College Football: The Mount Rushmore of head coaches

Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /
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Knute Rockne
Knute Rockne, famed Notre Dame football coach, poses with his football team. (Photo by Sports Studio Photos/Getty Images) /

Knute Rockne

Notre Dame (1918-30)

The man, the myth, the legend.

The game’s first truly great coach was a larger than life character who took a small, marginalized Midwestern Catholic school and turned it into a uniquely American institution.

First as a player for Notre Dame from 1910 to 1913, he soon became the coach in 1918 and would lead the Irish to a 105-12-5 record along with three national championships and five perfect seasons. His .881 winning percentage still stands as the best in FBS history.

Knute Rockne was a master marketer, who when turned down for games by schools in his region, took his team on the road and played everywhere from Yankee Stadium in New York to the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

He understood the power of the media, getting press in the newspapers and taking advantage of the emerging medium of radio to garner a national following. His 1924 team led by the backfield of “The Four Horsemen” were forever immortalized after their photograph was taken for a publicity shoot.

Between winning and the subsequent publicity, he helped to popularize the sport across the country.

Rockne’s most famous moment would come in 1928 when at halftime in a tied game versus Army, he implored his team to “Win one for the Gipper” according to the (likely apocryphal) last words of George Gipp, who was one of the best players in his early tenure. This scene would later be given the Hollywood treatment when future President Ronald Reagan played the role of Gipp in Knute Rockne, All American.

Tragically, Knute Rockne would die in a plane crash over Kansas in 1931.