The college football world was caught by surprise this week when Bob Stoops announced he was retiring from the University of Oklahoma after an outstanding 18-year run which featured a 190-48 record (.798 winning percentage), 11 Associated Press Top 10 finishes, the 2000 national title and three other title-game appearances.
For Notre Dame followers, Stoops’ reign evokes a memory of what might have been the Fighting Irish football team’s single most impressive victory in the 21st century, the 30-13 triumph at Norman on Oct. 27, 2012. Although Notre Dame was ranked No. 5 coming into the game while Oklahoma was No. 8, the Sooners were as much as an 11- to 12-point favorite, partly because they held a glittering 79-4 record at home under Stoops.
The Irish victory legitimatized them nationally as a bona fide national title contender that year, and they moved to No. 1 before losing 42-14 to Alabama in the BCS Championship.
Notre Dame also defeated Stoops’ Sooners 34-30 in his first season at Oklahoma in 1999, even though head coach Bob Davie’s Irish would finish 5-7 that year. The third time became the charm for Stoops when OU won at Notre Dame 35-21 in 2013.
Still, it’s always noteworthy to post a winning record (2-1) against someone who will be remembered as one of the game’s all-time great coaches.
Posting a record above .500 against such figures is not the norm when you’ve faced them several times. For example, the Irish were 4-5 versus Michigan Lloyd’s Carr, 2-4 versus Florida State’s Bobby Bowden and 6-9 against Penn State’s Joe Paterno.
Going back farther, Notre Dame was 6-8-2 and 3-8-1 against the USC tandem of John McKay and John Robinson, respectively. It is currently 0-4 against Alabama’s Nick Saban (three of the losses while he was at Michigan State) — just like it was 0-4 against Northwestern’s Ara Parseghian from 1959-62 before Parseghian was hired by the Irish.
That prompted us to look at what were Notre Dame’s most impressive football records against college football coaching icons it has faced in more than the three meetings it had against Stoops. Here’s our top 5.
5. Earl “Red” Blaik (Army) — 4-3-2
Like Stoops at OU, Blaik coached 18 years (1941-58) at West Point and he had eight AP Top 10 finishes, and two others at No. 11. His 1944 and 1945 juggernauts captured national titles and posted 59-0 and 48-0 wins versus the Irish, the former the worst ever beating administered on a Notre Dame team.
In the nine games played between the two, both teams were ranked each time, with Notre Dame never lower than No. 12. Blaik ended his final season unbeaten when his No. 3 team in 1958 won at No. 4 Notre Dame, 14-2.
4. Bo Schembechler (Michigan) — 6-4
In his 21 seasons at Michigan from 1969-89, Schembechler never won a national title, but his .796 winning percentage is right there with Stoops’ .798.
Notre Dame and the Wolverines met 10 times from 1978-89, and three straight triumphs against Michigan by Lou Holtz’s Irish teams from 1987-89 sealed the winning mark. Dan Devine was 2-1 versus Schembechler, while Gerry Faust was 1-2.
3. Howard Jones (Iowa, USC) — 8-7-1
Before he and Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne began the famed series between the two schools in 1926, Jones’ Hawkeyes ended an Irish 22-game unbeaten streak with a 10-7 victory in 1921. It was Rockne’s lone defeat in a 40-game stretch from 1918-22.
Rockne was 4-2 against Jones, who would win 75.1 percent of his games at USC from 1925-40 while capturing or sharing four national titles.
2. Bud Wilkinson (Oklahoma) — 5-1
The three-time national title coach for the Sooners won 82.6 percent of his games and finished in the AP 13 of his 17 seasons from 1947-63. He also handed the 1956 Irish that finished 2-8 their worst defeat ever in Notre Dame Stadium (40-0).
Overall, though, Notre Dame won 83.3 percent of its games against Wilkinson, highlighted by snapping the Sooner’s NCAA record 47-game winning streak in 1957 (7-0) at Norman as an 18-point underdog. Head coach Joe Kuharich’s maligned Irish teams also vanquished OU in 1961 (19-6) and 1962 (13-7).
1. Bear Bryant (Alabama) — 4-0
Venerated as maybe the greatest college football coach of all time, Bryant lamented that his tombstone might read he never beat the Fighting Irish. Particularly noteworthy is if you take away the Notre Dame losses, Alabama was 41-3 in the four seasons the Irish defeated them.
Notre Dame defeated 11-0, No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide teams in the 1973 Sugar Bowl (24-23) and 1975 Orange Bowl (13-11), the former to capture the national title, and also won at home in 1976 (21-18).
“I don’t think I’ll be around for the four-pointer,” said Bryant after the 1976 contest, looking ahead to the 1980 matchup.
The Irish won that won too (7-0), preventing the Crimson Tide from playing Georgia in the Sugar Bowl as the reigning two-time national champ.