Knute Rockne: A Notre Dame Coaching Pioneer far Ahead of His Time

Knute Rockne
GBBY 45G/0384: Football Coach Knute Rockne at Practice with player Joe Savoldi, c1930. This photo was used in a collage for GBBY 81F/0382B.

Known as one of the sport’s pioneers in the early 20th century, Knute Rockne was the leader of Notre Dame football in its infant stages.

He was among the first coaches to use the forward pass and unbalanced backfield sets. But he was more than just a tactical coach.

In the Winter 2015/16 issue Coach & Player Magazine, Mike Mankoff explored how Rockne innovated the game beyond just X’s and O’s. His skills as a motivator were special and helped keep his winning ways alive.

Knute Rockne

“He was known to make up stories of sick children writing letters begging for the Irish to win,” Mankoff writes, “and even threatening to resign if the team didn’t win a particularly important game.”

Rockne was preoccupied with making Notre Dame Football well-known across the United States. He strove for attention. He wanted all eyes on him and his team, even as the Irish continued to establish themselves as a national power.

Knute Rockne at practice with players,
Football Coach Knute Rockne at practice with players, c1920s. Player Frank Leahy was added to the photo on the far left. (Courtesy of University of Notre Dame Archives)

“Winning too often is as disastrous losing too often,” Rockne said. “Both get the same results, the falling off of the public’s enthusiasm.”

Read the full story and more in the Winter 2015/16 Issue of Coach and Player Magazine available in both digital and print form here.

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