By: Phil Houk of Fighting Irish Preview
Renowned for hard work, attention to detail and innovation, Frank Leahy is a football coaching legend. He had played for Rockne from 1928-1930 and learned much about the game from him. But Before returning to ND to Coach in 1941, he had been a successful assistant coach and had a 2-year stint as the Head Coach at Boston College.
Before his days as a Head Coach, Frank Leahy had enjoyed great success as the offensive line Coach at Fordham, where he was responsible for heading up the famous line there that became known as “the seven blocks of granite”. Among the great players on that line was a young man by the name of Vince Lombardi.
In 1939, Leahy was hired for his first ever head Coaching job at Boston College. There he led the Eagles to a 9-2 record in his first season and an undefeated 11-0 in 1940. Boston College was of course very happy with their young coach and after the ’40 season they locked him up with a generous a 5-year contract. Or so they thought.
On February 4, 1941 Notre Dame head Coach, Elmer Layden, one of the Four Horseman, resigned to take the job as Commissioner of the fledgling National Football League. Layden who won a lot of football games, but never quite emerged from the shadow of Rockne, left ND with a 7-year record of 47-13-3.
Immediately the wheels to find a successor at Notre Dame started to turn and eventually the focus landed on Leahy, and it was a job that Leahy wanted badly. Returning to his alma mater and the program that his mentor had built was an irresistible combination. But there was the matter of the contract which he had just recently signed. The facts get a little murky here, but Leahy contended that when he had signed his extension he was promised that if the Notre Dame job ever opened up he would be released.
But Boston College balked at giving him his release, perhaps in hopes that they could convince him to stay. Trying to find a graceful way out, Leahy pleaded his case to the Mayor of Boston and then the Governor of Massachusetts but without success. Finally the Coach forced the University’s hand by cleverly using the Boston media to corner BC. By Mid February 1941, Frank Leahy had his dream job and was on his way to South Bend.
Many around BC were not pleased that the coach who had just signed a 5 year extension, left town just a few days later. In fact, some have said that the sudden change at the head of their program set BC football back for years.
Indeed, Boston College had lost one of the most brilliant football minds in history, and Notre Dame had found a worthy successor to the legend of Knute Rockne. And the rest is college football history.
Frank Leahy, who retired from coaching at the age of 45, is second only to Rockne in all-time winning percentage among major college football coaches. He won 4 National Championship in his 11 seasons in South Bend, and will forever be identified with the Blue and Gold. But he started his brilliant head coaching career and earned a chance at his dream job as the head football coach at Boston College.