|Figure 1. Irish Coach Brian Kelly|
The Gates of Greatness at Notre Dame Stadium
There are six gates around the perimeter of Notre Dame Stadium. Five of the six are named after successful Irish coaches, leaving one gate unclaimed and available. Fans and supporters of a coach will certainly claim this gate at some point in the future. What does it take to earn a gate? And does Brian Kelly, soon to be the winningest coach in Notre Dame history, have a shot at seeing Gate E renamed the Brian Kelly Gate?
|Figure 2. Six Gates around Notre Dame Stadium|
Here is a description of the gates:
- Starting at the top or the north side of the stadium is the venerable Rockne Gate, facing the heart of Notre Dame's beautiful campus. This gate and the one directly opposite it to the south have only 3 portals. The others have 5.
- Moving clockwise around the stadium we find Gate A (aka the Dan Devine gate), in the northeast part of the stadium just north of Corbett Family Hall. This gate also honors Notre Dame’s 104 consensus All-Americans, the most of any college football program.
- Continuing clockwise, the next is Gate B (Ara Parseghian) on the southeast side. Here in this gate, all of Notre Dame’s 7 Heisman winners are honored. No school has more Heisman winners than Notre Dame.
- Gate C (Frank Leahy) is the 3-portal gate in O'Neill Hall on the south side, facing South Bend. This is considered the main entrance to the stadium for most fans. Leahy was the football program’s most prolific coach, winning 4 National championships and 4 Heisman awards during his tenure
- Gate D (Lou Holtz) is on the southwest side. Gate D, designated the national championship coaches gate, features bas relief portraits of the five Notre Dame national championship coaches – Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, Devine, and Holtz.
- Finally, Gate E (currently unnamed) is north of Duncan Student Center on the northwest side of the stadium. At the moment, Gate E is treated as the service entrance. With it's loading dock, Gate E is the preferred Gate for deliveries and load ins.
It's too early in the season to completely rule out a possible College Football Playoff berth. Such an outcome does seem like wishful thinking, but there is one thing I learned long ago--never discount the Luck of the Irish!
But let's not measure Brian Kelly nor hire the sculptor just yet. Before Coach Kelly and his staff and players can claim a life-sized statue and get a gate named in honor of their accomplishments, they must achieve what only 5 of Kelly's 30 predecessors have been able to do: win at least one National Championship.
ChampionshipHere are the championship coaches sorted first by championship count, and then in chronological order:
- Leahy (4: 1943, '46, '47, '49),
- Rockne (3: 1924, '29, '30),
- Parseghian (2: 1966, '73),
- Devine (1: 1977), and
- Holtz (1: 1988).
In terms of Coach Kelly's legacy, the greatness picture is clouded by the observation that not only has Kelly missed three chances to bring home the biggest prize (2012, 2018, 2020), but he is conspicuously the only coach with at least 50 wins who hasn't won a championship.
Here are the championship coaches in order of games won:
- Rockne (105),
- Holtz (100),
- Parseghian (95),
- Leahy (87), and
- Devine (53).
Kelly's winning rate of 72.9% looks fantastic compared to recent coaches like Bob Davie (.583), Tyrone Willingham (.583), Charlie Weis (.565), and God bless him, Gerry Faust (.535). But here is an interesting stat: the average of all 31 coaches across 133 seasons and 1,289 games is 72.8%. In reality, Kelly is only 0.1% ahead of the average.
In contrast, here are the win rates of championship coaches:
- Rockne (.881),
- Leahy (.855),
- Parseghian (.836),
- Holtz (.765), and
- Devine (.764).
Kelly's crew needs to step on the gas to break away from the middle of the pack and catch the Champions. By the way and just to put things in perspective, Rockne’s 88.1% is the best ever across all programs and throughout all time.
Another measure of greatness is Heisman trophy winners. In a 3-way tie for first with Oklahoma and The Ohio State, Notre Dame has 7 of those. However, only 4 of 31 Irish coaches produced at least one Heisman winner. One of those coaches (Terry Brennan) did not win a National Championship, and 2 (The Rock and Dan Devine) won one or more championships without a singled-out "star" player.
Here are selected coaches in chronological order showing the Heisman count:
- Rockne (0),
- Leahy (4: Bartelli '43, Lujack '47, Hart '49, Lattner '53),
- Brennan (1: Hornung '56),
- Parseghian (1: Huarte '64),
- Devine (0), and
- Holtz (1: Brown).
There are certainly other measures of greatness besides the three highlighted above: a sustained high win rate, Heisman winner production, and the elusive National Championship. Other meaningful measures of coaching greatness include:
· Consensus All-Americans. Notre Dame leads the pack in this category with 104 ahead of The Ohio State (90) and Michigan (83).
· Recruiting. Notre Dame does very well in this area, but still has trouble competing with powerhouse programs like Alabama. Clemson, and Oklahoma for 5-star recruits. Gerry Faust set consecutive records for recruiting in 1980 and 81 but wasn’t able to get results with that talent. Today, talented high school players look at Notre Dame’s recent performance in the big games under Kelly and conclude that they have a better chance of winning the championship at a place like ‘Bama. They are not wrong, for now, but: (a) Alabama is not invincible, and (b) Notre Dame is cable of attracting and retaining top talent.
· Academic All-Americans. Notre Dame now stands second all-time with 238 Academic All-Americans, trailing only Nebraska's 314, but well ahead of third-place MIT's 220;
· Player success. Players who go on to successful professional careers. 520 NFL Draft picks are the most for any program ever; and
· Coaching success. Assistant coaches under Kelly have gone on to successful head coaching careers.
Kelly excels in these other measures largely because of his skill and experience, but let's be honest: the lore of Notre Dame itself is a powerful draw. Other coaches at Notre Dame with a tenure of at least 5 years have all done well in the other measures. In other words, being excellent is not good enough. If we are ever to have a Brian Kelly Gate at Notre Dame Stadium, there is one thing and one thing only that will do...
…or Clemson, Oklahoma, The Ohio State—whatever it takes to bring home that biggest trophy.
Statistics of Notre Dame Head Coaches
Assistant ND football coaches who go on to successful coaching careers.
Players in the NFL (520)
Consensus All-Americans (104)
Heisman History (7)
Academic All-Americans (238)
Recruiting success compared
The Gates at Notre Dame Stadium
Brian Kelly knows he has to win a championship to secure his legacy. "I knew it coming in," he said.