ND Football Coaches

Nov 12, 2013

I have been looking at ND men who served as Head Coaches at other colleges.  It has been fun blundering into some “finds”. 

Here’s a trivia question:

Name three Notre Dame men who served as the Head Football Coach at East Alabama Male College (later named Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama; later named Alabama Polytechnic Institute*)

*Since 1960, we know it as Auburn

Answer:  Chet Wynne, Jack Meagher, and Earl Brown, all of whom served during the Auburn down times of the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s.

Chet Wynne played fullback for Knute Rockne in his first four seasons as Head Coach, backing up Earl “Curly” Lambeau in 1918;  and three others the next year, before becoming the starter for his final two seasons.  George Gipp was the star of those first three teams.  During Rockne’s tenure it was very common for colleges to contact him asking for recommendations for coaching hires, hoping to get a Rockne pupil who could bring along his system and secrets of success.   Wynne played one year in the fledgling NFL, with the Rochester Jeffersons, before beginning his college head coaching career at Creighton.   After a 7-year tenure, Chet was hired by Auburn for the 1930 season.  During his four years at the helm, Wynne compiled a record of 22-15-2, with his high point being a Southern Conference Championship in 1932.  His 9-0-1 record was marred only by a final game 20-20 tie with the University of South Carolina.  Chet was the head coach when Auburn became one of the founding members of the Southeastern Conference, in 1933.  Chet then moved over to the University of Kentucky as Head Coach and later Athletic Director. 

Wynne was succeeded at Auburn by Jack Meagher, who was a second team end, in 1916, under Head Coach Jesse Harper and Assistant Coach Rockne.    Meagher started his coaching career at Rice Institute, where he was the head man for five years.  At Auburn, his 48-37-6 record still ranks 5th in coaching victories for the Tigers.  Meagher led Auburn to their very first bowl game, after the 1936 season.  They played in Havana, in the Bacardi Bowl, tying Villanova, 7-7.  The following year, Meagher coached the Tigers to their first bowl win, defeating Michigan State, in the Orange Bowl.  Meagher coached Iowa Pre-Flight to a sixth place national ranking for the 1944 season. 

Meagher then became the first Head Coach of the Miami Seahawks, the first major league sports team in Miami and Florida’s first pro football team.  The Seahawks were in the All American Football Conference, the rival league to the NFL, founded by ND man Arch Ward.  The Commissioner of the league was Sleepy Jim Crowley, of the Four Horseman.  The Seahawks folded after the season and Miami did not have another pro football team until the Dolphins of the American Football League, in 1966.  Incidentally, the Miami franchise was purchased by an ownership group which moved the team to Baltimore and created the first version of the Colts. 

Because of the success of these two ND men, Auburn again turned to the Fighting Irish to direct their football fortunes.  Earl Brown coached Auburn during the 1948-1950 seasons.  He was a three year end for the Irish (1936-38) under former Four Horseman Elmer Layden.  Brown also played basketball for the Irish.  His first college coaching job was as the coach of ends at Brown.  Coach Brown of Brown.  He moved over to Harvard as ends coach and Head Basketball Coach, before becoming Head Football and Basketball Coach at Dartmouth, the Merchant Marine Academy, and Canisius, before Auburn nabbed him.  Alas, Earl did not continue the Notre Dame magic at Auburn.  His records were 1-8-1, 2-4-3, and 0-10.  Despite this awful record, Brown had a major highlight.  In 1948, Auburn met Alabama for the first time since 1907.  The Tide won 55-0.  The following year, Auburn ventured down to Birmingham, on December 3rd, and pulled off a huge upset, 14-13.  Alas, that was the last time Brown won a game for Auburn.  For the 1950 season, the Tigers hired Ralph “Shug” Jordan, who remains as their greatest head coach to this day. 

By the way, Alabama was a national power during the 30’s and 40’s.  Their great coach from 1931 through 1946 was Frank Thomas (115–24–7).  Among the players he coached and influenced was Paul “Bear” Bryant.  Thomas ranks second only to Bryant for Alabama coaching victories.  Nick Saban is going to need at least five more years to pass Thomas.  At Notre Dame, Frank Thomas was a three-year QB for Rockne, being the starter in 1922, ahead of future Four Horseman, Harry Stuhldreher.

-When I enrolled at Notre Dame, in the Fall of 1962, the Michigan State Spartans were our biggest rival.  They were coached by the great Duffy Daugherty (109-69-5), still their winningest Head Coach.  Current MSU Coach, Mark Dantonio will need at least one more year to overtake the #2 man on this list.  Who is that #2 man?

As you may have guessed, it’s a Notre Dame man!  Charlie Bachman was 70-34-10 (.712) from 1933-42 and 1944-46.  Bachman was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1978, six years before Duffy.

At Notre Dame, Bachman played guard, 1914-1916, being named a second team All American in 1916.  A great athlete, the 5’11, 185 pound Bachman briefly held the World Record in the Discus throw, in 1917.  Nearly the entire 1916 ND team served in the armed forces for WWI.  Bachman was assigned to Great Lakes Naval Station and played center on their undefeated football team in 1917.  George Halas was one of his teammates.

Bachman was the Head Coach at Northwestern, Kansas State, and Florida before taking over in East Lansing.

Second trivia question:  Who did Bachman replace at MSU?  Former Four Horseman Sleepy Jim Crowley, who was 22-8-3, from 1929-1932.  Crowley left MSU to go to then powerhouse Fordham, where he would coach Vince Lombardi and the other members of the Seven Blocks of Granite.  Crowley hired Frank Leahy as his assistant during his final year in East Lansing and later rehired him at Fordham. 

Current Alabama Coach Nick Saban coached the Spartans, from 1955 through 1999.  His record was 35-24-1 (.592), fewer wins than Bachman and a lower winning percentage than both his ND predecessors.

-Walter Camp was the Father of American Football.  He wrote most of the rules which helped transform the Rugby-esque game of the 1860’s into something closely resembling the game we know today.  Camp Coached Yale to a 67-2 record from 1888-1892.  Among his best players at Yale was Amos Alonzo Stagg, named as an end on the first All American Team, in 1889.

As an aside, Stagg spent the 1891-1892 season coaching football at Springfield College, while he picked up his Masters in Physical Education.  While at Springfield, then called the Young Man’s Christian Training School, Stagg played on the first basketball team, a brand new sport created by James Naismith, a teacher trying to create an indoor winter sport for the mostly future Phys Ed teachers at the college. 

Stagg served as Head Coach of the University of Chicago from 1892 through 1932.  The list of his coaching innovations is even longer than those which came from the mind of his mentor, Camp.  Among the players that Stagg coached were Frank Hering (1893-1894) and Jesse Harper (1905). 

Hering is called the Father of Notre Dame Football.  He coached the Irish, 1896-1898, also serving as the Captain and QB in 1896.  Before Hering, our teams (and most teams in that period) did not have a full-time Head Coach.  Hering has also been called the “father” of “Mother’s Day” because he proposed the creation of this National Holiday in a speech several years before its adoption.  Hering later became a faculty member at Notre Dame and a prominent member of the local community, beginning early outreach to the those folks then called Negroes. 

Harper spent 1906-07 as Head Coach at Alma before moving on to Wabash for the 1910-1913 seasons.  At Wabash, Harper experimented with the little-used forward pass.  The forward pass was legalized and its role expanded after the Roosevelt Commission reforms of 1905.  The former Rough Rider was responsible for taking some of the roughness out of a game which was causing numerous deaths and many serious injuries. 

From 1913 through 1917, Harper served as the Head Coach at the University of Notre Dame.  His most famous pupil:  Knute Kenneth Rockne.  The forward pass, from Quarterback Gus Dorais to End Knute Rockne, was the primary weapon ND used to upset Army in 1913.  This was the game which put the tiny, Midwestern college on the national football map.  After Rockne’s graduation, he became Harper’s assistant for four years, before replacing him, in 1918.  1971, Harper was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, joining Camp, Stagg, and Rockne.

Rockne’s coaching tree is also very long. 

--The very first college football game was played between two neighboring New Jersey institutions, with Rutgers defeating Princeton, on November 6, 1869.

If ESPN had recorded that first collegiate game, we would not recognize it today……….it looked more like Rugby, with a little soccer thrown in.

From 1869 through 1904, Rutgers had NO Head Football Coaches who finished with a winning record, and only one Head Coach who reached the .500 level.

During the 1900 season, Mike Daly led the Scarlet Knights to a 4-4 record. 

Mike Daly was a starting halfback for Notre Dame, 1896-97.  He was from the home of Rutgers--New Brunswick, New Jersey.  His coach at ND was Frank Hering.


Other news