Notre Dame – The Cincinnati Connection Runs Very Deep

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Notre Dame hosts the Cincinnati Bearcats this Saturday at South Bend in what appears to be a closer clash than the only other time these two programs have met – an Irish 58-0 victory in 1900. However, even though Notre Dame and Cincinnati only met once on the pitch, Ireland’s connection to the Queen City runs deep and touches both the peaks and valleys of Notre Dame football history.

A SHARED CATHOLIC IDENTITY

Historically, Cincinnati is one of the most Catholic cities in the United States and, as the first major city west of the Appalachians, attracted a massive influx of predominantly Catholic immigrants from Germany, Ireland and other European countries in the decades leading up to it. to the Civil War, including my ancestors who emigrated to Cincinnati in the 1830s from southwestern Germany.

One of the ways these immigrants tried to preserve their culture and ethnic traditions was to create a parish and a school, and the Cincinnati skyline is still pierced by the spiers of these historic churches. This tradition of Catholic education also remains, as Cincinnati still ranks in the top ten US metropolises for the percentage of students enrolled in private schools according to online real estate market data. Trulia. 16.9% of Cincinnati students (approximately 38,500 students) are enrolled in one of the city’s nearly 150 private schools.

Since the early 1930s, many Catholic high schools in Cincinnati have participated in the Greater Catholic League (GCL). These high schools, such as St. Xavier, LaSalle, Moeller, and Elder, have achieved national recognition for their success on the grill and have consistently produced a pipeline of high-ranking recruits. Many of these athletes – and a coach as well – have found a natural home at Notre Dame, America’s premier Catholic university.

THE FAUST ERA

Probably the most famous connection between the Cincinnati High School football pipeline and Notre Dame is in the person of Gerry Faust, who was Notre Dame’s head coach from 1981 to 1985 after Dan Devine resigned after the 1980 season. Faust was a legend in the Greater Catholic League, having literally built Cincinnati Moeller’s football program from scratch into a national powerhouse. Under his leadership, Moeller enjoyed 7 seasons unbeaten, won 4 “national” championships and won 5 Ohio State titles.

Faust was a man of impeccable character and also had a solid reputation for developing talent, which made him attractive to university leaders. One of the main reasons he was even running for Notre Dame after Devine retired was the number of players he sent to Notre Dame de Moeller. A total of 18 of Faust’s players in Moeller would continue to play Notre Dame, most notably DL Steve niehaus, OL Steve Sylvestre, TE Tony Hunter, and of course LB Bob Crab, arguably one of the top 3-5 linebackers in Notre Dame history and still the record holder for most career tackles with 521.

Unfortunately for Notre Dame, Gerry Faust’s tenure saw the Irish fall into mediocrity. Despite strong recruiting classes that have led to talented teams, Faust has never enjoyed the same player development success with Notre Dame as with Moeller. He even admitted it – stating in a 2008 Los Angeles Times interview that “I wasn’t as hard on the kids at Notre Dame as I was on the kids at Moeller High School. I felt they would be more mature, better athletes. If I had followed the same path and been as tough and demanding as I was in Moeller High School, this might have been a different story. We have lost 16 games with seven points or less.

Many of those close-quarters losses that Faust referred to were the result of extremely inconsistent performance from week to week. Along with a victory at LSU in their opener (which propelled the Irish to No. 1 in the nation), their teams would go 3-2 against USC and beat strong teams from Michigan, Colorado, Pittsburgh and of Penn State during his tenure, yet he posted the Irishman’s first losing season since 1963 in 1981, ended his tenure with losses to the Air Force in 4 consecutive seasons and sadly lost 58-7 to Miami in his tenure. last game as head coach, leaving his ND career record at 30-26-1.

Even though the Faust era did not live up to expectations, he remains a strong ambassador for the university and is often quoted as saying, “I only had 26 miserable days at Notre Dame; that’s it. moment that we lost. Other than that I was the happiest guy I loved walking around campus, loved being there, loved being a part of Notre Dame.

COACHING CONNECTIONS AND RECONSTRUCTION OF THE PIPELINE

Lou holtz took over as head coach after Faust’s retirement and revitalized the Irish program, winning the 1988 national title and controversially finishing 2sd at Florida State in 1993 after defeating the Seminoles in the regular season. Holtz’s defensive coordinator during the 1992 and 1993 seasons was Rick minter, who will be leaving to take over as head coach of the University of Cincinnati, a position he will hold until 2003.

The high school pipeline from Cincinnati to Notre Dame began to dry up during Holtz’s tenure – with the exception of FB Marc Edwards – then the following coaches Bob davie and Tyrone Willingham did not prioritize recruiting from Cincinnati at all. In a 2005 article, the Cincinnati Applicant reported that between the late 1990s (Rocky Boïman) and mid-2000s (Kallen wade) There was almost a decade of drought in a Cincinnati-area rookie committing to Notre Dame, and between 1990 and 2005 only 5 Cincinnati players even donned gold helmets. The Applicant ancient city of St. Xavier QB Robby Schoenhoft, who was one of the nation’s top QB rookies and Notre Dame lover, but was turned off by Willingham and his team, leading him to enlist in the state of Ohio.

It may not be a coincidence, then, that these have been some of the leanest years in recent Notre Dame history, for as the Applicant points out, when Notre Dame recruits Cincinnati, it generally works well. A total of 50 players from the Greater Cincinnati area played for Notre Dame between the late 1960s and 1989 (many of whom were coached by Faust), and there were a total of 18 players from Cincinnati on national championship teams. from 1973, 1977 and 1988..

This started to change during the Charlie weis era, while Weis hired Minter as his defensive coordinator. While this hire would not work on the pitch, Minter used his connections with Cincinnati to help the Irishman land TE Kyle Rodolphe, one of the highest ranked players in the country.

Rudolph would play his final season under the direction of the head coach Brian kelly, who took over after Weis was fired after the 2009 season. Kelly came to Notre Dame from the University of Cincinnati, where he coached from 2007 to 2009 following the departure of Marc Dantonio. Kelly was the most prominent name on the college football coaching carousel, having led the Bearcats to double-digit wins in all three seasons, including an unbeaten 12-0 regular season in 2009.

While at Notre Dame, Kelly continued to rebuild the pipeline between Notre Dame and Cincinnati, both for players and coaches. In recent seasons, OL Tommy kraemer, OL Zeke Correll, and TE Michel mayer represented the Greater Cincinnati area on the Irish roster, and in 2020 and 2021, Kelly brought in the coaching staff at the University of Cincinnati to hire a corner coach. Mike mickens (who played for the Bearcats under Kelly) and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. Mickens and Freeman both grew up in Dayton, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati as well.

The pipeline also goes the other way, as Irish fans will recognize a few familiar names on the fringes of Bearcat. Former Irish WR Michael Young, Jr. is one of the QB Desmond Ridderthe main targets of, and the man who calls those assists is none other than the former Irish manager Mike Denbrock, a longtime friend of Brian Kelly.

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Ultimately, when Notre Dame and Cincinnati meet on the field on Saturday, even though the bit of grid history between the two programs is only captured in grainy photos or newspaper archives, there is plenty of history between Notre Dame and the city of Cincinnati and her hometown university outside the lines.

From coaching staff to players on the field; from heroes of the past to those who ultimately failed; from a strong sense of Catholic identity to the belief that an early Catholic education would preserve the ethnic identity of immigrants, Notre Dame and Cincinnati have much in common. And perhaps it is also appropriate that the university dedicated to the Queen of Heaven and the Queen City is such soul mates.

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