The ND Football 'Living Head Coaches Club': An Exclusive Group, But Bigger Than You Might Think.
Since Ara Parseghian passed in 2017, I've been thinking about all the living ND head coaches. Well, pandemics apparently give you a bit of extra time. So finally, here is the list along with some interesting background.
Brian Kelly 2010-present.
Brian Kelly was hired at the age of 48, and is now 58. He has compiled a win loss record of 92- 37 at ND, including 2 undefeated regular seasons in 2012 and 2018. Since a disastrous 4-8 finish in 2016, he has guided the Irish to an impressive three year mark of 33-6
Kelly won 3 NCAA Division II National Championships at Grand Valley State, and then climbed the ladder to ND after successful stints at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. He coached his last team at Cincinnati to a 12-0 regular season.
Kelly’s 92 wins makes him the 4th most winningest Coach in ND history behind Rockne (105), Holtz (100) and Parseghian (95). His current contract runs through 2021, an additional two year extension is said to be in the works.
Charlie Weis 2005-2009.
Charlie Weis is now 64, he was hired at the age of 49 after a successful career as an NFL assistant. At ND he compiled a record of 35-27. In his first season, he reached his high-water mark at ND with a 31-34 last second loss to number 1, USC. Soon after that game, ND signed him to an unprecedented 10-year contract.
Weis's teams never lived up to the initial hype of the first few months of his tenure. He was fired after posting a 6-6 in his fifth season. He then went back to the NFL for a year with the Kansas City Chiefs, then spent 1 year as Will Muschamp’s offensive coordinator at Florida and then took over the head job for 3 years at Kansas. He was fired 4 games into the 2014 season there after compiling a 6-22 record.
Weis was an alumnus of Notre Dame, having graduated in 1978. While a student he was a outspoken fan of the football team and once placed a call to University President, Father Theodore Hesburgh’s office the morning after a disappointing loss. Father Ted unexpectedly picked up the phone and soon Weis was sitting in the great man’s office. Weis reports having received a “humbling” lecture about how his opinion of the football team really wasn’t particularly important.
The reported cost to buy out Weis’s 10-year contract was $19 million, indeed Weis received seven figure annual payments from the university for six years after he was fired.
Kent Baer 2004,
Now 69, Kent Baer is one of two “asterisk” coaches on this list. At the age of 56, he served as interim head coach for one game after the firing of Ty Willingham, a 38-21 loss to Oregon State in the Insight Bowl.
After Notre Dame, Baer followed Willingham to Washington for 3 seasons followed by jobs at San Jose State, Colorado, and UNLV, all in defensive assistant roles. Still active as a coach, since 2018 he has served as the defensive coordinator for Montana.
Baer holds the distinction of having served as interim head coach in bowl games twice in his career. In 2012 while at San Jose State he served as interim for the Military Bowl against Bowling Green, when head coach Mike Macintyre left for Colorado. In that game Baer coached his team to a win 29-21. Similar to what happened at Notre Dame, Baer then left San Jose State and joined MacIntyre’s Colorado staff.
Ty Willingham 2002-2004.
Now 66, Tyrone Willingham was hired at the age of 48, after compiling a 44-36-1 record at Stanford. At ND he was 21-15.
He started his first season in South Bend at 8-0 and had the Irish ranked sixth in the nation after a 34-24 win at Florida State. The Irish lost 3 of their last five however, including a 28-6 loss to North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl. NC State that day was led by future NFL star quarterback, Philip Rivers.
Willingham followed up his initial 11-3 record with mediocre records of 5-7 and 6-6. He was fired after the 2004 season, but was hired a few days later by Washington. Interestingly, one of his first opponents while coaching at Washington was at home against Notre Dame, a game won by the Irish 36-17.
Willingham was fired after 4 seasons at Washington with an overall record there of 11-37.
At the age of 56 in 2010, Willingham announced he was retired from coaching. In 2011 he served as a volunteer golf coach at Stanford and in 2014 he served as a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
George O’Leary 2001
Now, 73, George O’Leary is the other “asterisk” coach on this list. O’Leary was fired 5 days after being hired in December of 2001 when inaccuracies on his resume came to light. He never coached a game in South Bend. At the time he was hired O’Leary was 54 years old and had successfully led the program at Georgia Tech for 8 seasons posting a overall record there of 52-33.
I t was learned soon after he was introduced as Bob Davie’s successor that two items on his resume were inaccurate. These inaccuracies included a statement that O'Leary had been a monogram winner in college and also that he had earned a master’s degree. O'Leary came clean on the resume padding, and he offered to resign. That offer was accepted by ND athletic director Kevin White.
O’Leary spent the next few years in the NFL as a defensive line coach before being tabbed by Central Florida to serve as head coach there. At UCF, O’Leary coached 12 seasons,and won 6 conference titles. In 2013 UCF went 12-1, notched a victory in the Fiesta Bowl and was awarded a final #10 AP poll ranking. After a 0-8 start in 2015, he retired.
Bob Davie 1997-2001
Now 65, Bob Davie was hired at the age of 42 after serving 3 seasons as Lou Holtz’s defensive coordinator. At ND he compiled a 35-25 record. His teams were 0-3 in Bowl games.
After success as a defensive coordinator at Texas A & M where his defenses had impressed Lou Holtz in the ’92 and ’93 season Cotton Bowls (both games won by the Irish), Lou Holtz lured Davie to South Bend to run his defenses. Over the next 3 seasons ND’s defenses were excellent and in 1995 when Holtz missed a game because of a neck surgery, Davie took over as interim head coach and the Irish coasted to a 41-0 win over Vanderbilt. Davie also took over on the sideline for a few other games as Holtz coached from the press box while recovering. Those factors gave Davie the inside track when Holtz retired from ND.
Inconsistency marked Davie’s tenure in South Bend and a 41-9 loss in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl to Oregon State followed up by a 5-6 campaign in his 5th season sealed his fate. Fired after the 2001 season, Davie went on to work as a analyst on ESPN and ABC before returning to coaching at New Mexico in 2012. Last year he was slated to return with his team to South Bend but was hospitalized with heart problems after his season opener and missed the game.
Davie retired from his job at New Mexico after the 2019 season. In 8 years at New Mexico, he posted a 35-64 record.
Lou Holtz 1986-1996.
Lou Holtz is now 83, he was hired at the age of 49 after successful stints at several schools including Arkansas and NC State. At ND he compiled a 100-30-2 record, and won the 1988 National Championship with a 34-21 victory over West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
Few coaches in ND history have endeared themselves to the faithful like Lou. Holtz can be inspiring in front of a crowd, he is folksy, witty, and loyal to Notre Dame and its traditions. He also sparked a rapid turn around in ND football fortunes when he took over from Gerry Faust in 1986. In his first game as head coach, despite a 23-24 loss to third ranked Michigan, fans walked away with a sense that Irish football fortunes were on a fast ascent.
Two years later the Irish were a perfect 12-0 and won it all. From 1988-1993, the Irish went 64-9.
After leaving ND, Holtz took a couple of years off to work in television. He then returned to coaching in 1999 at South Carolina. After an initial 0-11 season, he took the Gamecock program to respectability and won the Outback Bowl in 2000 and 2001. He retired from coaching in 2004 after posting an overall 33-37 record at South Carolina.
Lou continues to be a popular public speaker and makes frequent media appearances and appearances at ND. He has even dabbled in politics, in 2009 he nearly entered the Republican primary for a congressional seat in Florida.
Gerry Faust 1981-1985.
Gerry Faust is now 84, he was hired at the age of 45 after a very successful career at Cincinnati Moeller High School. At ND he complied at 30-26-1 record. He won his first game over LSU 27-9 and had the Irish ranked number 1. The Irish proceeded to lose 4 of their next 5 and Faust never regained widespread confidence among the Fighting Irish fan base. The best records he could muster were a a pair of 7-5 seasons in 1983 and 1984. In 1983, the Irish capped off the season with at 19-18 win over Doug Flutie’s Boston College Eagles in the Liberty Bowl.
In the opinion of one of his star players, tight end, Tony Hunter who had played for Faust at both Moeller and ND, Faust's difficulties at ND may have been due to, ”the tough schedules we played.” Particularly in his final season, 1985, the schedule was stacked, with four top 10 opponents and another ranked in the top 20. ND opponents that year finished with a combined winning percentage of .701, the second highest in NCAA history.
Shortly after being fired from Notre Dame, Faust took over the head job at Akron University, a team that was transitioning to Division 1 status. In 8 seasons leading the Zips, Faust posted a 43-53-3 record. Just like at Notre Dame, his teams never won more than 7 games in a season.
Despite his lack of success at ND, Faust has never wavered in his love for the University. In a 2008 interview with the Las Angeles Times he said, “I had only 26 miserable days at Notre Dame: that’s when we lost. Other than that, I was the happiest guy in the world. I loved walking on the campus, loved being there, loved being a part of Notre Dame.”
Terry Brennan 1954-1958.
Terry Brennan is now 91, and resides in Wilmette, Illinois. He accepted the ND job at the tender age of 25. When hired he was asked if he thought he was too young for the job. His reply, “Oh, I don’t know. I’ll be 26 in a few months.” He succeeded the legendary Frank Leahy, whose shadow loomed large. In five seasons at ND he compiled a record of 32-18.
Brennan had had a successful career at ND as a running back from 1945-1948, scoring an impressive 21 touchdowns. After graduation he passed on pro football and moved to Chicago where he became a high school football coach. He also attended DePaul University where he earned a law degree. As a high school coach he won three straight city championships. In 1953 Leahy offered him the job as head coach of his freshman team, after one season, Brennan’s meteoric rise continued. Leahy retired, and ND President Theodore Hesburgh offered the top job to Brennan.
Brennan’s tenure in South Bend was, except for one season, very good. 9-1 in 1954 and 8-2 in 1954 culminated in top 5 rankings. But the wheels fell off with a 2-8 record in 1956, a season which was somewhat more palatable because Paul Hornung managed to win the Heisman Trophy.
In 1957 Brennan masterminded a 7-0 win at Oklahoma that ended the Sooners all time record 47-game winning streak, but Brennan never quite recovered from the 1956 season. A mediocre 6-4 finish in 1958 sealed his fate.
The Final Tally
So there you have it, the Notre Dame football 'Living Head Coaches Club' is made up of 9 men. Present day average age: 72, average age when hired: 46. Terry Brennan is the oldest member and was the youngest when hired, by wide margins. Total number of games coached by these men at ND: 527. Combined record: 345 wins, 180 losses and 2 ties.