian Kelly, the Fighting Irish have gotten back to their winning ways, Brian has lead them to a 66-33 record and 0.667 winning % and are now ranked #3 in the USA 7-1 behind #1 Alabama and #2 Georgia and are vying for a trip to the National Championship Game as a result.
Am I happy to see Norte Dame back to glory – You betcha – GO IRISH !
Several years back a work colleague of mine reached out to me and asked if I would like to see the Fighting Irish Live in North Bend and I jumped at the opportunity. He was an alumnus of Boston College and each time BC played Norte Dame in North Bend he had access to 6 tickets (albeit they were far up in the stands as in the end zone as possible).
I will never forget that cold Day in November, when we arrived joining all the others that were tail gating pre-game (we must of all been nuts drinking beer when it was literally freezing out but thousands did the same) and then walking down the historic campus past the Golden Dome that all is emulated on the very same Norte Dame Helmets for their weekly Saturday games.
I got so distracted being in awe of the campus that I was separated from our group, but did find them later in the stadium where all seats are filled each and every Saturday.
Once in the stadium from our nose bleed seats, I was still like a kid opening a present I had been anxiously waiting for on Christmas day while I watched the game, the band during half time as they played the traditional fighting Irish song. Below is a short video outlying the history and evolution of Notre Dame with the lyrics of the song that the fans and players sing after each and every game.
Not only has Norte Dame had some “pretty good” coaches, but they also have had some pretty good players over the years. The reason I became hooked as a fan was watching Joe Montana before he went on to the NFL and lead the 49’s to 4 super bowl victories (thanks largely to have a pretty good wide receiver to throw to -Jerry Rice) and Hall of Fame inductee and I have followed the Fighting Irish with great interest on Saturdays in the fall every year.
The video ends with the poster that is at the bottom of the stairs as the players head out to the field “Play like a Champion Today” and each player touches it as they go thru the tunnel onto the field.
It is also the reason why Rudy is one of my favorite sports movies of all time, the story of a Rudy Ruettiger (brilliantly acted by Sean Astin) what wants to play at the University of Norte Dame but does not have the money, the grades and many argued the physical characteristics and skills to play there.
Although he was small in stature, his heart was HUGE and was determined to play for ND and after he lost a close friend due to an accident at the steel mill he and many of his family worked at he quit his job and went to that same campus in Indianna to chase his dream.
He was advised that he had to get his grades up first and foremost, then if he did, perhaps he would be accepted but playing for the actual football team was another story in itself.
Rudy connected with a good friend at junior college across the lake a priest on the main campus helped him get into, worked thru dyslexia and got his grades up after 3 years to be accepted to Norte Dame in his last and final year as a senior.
He subsequently made the practice roster of the football team, and although was the smallest player on the field, and was thrown around like a tackling dummy by the starters, his heart transformed the team and coaches where they permitted him to dress in the last game of the season against Georgia.
Rudy was given an opportunity to play the last couple of downs of the game, got a sack in the waning seconds to fulfil his dream, not only of going to one of the top Ivy league schools in the USA, but suit up and played like a champion that day for the historic football team.
Although the movie scene was embellished, Rudy is only one of two players in Notre Dame history to be carried off the field on the shoulders of his team mates. It also happened to be the first season that Joe Montana was on the team as freshmen quarterback.
I don’t think any would argue that John Wooden was the greatest coach of all time.
I believe that Lou Holtz was another one of those great coaches.
Because like John who developed a winning tradition for UCLA, Lou was instrumental in doing the same for the Fighting Irish and his tenure began in 1986 by bringing back the “Play like a champion today” sign back to the bottom of the tunnel where it once was. He came across in a book before his coaching tenure started in 1986 and asked for it to be recreated and placed at the bottom of the stairs.
He relayed to the players he brought it back due to the storied tradition of Notre Dame, the great coaches and players before them and asked they tap the sign before each game as others had done before them.
Tap it for the sacrifices they had made, the ones their parents had made and the sacrifices and hard work they had made to play for such an iconic university.
He also reminded them that each time they tapped the sign the obligation they had to their team mates to truly play like a champion and not let their team mates down.
The third Rule that John Wooden had with his teams that I have expanded on in part for my teams was “never criticize your team mates” similar to Lou’s commitment to your team mates. My third rule (AKA standard) for my players is to respect all aspects of the game (yourselves, your team mates, coaches, officials, other teams, parents, class mates, teachers, elders and so on).
By respecting the tradition of the sign and reasons behind it, the players under Lou’s and coaches since he retired learned the tenured history of Notre Dame who played their inaugural game 130 years ago on Nov 23, 1887.
Below is a video where Lou talks about the history of the sign and the Fighting Irish including the statue that was created on campus as a tribute to him.
Lou felt he never coached football, he coached life and like John was there for his players for decades well beyond he coached them.
“Players are like your children, you love them for life.” Lou Holtz
Our role as coaches is not to make a living, but our calling/purpose is to develop youth into adults.
Please ensure that the legacy that you leave behind is a positive one like John Wooden’s, Lou Holtz and all the other great coaches out there whose athletes in turn have left positive legacies behind.
Let’s work together to bring the game back to the kids … where it belongs.