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Notre Dame Football: 5 Winningest Coaches in Fighting Irish History

Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly has surpassed Knute Rockne for the most wins by a Notre Dame head coach

With Saturday's win over Wisconsin, Brian Kelly recorded his 106th win and become the program’s all-time winningest coach. Technically. All of the Irish’s wins in 2012 and '13 were vacated because of using ineligible players so his official record is 85-39, making him the fifth-winningest coach.

Whatever. It's a major achievement in a storied program. Also, unless Irish football tanks, Kelly will officially become the program’s winningest coach in the next two to three seasons.

For now – whether he’s officially in fifth place or unofficially first – Kelly is in some esteemed company. Here are the five winningest coaches in Notre Dame history.

5. Frank Leahy

Record: 87-11-9
National championships: 5 (1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1953)

Leahy played tackle for Knute Rockne and returned to coach his alma mater in 1941. Two years later, he won the school’s first AP national championship. After serving in the Navy during the final two years of World War II, he returned as head coach in 1946 and the Irish did not lose a game for the rest of the 1940s. He also coached four Heisman Trophy winners in Angelo Bertelli, Johnny Lujack, Leon Hart, and Johnny Lattner.

4. Ara Parseghian

Record: 95-17-4
National championships: 2 (1966, 1973)

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After winning consistently at Northwestern, Parseghian was hired to resurrect a Notre Dame program that had not recorded a winning season in the past five years. He did just that, winning a national championship in his third year and another before retiring after the 1974 season. Along the way, he ushered the Irish program into the modern era.

3. Lou Holtz

Record: 100-30-2
National championships: 1 (1988)

Holtz also is the third-winningest head coach in Arkansas football history, as well as the seventh in South Carolina and eighth in NC State. In South Bend, he restored the program to national prominence, winning its most recent national championship and appearing in nine straight bowl games.

2. Knute Rockne

Record: 105-12-5
National championships: 3 (1924, 1929, 1930)

Rockne turned the Irish into a national power and revolutionized the game with the Notre Dame Box offense and embracing the forward pass. His .881 winning percentage is the best in college football history and his last two seasons were his finest, as the Irish went 19-0 and gave up a total of 106 points. Tragically, his life and career were cut short when he died in a plane crash in eastern Kansas in March 1931.

1. Brian Kelly

Record: 106-39

While Kelly has not had the success of the other coaches on this list, the Irish have played in one BCS National Championship Game in 2012, made the College Football Playoff in 2020, and been to 10 bowl games. Notre Dame also bounced back from going 4-8 in 2016 to record four straight seasons with 10 wins or more, a testament to his coaching.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.