During his six-year run as Notre Dame’s head coach from 1975-80, Dan Devine was often labeled bland, eccentric, an absent-minded professor … and even he referred to himself as “an odd duck.”
In retrospect decades later, he was good enough at his craft to be immortalized with a statue outside Notre Dame, joining fellow Notre Dame national title coaches Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz. Just like with the previous coaches, the sculpture was done by Jerry McKenna, and it will be unveiled and dedicated the Friday before hosting the Air Force Academy Oct. 8.
“Leahy’s Lads” dedicated the statue of their coach in 1997 on the east end of the stadium and it became a popular attraction. Parseghian (2007) and Holtz (2008) had their own statues dedicated in back-to-back years, and finally Rockne — who already had the Rockne Memorial on campus opened in 1940 — was added in 2009.
The problem was that the sculptures of Parseghian and Holtz were inside the stadium and not accessible to view until last year, when they were moved outside, set apart and honored with their own gates.
There are five entry gates for the public — A, B, C, D and E — plus the north entrance for the players near the tunnel. The tunnel entrance has Rockne, who previously had been on the southeast corner of Notre Dame Stadium.
On the opposite end of the stadium from Rockne, the south entrance (Gate C) is Leahy. That’s a fitting theme because Rockne and Leahy were the two cornerstones of Notre Dame’s rise to national prominence and dominance in the 1920s and 1940s. The two coaches combined to record 11 unbeaten seasons and seven consensus national titles, and they are No. 1 (Rockne) and No. 2 (Leahy) in all-time NCAA winning percentage.
Meanwhile, the two “revivers,” Parseghian and Holtz, were removed from the stadium’s interior.
At Gate B (the southeast corner) is Parseghian, who returned the Irish glory from 1964-74 with two consensus national titles (1966 and 1973), a third that was shared (1964) and eight AP top-five finishes in 11 years.
At Gate D (southwest corner) is Holtz, who like Leahy and Parseghian had an 11-year stint (1986-96) and likewise restored the luster to a program that had hit a malaise. The 23-game winning streak from 1988-89 is a school record, and popular opinion among Irish fandom is that Holtz’s Irish should have been awarded a second national title either in 1989 (12-1 after beating No. 1 Colorado in the Orange Bowl) or 1993 (11-1, including a November win versus eventual national champ Florida State).
Gate A (northeast corner) is Dan Devine Gate — but had lacked a statue to complement it. He had the thankless task of succeeding Parseghian, but while facing some of the nation’s most difficult schedules — including the top-ranked one in 1978 — Devine was 53-16-1 (.764) and captured a consensus national title in 1977. Overshadowed and sandwiched between the charismatic Parseghian and the dynamic, witty Holtz, Devine quietly left a legacy that is just now being appreciated.
That leaves only Gate E, which is not named after anyone. Count on the next Notre Dame coach who wins a national title to be immortalized there.
Tomorrow: Dan Devine’s Notre Dame achievements.