Book's name will be firmly etched into history as the school's winningest quarterback
What do Joe Montana, Brady Quinn, Ron Powlus, Tony Rice, and Rick Mirer all have in common?
None of them can lay claim to being the winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history.
In 134 years of football, no Notre Dame quarterback has more wins to his name than the 30 which belong to Ian Book. That achievement, given the names and storied legacies of previous signal-callers, is one tremendous feat.
And yet, that's hardly the first value that those in and around Notre Dame's program will point out.
"His leadership has been outstanding," Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly said before the 2020 season. "It was really good last year. It's even better now because I think he's developed a single-minded focus in terms of what he wants this team to accomplish."
Book's win total isn't the only distinction that the graduate student signal-caller earned in his third season as the Irish's primary starter. He also won the 2020 Pop Warner National College Football Award — which "honors a college football player in his final year of eligibility who has made a difference on the field, in the classroom and in the community, serving as a role model to young athletes."
A third-team All-ACC selection by the conference, Book also was named a finalist for the Manning Award, a semifinalist for the Maxwell, Davey O'Brien, and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm awards while finishing top-10 in Heisman voting.
Perhaps even more impressive, given the list of high-impact names who have preceded him, is that Book — along with fellow graduate student Robert Hainsey — joined some exclusive company when the two were picked to serve as captains for the 2020 season. With both having also served as captains in 2019, the pair became just the 23rd and 24th Notre Dame players ever to serve more than one season as a captain.
"I think everything he does is so intentional on a day-to-day basis," Kelly added. "He's not distracted by the noise of the position as a leader and quarterback at Notre Dame. He's so much more comfortable with being in the position that he's in more than anything else."
Not only has Book's continued growth caught the attention of those within the program, but also those who have developed a reputation for evaluating and developing talent at the NFL ranks. That group includes Tony Dungy, a 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee who has a pair of Super Bowl wins to his credit, Super Bowl XIII as a player with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowl XLI as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
"You know, it's funny. I didn't know much about Ian Book, I only saw Notre Dame highlights," Dungy said in December, in the midst of his first season as a game analyst alongside Mike Tirico on NBC's broadcast team for Notre Dame football. "So as we're getting ready for the opener, I watched and I said, 'Boy, this guy has a lot of the skills that NFL people want. He's accurate. He's got mobility. He takes care of the football. He does a lot of good things.'
"Then I kind of got the vibe around there that everybody — fans and everyone else and analysts — [believes that] he's a good player, he's OK, but there's something a little bit missing," Dungy continued. "And then you just watch him play. And you watch him make play after play after play — maybe not the highlight reel play — but you say, 'Wow, that was a big play, just turning that loss into a two-yard gain, throwing the ball away at the right time.' He grows on you. And he's really grown on this team, the players believe in him. And he is making the plays that help you win games."
And win games he did, especially at home. Fittingly, he clinched his record-breaking 30th win on Dec. 5 in a 45-21 win over Syracuse in his final game inside Notre Dame Stadium — eclipsing 29-game winners Quinn, Powlus, and Tom Clements — a building inside which he never lost, while posting a program record-tying 15 home wins as a starter.
Statistically, Book was a model of consistency when he took the field, as he amassed 72 touchdowns with just 20 interceptions across his 47 games played from 2017 to 2020. Book completed at least 60 percent of his passes in each of the four seasons and averaged 275.8 total yards of offense per game during his final two seasons as a starter.
Book credits a significant portion of his progression as a leader and quarterback to offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. A former Notre Dame quarterback himself, Rees is quite familiar with Book's path, having played in 45 games (30 starts) from 2010 to 2013 before taking a job as the Irish's quarterbacks coach in 2017 and accepting a promotion to offensive coordinator in January 2020.
"I'd go into [Rees'] office every day to do a meeting about football and we'll get to talking about life," Book said in May. "I consider him a best friend, and at the same time, a coach. He knows how to switch from being a friend to coach and, 'Alright, it's meeting time.' He'll get on me and five seconds later we're fine."
Many elements of Book's growth have been made manifest throughout the ups and downs of his time donning the blue and gold, with the number 12 on his back and the ND monogram on his chest. That's not to say that Book's winning presence has gone unnoticed, though. Kelly sees that quite clearly, just as he predicted that "the best version of Ian Book" would be on full display this fall.
"(Ian)'s a winner," Kelly said after the 2021 Rose Bowl Game, the last of Book's storied career. "He's won more games than any Notre Dame quarterback in history.
"He's a winner. End of discussion."
A fitting way for a head coach to remember his quarterback whose final chapter has come to a close.
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.