By: Phil Houk of Fighting Irish Preview
Notre Dame has had 12 head coaches in the history of the football program who lasted for 5 or more years. None lasted more than the 13 seasons Rockne headed things up, but Brian Kelly is now on the verge of a couple of milestones as spring practice begins for his 12th season at the helm: longevity and wins.
Kelly’s 11 seasons ties him with Ara Parseghian (1964-74) and Lou Holtz (1986-96). Coaching this season, he will break that tie with only the legendary Rockne ahead of him. If Kelly finishes out his current contract, set to end in 2024, he will have surpassed Rockne’s 94 year rein for the longest tenure at ND.
Of course, any coach’s success is measured in wins and sometime during the 2021 season Kelly is likely to become the all-time winningest head football coach in ND history. Rockne currently holds that title at 105, and Kelly is at 100 victories, which ties him with Holtz. Parseghian is next at 95, and Frank Leahy (1941-43, 46-53) stands at 87 victories.
Other notable win totals include Dan Devine (1975-80) at 53, and Elmer Layden (1934-40) at 47.
In the category of win percentage Kelly fairs well but is not among the top 8 Notre Dame coaches with five or more seasons at ND. Kelly checks in with a .730-win percentage. He is bettered by Rockne (.881), Jesse Harper (1913-17,.863), Leahy (.855), Parseghian (.836), Layden (.770), Holtz (.765) and Dan Devine (.764).
In many record books, which generally include only coaches at programs considered “major”, and with 10 or more seasons, Rockne and Leahy are the top two overall in win percentage, all time among all teams. Now THAT is “rare air”!
After Kelly, the four other “five season or more” coaches are, Terry Brennan (1954-58, .640), Bob Davie (1997-2001, .583) Charlie Weis (2005-2009, .565) and Gerry Faust (1981-1985, .535).
With an overall record in 30 seasons of 273-96-2 at Grand Valley St., Central Michigan, Cincinnati and ND, Kelly is the overall winningest active coach in major college football. A record he should continue to extend as long as he is active.
Interestingly, another coach active in the State of Indiana is the overall winningest active coach at all levels of college football. Kevin Donley of the University of St. Francis (NAIA, Fort Wayne) has won 335 games in a 41-year career. Donley ranks 6th all-time among all coaches in total wins in the history of college football. Donley is 69 years old.
Considering Kelly’s current age of 59, It is interesting to note among the various successful Notre Dame coaches, their own ages in their last year at Notre Dame. Rockne’s career was tragically cut short by a plane crash at the age of 43, Leahy retired at the age of 45, Parseghian at 51, Devine at 56 and Holtz at 59.
When Kelly turns 60 next October 25, he will become the oldest active head Coach in Notre Dame football history, a record he currently shares with Holtz.
Brian Kelly won championships while at Grand Valley St. in 2002 and 2003, but of course he has failed to break through that barrier at Notre Dame. However, due to his longevity, and total wins Kelly will soon own a significant portion of the “rare air” of Notre Dame head coach history.