Biography for Knute Rockne
Never involved with a losing team, Knute Rockne coached football at Notre Dame, Indiana from 1918 to 1931, amassing the highest all-time winning percentage of any college or professional football coach while transforming Notre Dame into one of the strongest football programs in the nation. His charisma and witty personality made him a national celebrity as football expanded in popularity following World War I. Born on March 4, 1888 in Voss, Norway to Lars Knutson Rockne and Martha (Gjermo) Rockne, Knute immigrated to America with his mother and two sisters in 1893 after his father won first prize in the carriage competition at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition that year. They settled in the Logan Square section of Chicago, and Knute attended Chicago's North West Division High School, playing varsity football and running track. Although successful as a pole-vaulter and half-miler, Rockne devoted too much time to athletics and struggled to finish high school. Between 1905 and 1910, he worked as a night clerk in a Chicago post office to earn money for college. The small, wiry youth read books constantly and maintained excellent physical condition by entering club track meets. Two track friends persuaded Rockne to enter Notre Dame College, where they believed their budgets could stretch farther than at any other university. Although he passed the difficult entrance exam, Rockne was too small as a freshman to earn a spot on the varsity team. But he became the regular end for the Fighting Irish in 1911, 1912, and 1913, helping the team compile an impressive 20-0-2 record, including two undefeated seasons. In a game against Army, Irish quarterback Charles "Gus" Dorais threw Rockne the first forward pass thrown as a primary offensive weapon in football history. During his senior season in 1913, Rockne captained the team and made Walter Camp's All-American third team squad at end. The multitalented Rockne participated in several endeavors outside of football while in college at Notre Dame. For the track team, he took part in the half-mile, long jump, and shot put while also setting the Fighting Irish pole vault record. As a senior, he edited the yearbook, played the flute, and served as a comedian with the Notre Dame Players Association. While working as a janitor and waiting on tables, Rockne also boxed for pocket money at local clubs in South Bend, Indiana. He majored in chemistry and graduated magna cum laude in 1914 with a four-year "A" average and a bachelor's degree in pharmacy. That same year, he married Bonnie Gwendoline Skiles; they later had three children. After graduation, Rockne served as a chemistry instructor, head track coach, and assistant football coach under Jesse Harper at Notre Dame for four years. On Sundays, he played professional football for the Massillon Tigers, being outplayed at end on one occasion by the legendary Jim Thorpe. When Harper retired in 1917, Rockne assumed the Notre Dame head football coach and athletic director positions. As coach, he believed that coaching his players through pep talks and psychological manipulation could earn more wins than hours on the practice field. He designed his offensive strategy around highly mobile, swift-attacking teams, such as the legendary "Four Horsemen," who blocked lightly to open plays quickly. As head coach, Rockne improved the competitiveness of Notre Dame's schedule by adding powerhouse teams from across the nation to the regular season. He put together several notable seasons, including winning a game for the "Gipper" against Army in 1928 to honor George Gipp, a former Fighting Irish halfback who died of pneumonia in 1920. Nicknamed the "Father of Coaches" by the NCAA News in 1984, Rockne placed 18 of his former players or coaches in coaching positions at both major and minor schools by 1934. As a winning football coach, Rockne is unparalleled in both college and professional football history. His overall record, 105-12-5, or a .881 winning percentage, has never been matched by any coach. Rockne guided six Notre Dame national championship squads, five perfect record teams, 20 All-Americans, and one Rose Bowl winner. He was only halfway through his coaching career when he died prematurely at age 43. Besides coaching football, Rockne was a prolific writer. He wrote three books, Coaching—The Way of the Winner (1925), The Four Winners (a 1925 novel), and The Autobiography of Knute K. Rockne (1931). He also penned numerous magazine and syndicated newspaper articles, including a daily column for Hearst newspapers at the astronomical sum of $75,000 a year. A charismatic figure known for inspirational talks, Rockne gave motivational speeches to salesmen for the Studebaker Corporation, became a partner in a brokerage firm, provided endorsements for various products, appeared in movie shorts, and gave innumerable banquet speeches. Just before his death, he received $50,000 from RKO Studios to play a football coach in a movie musical. On March 31, 1931, Rockne boarded a plane in Kansas City with six other passengers to fly to Los Angeles to discuss production of the movie The Spirit of Notre Dame. The plane crashed and burned near Bazaar, Kansas, killing all passengers and crew. After his death, Rockne inspired several contemporaries, biographers, and filmmakers to explain what he meant to football and the nation. His eulogy was front-page news as 10,000 people jammed into a Chicago railroad station to see the train carrying his casket back to South Bend. Two memorials honoring him exist, the Rockne Memorial Building on the Notre Dame campus and one in Voss, the city of his birth, in Norway. Rockne was named the top all-time coach by the Associated Press, Sport, and Collier's. [Sources: Brondfield, Jerry, Rockne: The Coach, the Man, the Legend, 1976; Rockne, Knute, The Autobiography of Knute K. Rockne, 1931; Steele, Michael R., Knute Rockne: A Bio-Bibliography, 1983; Wallace, Francis, Knute Rockne, 1960.]