Irish Legends: "The Master" Frank Leahy

In 1930, Knute Rockne lost his senior tackle, Frank Leahy, to a severe knee injury. While recovering from his injury, Leahy became close with Rockne. He became a student of the coaching legend, absorbing as much information possible during practices and shadowing Rockne on game days.

After his final season at Notre Dame, Rockne gave high praise to his young pupil. In reference to Leahy, Rockne said, "That boy is going to make a great coach someday." Had Rockne lived to see Leahy's success, he undoubtedly would have been proud of his boy prodigy.

Upon graduation from Notre Dame in the spring of 1931, Francis William Leahy, put his B.S. in Physical Education to use immediately, accepting a position with Georgetown as their line coach. A year later, Leahy moved to East Lansing and became the line coach for Michigan State. However, it was at Fordham University where Leahy began to make his name. Under Coach Jim Crowley, one of Notre Dame's famed four horseman, Leahy once again assumed line coaching duties in 1933. It was here that Leahy was credited with developing the greatest line to ever play, "The Seven Blocks of Granite." In the 1930s, lineman played both offensive line and defensive line. The Seven Blocks, which included such legendary names as Vince Lombardi, Alex Wojciechowicz, Ed Franco, and John Druze, dominated both sides of the ball. During Leahy's six seasons with the Rams, Fordham compiled 25 shutouts. Druze later joined Leahy as an assistant at Notre Dame and became a mentor to Heisman trophy winner Leon Hart.

In 1939, Leahy accepted his first head coaching position at then one of the weakest programs in college football, Boston College. In two short seasons, Leahy turned a group of losers into national champions, amassing a 20-2 record which concluded with a 19-13 defeat of Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl.

When Elmer Layden left Notre Dame to become commissioner of the National Football League in 1940, the university asked Leahy to return to his alma mater, this time as a head coach. While Leahy had earned recognition at Fordham and Boston College, it was his career at Notre Dame that elevated him to legendary status. His key to success was a simple one: work hard during the week and have fun on Saturdays.

Everyone that knew Leahy, described him as an emphatic perfectionist. He stressed perfect execution. In practice his teams would run the same plays over and over again, even if they ran it perfectly. In 1951, a young Johnny Lattner asked Coach Leahy why they had to run the same play 1,000 times in a row. Leahy's answer: "Because 999 isn't enough."

In his first two season as Notre Dame, Leahy went 24-3-3, including a National Championship in 1943. He implemented a new offensive system, replacing the famous "Notre Dame Box," a formation that Curly Lambeau again made famous when he brought it to the Green Bay Packers. Instead of the Notre Dame Box, Leahy preferred the T-Formation. Essentially the Notre Dame Box was a shifted variation of the T-Formation, but Leahy felt there were greater scoring options with the core T-Formation.

After the 1943 season, Leahy left Notre Dame and enrolled to the United States Navy. After two years of service in the Navy, Lieutenant Leahy returned back to the gridiron and his place on the Notre Dame sidelines. In Leahy's first season back, Notre Dame went on to an 8-0-1 record and another National Championship. The lone tie was to Army in front of 74,000 fans in New York's Yankee Stadium. That season also marked the beginning of Leahy's famous 39 game unbeaten streak, in which his Irish went 37-0-2, winning National Championships in 1946, 1947, and 1949. The team also went 9-0-1 in 1948 but after a 14-14 tie to USC, lost the AP title to the University of Michigan.

Leahy put so much time and effort into coaching, that some priests at Notre Dame became concerned with his health and suggested that he take some time off to relax. Leahy would have nothing of it and continued to coach. In 1953, his health finally caught up with him. During halftime of the Georgia Tech game, Leahy collapsed with a pancreatic attack. Leahy sent a message to his captains to rally the team and win the game for the seniors. His captains ignored the request, instead rallying the team around the ailing coach. Notre Dame went on to win the game 27-14. It would be Leahy's final season, however, as a slew of medical problems prevented him from returning to the sidelines. Those closest to Leahy suggest that he was simply burned out after 11 seasons as perhaps the highest profile coach in the country.

Historians of the game say that Leahy was a man of multiple faces. To his team, he was confident, cunning, witty, and demanding. He was a man in charge whose job was to win football games. On his own time, however, Leahy was said to be a constant worrier. He would constantly be thinking about coaching and could never give it a rest. His most entertaining personality was a problem in front of the media. Every season he would face the media and downplay his team's potential, claiming that they would be lucky to win six games that year. When posed with questions, Leahy would respond with clever, yet sonorous replies.

For example, Leahy delivered such gems as, "Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity," and responded about his team's chances by saying, "Notre Dame hopes to field a representative aggregation."

When all was said and done, Leahy put up some incredible numbers as coach of Notre Dame: Second in NCAA winning percentage (.864) only to Knute Rockne (.881). He fielded six undefeated teams, and four national champions. In addition he produced 38 All-Americans, including four Heisman trophy winners. In his thirteen years as a head coach at Boston College and Notre Dame, Leahy totaled a record of 107-13-9.

Harping on his players to execute at the highest level, Leahy would constantly shout, "Pay the price! Pay the price!." Given the success of the legendary coach, it is safe to say that his players cashed in on his belief that practice makes perfect.

In 1970, Leahy was honored as Notre Dame's second coach inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He passed away three years later at the age of 64. Top Stories