Wake Up the 'Forest'? Comparing Notre Dame and Wake Forest History

By Tom O'Toole
Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE

In its illustrious 125-year history in the sport of college football, Notre Dame has developed many legendary rivalries. Unfortunately, Saturday’s opponent, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, are not among them. Playing for just the second time (Notre Dame won 24-17 last season) many Irish fans probably wonder if the Demon Deacons even have a football history. And, as it turns out, Wake Forest’s football history does rival Notre Dame’s—in some ways anyway…

For example, Wake Forest began fielding a college football team only one year later than Notre Dame: 1888 as opposed to 1887. Also, both teams quit the sport shortly thereafter due to the toll the then violent game took on its athletes, although Notre Dame’s return (the Irish “gave up” football in 1890 and 1891) was much quicker than the Demon Deacons (who did not play from 1894-1907). However, their respective histories diverge shortly after that.

Not that the Demon Deacons didn’t have any successes. As far as players go, most long-time football fans know the name of four-time Pro Bowl QB Norm Snead and Super Bowl wide out Ricky Proehl. And all Chicago Bear fans (and many movie fans as well) know the heart-rending tale of former Deacon Brian Piccolo. Of course, these few WF football alumni can’t begin to compare to the legion of football legends who played for Notre Dame. But the glaring difference between the two schools becomes even more apparent when we look at the respective coaching records.

Comparing the records of coaches for each school who have coached more than ten games, we find that Notre Dame has only one coach (Joe Kuharich, 17-23) who finished with a losing record. Wake Forest, on the other hand, has only had three with winning records, exactly the same number of Wake Forest coaches whose first two initials were W.C. Sadly, none of their last names were “Fields.”

D.C. ‘Peahead’ Walker-ELON.EDU

And even those Deacon coaches with good records did it during an era of great college coaches, especially at Notre Dame. For example, the WF coach with the best winning percentage, Hank Garrity at 19-7-1, coached during the mid 1920s, so he was just slightly overshadowed by a guy named Knute Rockne. And the Deacon’s winningest coach, D.C. “Peahead” Walker, went a very respectable 77-51-6 from 1936-1950. Unfortunately, Frank Leahy won four National Championships and went four years without losing a game during that time, so he was a bit more revered. Of course, maybe it was the “Peahead” nickname that worked against Walker…

At this point in the article, surely some diehard Deacon fan will bring up the name of current Wake Forest head coach, Jim Grobe. In fact, the 2006 AP Coach of the Year, the same year Grobe went 11-3 and brought the Deacons to their only BCS bowl, actually does have a winning record—at this hour. But by the time most Demon Deacons read this (and weep) his 73-72 record at the Tobacco Road school will slip back to .500, courtesy of you know who.

Personally, I do hope the gracious Grobe does break ol’ Peahead’s record for most school wins—just not against the University where success is measured not by seasons with a few losses, but those with none.

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