Off-season rhetoric is a by-product of any coaching change and next spring you'll hear these and several more descriptive phrases regarding the expected improvement of the 2010 Irish, and why they're better equipped to win than were their predecessors.
And at Notre Dame…those players are generally correct. Below is a look at the last seven coaching changes over a span of 45 seasons.
- Replaced: Hugh Devore 1963
- Previous Situation: The Irish finished '63 at 2-7 under the second interim term for Devore (Devore also led the 1945 Irish to a 7-2-1 mark). Devore had recruited seven future All Americans and Kuharich left him with seven (other) future All Americans already in place. But the on field product in '63 was among the all-time worst, with just 1,980 yards of total offense and only 54 pass completions: the offense ranked 105th in the nation.
- Year One Changes: Parseghian preached conditioning and vowed to never wilt in the 4th Quarter. The '64 Irish finished 9-1 (losing as the nation's No. 1 team at USC, 20-17 in the final minute) and jumped from 105th in total offense to No. 2 overall (scoring 26 more touchdowns than the previous season's total). The rush defense improved from 74th to 2nd (future Hall of Famer Alan Page helped a bit in this regard) and held 10 opponents to 77 total points including four shut-outs. Quarterback John Huarte became Notre Dame's sixth Heisman Trophy winner while five more players received All American honors. Parseghian was named National Coach of the Year.
- Star players that emerged after the change: Page (though it was his first season); WR Jack Snow and HB Nick Eddy. Huarte won the Heisman as a senior.
- End result: A national title in both '66 and '73 and one of the greatest eras in Notre Dame history (95-17-3).
- Replaced: Ara Parseghian 1974
- Previous Situation: Notre Dame won 21 of its final 23 games under Parseghian including the 1973 national title. It ranked among the all-time plum jobs in college football history. Parseghian's final team ranked No. 4 nationally in total offense and boasted the top-ranked defense.
- Year One Changes: Devine was the "low-key" alternative to Parseghian's dictatorial style and was likewise considered a top tier recruiter (while at Missouri) though he came to Notre Dame from the Green Bay Packers. In place defensively were two of the top players in school history, Ross Browner and Steve Niehaus while Willie Fry ranked among the best defensive ends by the end of his time at the school as well as the program's best defensive back, Luther Bradley. The squad also boasted young talent in Ken McAfee, Bob Golic, and Joe Montana.
Devine's first team finished 8-3 with two defeats coming at the hands of ranked teams including No. 2 USC who beat the Irish 24-17 in South Bend. The offense, forced to replace six former offensive line starters, suffered a major lapse dropping from No. 4 to No. 71 and the defense tapered as well finishing a respectable No. 23 overall after attaining the top spot in Ara's final season.
- Star players that emerged after the change: Not necessarily applicable as Ara got the most out of his upperclassmen but Jerome Heavens led the Irish in rushing in two of his next three seasons and Al Hunter returned from suspension to pace the squad in the same category in 1976. McAfee received All America honors as a first-year starter at tight end.
- End Result: A national title in Year 3 and just one season with more than three losses (53-16-1 overall). Challenged for the mythical national title in his final season (1980) as well.
- Replaced: Dan Devine 1980
- Previous Situation: Devine's final squad faced Georgia for a shot a the national title in the Sugar Bowl and Faust inherited three returning All America selections including all-time great Bob Crable and the largest interior offensive line in program history (at the time).
The team returned starting quarterback Blair Kiel, wide receiver Joe Howard, and junior star Tony Hunter (who's college career Faust fiddled with beyond recognition with three position switches including the wildly ill-advised move to running back). Greg Bell and Phil Carter provided plenty of backfield punch entering the season (augmented by fullback Chris Smith – Brian's dad). Dave Duerson and the late Stacey Toran roamed the secondary. The pieces were in place for a huge debut season.
- Year One Changes: While Devine was stoic, Faust was seen as an exuberant leader and "true Notre Dame man." Faust's fame and goodwill reached its apex after a season-opening win over LSU vaulted the No. 4-ranked Irish to No. 1. Seven days later, Anthony Carter and Michigan humbled the Irish, 25-7 and the team lost three of its next four games en route to a 5-6 first season finish. The offense dropped from No. 15 to No. 55 overall and the rush defense from No. 8 to No. 68. The Irish lost to each of the five ranked teams they faced.
- Star players that emerged after the change: You could argue none, as the pieces were already in place and the team regressed. Phil Carter led the squad in rushing but he was successful as a freshman under Devine as well.
- End Result: The least successful tenure since Joe Kuharich in the early 60s, Faust finished 30-26-1 and lost to Air Force in four consecutive seasons.
- Replaced: Gerry Faust 1985
- Previous Situation: Faust's team ranked as epic underachievers that had dropped their last three games by an aggregate score of 104-20. Holtz famously took over a poorly-conditioned group that had to relearn how to win and compete at a level expected of Notre Dame football players.
- Year One Changes: From the world's nicest man and unfortunately, football coach, to the all-time sideline dictator and fall taskmaster. Few schools or sets of student-athletes in college football history endured a greater change of personality and practice field disposition than did the 1986 Irish.
The bland, predictable and inefficient (68th ranked) offense of 1985 gave way to a multiple-set that included the wishbone and Power-I early, but had plenty of downfield punch with Steve Beuerlein and Tim Brown in place as upperclassmen. The Irish finished No. 14 in total offense (411 yards per game) despite facing teams ranked 33, #2, #3, #8, and #17 over the course of the season.
- Star players that emerged after the change: Brown evolved from sophomore contributor to the nation's best offensive player as a junior. Mark Green developed as a starting sophomore tailback. Cedric Figaro and the late Wally Kleine became All Americans. The litany of Irish players that improved under Holtz's guidance (and position changes) over the next two seasons deserves its own column.
- End Result: A 5-6 record with five losses by a total of 14 points and one of the most memorable .500-level teams in program history. Two seasons later the squad captured its 11th and most recent national championship and Holtz finished 100-30-2 in 11 seasons including a 9-1-1 mark vs. USC and a 28-7-1 mark vs. the Big 10. Of the coaches listed in this column, only Holtz beat the rival Trojans in his first matchup. From 1988 through 1990 his squads won 15 of 18 games played vs. ranked competition.
Click here for Part II featuring Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, Charlie Weis, and final rankings of the school's best debut seasons over the last 45 years.