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Notre Dame helmet
Notre Dame helmet

The University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, sometimes called Notre Dame or the Irish, is an American football team that competes as an Independent school in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I-A and represents the University of Notre Dame on the gridiron.

Over the past century, the Irish have been one of the most successful and popular teams in the history of American sports, enabling the university to negotiate its own national television contract for their home games with NBC—a feat unheard of in United States amateur sports. The university is one of two Catholic universities that field a team in Division I-A, the other being Boston College, and one of a handful of programs independent of a football conference. The team plays its home games on Notre Dame's campus at Notre Dame Stadium, also known as "the House that Rockne Built," before a crowd of over 80,000 per game.



Historical championships

Notre Dame claims 11 Consensus National Championships in football and there have been 24 years in which Notre Dame finished the season atop some ranking system. The football program is tied with USC for most Heisman trophy winners at 7, the most All-Americans, and the largest number of players to go on to play in the National Football League of any program in the country. These accomplishments are attributable both to the success of the football program and also to its longevity.


The beginning (1887–1917)

American football did not have an auspicious beginning at the University of Notre Dame. In their inaugural game on November 23 1887 the Irish lost to the University of Michigan Wolverines by a score of 8–0. Their first win came in the final game of the 1888 season when the Irish defeated Harvard Prep by a score of 20–0. At the end of the 1888 season they had a record of 1–3 with all three losses being at the hands of Michigan by a combined score of 43–9. Between 1887 and 1899 Notre Dame compiled a record of 31 wins, 15 losses, and 4 ties against a diverse variety of opponents ranging from local high school teams to other universities.

At the beginning of the 20th century college football began to increase in popularity and became more standardized with the introduction of the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS) in 1906. That organization would become the NCAA in 1910. Notre Dame continued its success during this time and achieved their first victory over Michigan in 1909 by the score of 11–3 after which Michigan refused to play Notre Dame again for 33 years. By the end of the 1912 season they had amassed a record of 108 wins, 31 losses, and 13 ties.

Jesse Harper became head coach in 1913 and remained so until he retired in 1917. During his tenure the Irish began playing only intercollegiate games and posted a record of 34 wins, 5 losses, and 1 tie. This period would also mark the beginning of the rivalry with Army and the continuation of rivalries with Michigan State.

Rockne era (1918–1930)

Knute Rockne became head coach in 1918 and ushered in one of the most famous and successful chapters in Notre Dame football history. Under Rockne the Irish would post a record of 105 wins, 12 losses, and 5 ties. During his 13 years, the longest tenure of any coach to date, the Irish won 6 national championships, had 5 undefeated seasons, won the Rose Bowl in 1925, and produced many legendary players such as the "Four Horsemen". Rockne has the highest win percentage (.881) in college football history.

Among the events that occurred during Rockne’s tenure none is more famous than the Rockne’s Win one for the Gipper speech. George "the Gipper" Gipp was a very successful player on Rockne’s earlier teams and tragically died of pneumonia in 1920. Army came into the 1928 matchup undefeated and was the clear favorite. Notre Dame, on the other hand, was having their worst season under Rockne’s leadership and entered the game with a 4–2 record. At the end of the half Army was leading and looked to be in command of the game. Rockne entered the locker room and gave his account of Gipp’s final words: "I've got to go, Rock. It's all right. I'm not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go in there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Rock. But I'll know about it, and I'll be happy." The speech, although possibly fictional, inspired the team and they went on to upset Army and win the game 12–6.

Rockne died in a plane crash in Kansas on March 31, 1931, while on his way to help in the production of the film The Spirit of Notre Dame. The crash site, located in a remote expanse of Kansas known as the Flint Hills, now features a Rockne Memorial.

Rockne was the subject of the 1940 film Knute Rockne, All American.

After Rockne (1931–1941)

Upon Rockne’s death Heartly "Hunk" Anderson took the helm of the Irish leading them to a record of 16 wins, 9 losses, and two ties. Anderson was a former Irish player under Rockne and was serving as an assistant coach at the time of Rockne's death. Anderson resigned as Irish head coach in 1934 and was replaced by Elmer Layden, who was one of Rockne’s "Four Horsemen" in the 1920’s. After graduating, Layden played professional American football for one year and then began a coaching career. The Irish posted a record of 47 wins, 13 losses, and 3 tie in 7 years under Layden. He left the team in 1940 to become Commissioner of the National Football League (NFL).

Leahy era (1941–1953)

Frank Leahy was hired by Notre Dame to take over for Layden in 1941, and was another former Irish player who played during the Rockne Era. After graduating from Notre Dame, Leahy had a variety of coach positions including line coach of the infamous "Seven Blocks of Granite" of Fordham University that helped that team to win all but two games between 1935 and 1937. He then coached the Boston College Eagles to a win in the 1941 Sugar Bowl. His move to Notre Dame would inaugurate a new period of spectacular gridiron success for the Irish and would insure Leahy's place among the very greatest coaches in the history of college football.

Leahy would be the Irish’s head coach for 11 seasons from 1941 to 1943 and 1946 to 1953. He has the second highest winning percentage (.864) of any college coach in history. He led the Irish to a record of 87 wins, 11 losses, and 9 ties including 39 games without a loss (37–0–2), four national championships, and six undefeated seasons. A fifth national championship was lost because of a tie in 1953 against Iowa, in a game that caused a minor scandal at the time, when it appeared that some Irish players had faked injuries to stop the clock. Leahy retired in 1954 due to health reasons.

From 1944 to 1945, Leahy served in the U.S. Navy and was honorably discharged as a Lieutenant. Ed McKeever, Leahy’s assistant coach, became interim head coach while Leahy was in the Navy. During his one year at the helm the Irish managed 8 wins and 2 losses. McKeever left Notre Dame in 1945 to take over as head coach of Cornell University. McKeever was replaced by Hugh Devore for the 1945 season and led the Irish to 7 wins, 2 losses, and 1 tie.

After Leahy (1954–1963)

The departure of Leahy ushered in a downward slope in Notre Dame’s performance. Terry Brennan was hired as the Notre Dame head coach in 1954 and would stay until 1958. He departed with a respectable total of 32 wins and 18 losses. But note: the 32 wins included 17 in 1954 and 1955. Thereafter his record would be a mediocre 15–15. Brennan was a former player under Leahy and before joining the Irish had coached the Mount Carmel High School team in Chicago, Illinois and later the freshman squad at Notre Dame. His first two seasons were successful and the Irish were ranked 4th and 9th respectively. However, in the light of what would follow those first seasons, some observers began to wonder if Brennan's early success owed more to the residual effects of Leahy's coaching on Brennan's first two cadres than it did to any notable brilliance of his own. It was the 1956 season that began to darken his reputation, for it became one of the most dismal in the team’s history and saw them finish the season with a mere 2 wins, including crushing losses to Michigan State, Oklahoma, and Iowa. The Irish would recover the following season, posting not only a respectable record of 7 wins and 3 losses but including in their wins a stunning upset of Oklahoma, in Norman, that ended the Sooners' still-standing record of 47 consecutive wins. In Brennan’s final season, though, finished with a mere 6 wins and 4 losses, acceptable at many places but a severe disappointment at Notre Dame. Brennan left the Irish to become the conditioning coach for the Cincinnati Reds.

Fifty years after Brennan's appointment, one could look back at Notre Dame' hiring policies and notice a curious pattern: the recurrent hiring of inexperienced coaches in the wake of legends. Brennan following Leahy; Gerry Faust following the hall-of-fame tandem of Parseghian and Devine; and, finally, Davie following Lou Holtz. In each case the Irish had hired a youthful coach with no experience as a head coach, and in each case the choices led to bitter disappointment on the field

Joe Kuharich took over for Brennan in 1959 and to date remains the only Irish head coach to leave the team with a losing record. During his 4 year tenure as coach, the Irish finished with 17 wins and 23 losses and they never finished better than .500 in a season. Hugh Devore once again filled in the gap between coaches and led the Irish to yet another lackluster season in 1963, finishing with 2 wins and 7 losses.

Parseghian era (1964–1974)

Ara Parseghian was a former college football player for the Miami University Redskins until 1947 and became their assistant coach in 1950 and head coach in 1951, after a two year stint playing for the Cleveland Browns. In 1956 he moved to Northwestern University, where he stayed for eight years. In 1964 he was hired to replace Devore as head football coach and immediately brought the team back to their former levels of success. In his first year the Irish improved their record to 9 wins and 1 loss earning Parseghian coach of the year honors.

It was under Parseghian, that Notre Dame had lifted its 40-plus year-old "no bowl games" policy, beginning with the season of 1969.

During his eleven year career, the Irish amassed a record of 95 wins, 17 losses, and 4 ties and captured two uncontested national championships. The Irish also had two undefeated season in 1966 and 1973, had three major bowl wins in five appearances, and produced one Heisman Trophy winner. Parseghian was forced to retire after the 1974 season for medical reasons.

Devine era (1975–1980)

Dan Devine was hired to take over as head coach upon Parseghian's retirement in 1975. Devine was already a highly successful coach and had led Arizona State, Missouri, and the Green Bay Packers. When he arrived at Notre Dame he already had a college coaching record of 120 wins, 40 losses, and 8 ties and had led his teams to victory in 4 bowl games. At Notre Dame he would lead the Irish to 53 wins, 16 losses, and 1 tie. The Irish were winners of 3 major bowl games and captured one national championship in 1977. Devine resigned as head football coach in 1980.

Faust era (1981-1985)

Gerry Faust was hired to replace Devine for the 1981 season. Prior to Notre Dame, Faust had been one of the more successful high school football coaches in the country. As coach of Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Ohio he amassed 174 wins, 17 losses, and 2 ties. Despite his success in the high school ranks, his success at Notre Dame was mixed. In his first season the Irish finished with 5 wins and 6 losses. The most successful years under Faust were the 1983 and 1984 campaigns where the Irish finished with 7 wins and three losses and made trips to the Liberty Bowl and Aloha Bowl respectively. Faust resigned at the end of the 1985 season to take over as head coach for the University of Akron.

Holtz era (1986–1996)

Lou Holtz had 17 years of coaching experience by the time he was hired to lead the Irish. He had previously been head coach of William and Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, and Minnesota. Holtz began in 1986 where his predecessor left off in 1985, finishing with an identical record of 5 wins and 6 losses. That would be his only losing season as he posted a record 95 wins, 24 losses, and 2 ties over the next ten seasons adding up to 100 wins, 30 losses, and 2 ties overall.

Holtz was well-known as a master motivator and a strict disciplinarian. He displayed the latter trait in spades when he found that two of his players had been having academic problems right before the then top-ranked Irish played second-ranked Southern California in the final regular season game of 1988. Holtz stuck to his guns, sending the two players home despite the fact that they had been contributors to the team's success. His move was vindicated when the Irish defeated USC anyway.

Holtz was named coach of the year in 1988, the same season he took Notre Dame to an upset of #1 Miami in the Catholics vs. Convicts series and a win over West Virginia University in the Fiesta Bowl, thus capturing the National Championship. His 1989 and 1993 squads narrowly missed repeating the feat. Overall, he took Notre Dame to one undefeated season, 9 consecutive New Year’s Day bowl games, and top 10 finishes in the AP poll in five seasons. Holtz retired from Notre Dame in 1996, although there has been much speculation (fueled further by a lack of clarification from Holtz himself) on whether he left of his own accord or was forced out by then athletic director Mike Wadsworth, with whom Holtz did not have a very good relationship. He went on to become an analyst for CBS for a few years before accepting the head job at the University of South Carolina before the 1999 season. After turning around the former Southeastern Conference doormat, he retired again from coaching after the 2004 season. He is currently a football analyst for ESPN.

Davie/Willingham era (1997–2004)

Coached by Bob Davie for 5 years, the team suffered 3 Bowl losses (1997 Independence Bowl, 1998 Gator Bowl, 2000 Fiesta Bowl) and failed to qualify during two seasons, 1999 and 2001. The highlight of Davie's tenure may have been beating USC on three consecutive occasions, including the thrilling 25–24 victory at Notre Dame Stadium in 1999. The aforementioned 2000 Fiesta Bowl was Notre Dame's first invitation to the Bowl Championship Series. The 2001 squad was awarded the American Football Coaches Association Achievement Award for its 100% graduation rate.

Several embarrassing off-the-field incidents also occurred during Davie's tenure. In 1998, the University was found guilty of age discrimination by a federal district court in Indiana and ordered to pay fired assistant coach Joe Moore $86,000 in back pay and damages.[1] In 1999, the NCAA found Notre Dame guilty of a "major violation" of NCAA regulations after a Notre Dame booster, Kim Dunbar, had systematically given players in the neighborhood of $1.4 million in gifts between 1993 and 1998. The violations were deemed major because of the length of time over which the violations occurred, the "extravagant nature" of the gifts and benefits received by the players, and "the competitive advantage gained by the University in as much the university continued to use student-athletes who were later declared ineligible." Simultaneously, Notre Dame was found guilty of a second series of "major" violations, stemming from a player purchasing a term paper from his tutor. As a result of both series of violations, Notre Dame football was placed on probation by the NCAA for two years.[2] This marked the third time that the Notre Dame football program was found to have been guilty of "major violations" by the NCAA. Notre Dame was also sanctioned in 1971 and 1954.[1]

Realizing the team was not progressing, the administration decided it was time to make a change. On December 9, 2001, Notre Dame hired George O'Leary to replace Davie. However, New Hampshire Union Leader reporter Jim Fennell—while researching a "local boy done good" story—uncovered discrepancies in his résumé. O'Leary resigned five days later before coaching a single practice.

In need of a coach, the school turned to Tyrone Willingham, who had been coaching at Stanford. Bringing a new feeling of change and excitement to campus, Ty energized the team in the Fall of 2002 by starting the season 8–0, with wins over #7 Michigan and #11 Florida State. Those eight games, however, would be the highlight of Willingham's tenure, as Notre Dame finished the year with a heart-breaking loss to Boston College (further worsened by the fact that Willingham, using a well-known Notre Dame coach's play, dressed his Irish in green jerseys before the game), being exposed by a very talented USC team, and suffering a depressing loss to NC State in the Gator Bowl. Things would not get better as Willingham compiled an 11–11 record over the next two years, and a multitude of lopsided losses (2003: 38–0 Michigan, 45–14 USC, 37–0 FSU, 38–12 Syracuse; 2004: 41–16 Purdue, 41–10 USC).

Willingham was forced out by the new administration. When two-time national coach of the year and former Notre Dame Wide Receivers coach Urban Meyer passed on the opportunity and left Utah to take the head coaching job with the Florida Gators, Notre Dame hired four time super bowl champion and Notre Dame alumnus Charlie Weis.

Weis era (2005–)

The Leprechaun
The Leprechaun

Charlie Weis became head football coach for the Irish beginning with the 2005 season. In his inaugural season he led Notre Dame to a record of 9 wins and 3 losses and a postseason appearance in the Fiesta Bowl, losing to Ohio State University, 34–20. Weis' impact was immediately apparent when, in the first half of the first game against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame had more offensive yards than in any of five entire games of the previous season. Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn would go on to break numerous team passing records that season and put himself in the national spotlight. Wide receiver Jeff Samardzija also put himself on the national scene by catching a touchdown pass in the Irish's first eight games, a team record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass. Samardzija eventually became a finalist for the Fred Biletnikoff Award given to the nation's top wide receiver.

Weis has also had an impact on recruiting, notably receiving verbal commitments from high school quarterback Jimmy Clausen, considered among the top high school prospects and Gary Gray, a highly recriuted defensive back.[3] [4]

Current Roster and Staff


Notre Dame has a rivalry with many Division I-A teams.

For more details on this topic, see Notre Dame Fighting Irish football rivalries.

All-time records

For more details on this topic, see Notre Dame football yearly totals.

Notre Dame's all time record stands at 814 wins, 266 losses, and 42 ties. They have been named by various polls as "national champions" (the NCAA does not recognise national championships in what today is known as Bowl Division Football) 11 times (1924, 1929, 1930, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1966, 1973, 1977, and 1988) and received mention in a further 10 national championships (1919, 1920, 1927, 1938, 1953, 1964, 1967, 1970, 1989, 1993).

Bowl games

Notre Dame has made 27 Bowl appearances, winning 13 and losing 14.[2] They have played in the Rose Bowl (1 win), the Cotton Bowl (5 wins, 2 losses), the Orange Bowl (2 wins, 3 losses), the Sugar Bowl (2 wins, 1 loss), the Gator Bowl (1 win, 2 losses), the Liberty Bowl (1 win), the Aloha Bowl (1 loss), the Fiesta Bowl (1 win, 3 losses), the Independence Bowl (1 loss), and the Insight Bowl (1 loss). Through the bowl games following the 2005 season, Notre Dame has lost 8 bowl games in a row.

Notable alumni

Heisman Trophy winners

Seven Notre Dame football players have won the prestigious Heisman Trophy. As of 2005, Notre Dame and USC are tied for the most Heisman Trophy winners.[1]

Other notable alumni

See also


  1. ^ a b NCAA Major Violations Database.
  2. ^ Notre Dame Historical Data. College Football Data Warehouse. Retrieved on 2006-06-28.


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