Author recalls Rockne’s legacy
Jack Rooney | Tuesday, September 24, 2013
On Friday afternoon, award-winning author and sports historian Jim Lefebvre gave a lecture and held a book-signing for the launch of his new book, “Coach for a Nation: The Life and Times of Knute Rockne.”
Lefebvre’s talk, titled, “Rockne Remembered: A Retrospective on a Life Well-Lived” was held in the Carey Auditorium of the Library prior to the book-signing.
During the lecture, Lefebvre introduced several family members of Rockne players who came for the book launch and two of Rockne’s nieces who were in attendance. Relatives of Notre Dame greats, such as Elmer Layden, Don Miller, Charlie Bachman, Norman Barry, Noble Kizer, John Law and Fred Miller all attended the event.
Lefebvre focused on the five timeless themes he saw in Rockne’s life, including fearlessness, being a man on the move, connection, education and having a life well lived.
Lefebvre said fearlessness was the foundation of Rockne’s life and career in football.
“The fearlessness just plays out throughout his life. He accepted challenges and he went after it,” he said. “I attribute some of it to his ancestry ⎯ to the Viking explorer. There was something about him that said, ‘keep going.'”
The second timeless theme of Rockne’s life, being a man on the move, defined Rockne both as a person and as a football coach who revolutionized the game, Lefebvre said.
“In a sense, this is a story of transportation,” Lefebvre said. “There are just so many elements of it from [immigrating to America] to riding the street cars in Chicago.
“This man on the move also speaks to a larger sense of looking for … something better. He was always looking for ways to improve the game of football to make it more entertaining for fans, and he was largely responsible for a wide-open game that replaced the mass grouping of bodies that had been the sport before that.”
Lefebvre said Rockne’s ability to connect to people was perhaps his most defining characteristic.
“He had a special gift for connecting to people, seeing the best in people and what we would call today empowering the people around him,” Lefebvre said. “Today we talk about ‘social media,’ but that’s usually looking at a device. He looked people in the face and he made a connection.”
The fourth theme Lefebvre attributed to Rockne was his dedication to education and Rockne’s role as a teacher both on and off the football field.
“[Rockne was] always a teacher and always looking to build on what was possible with athletics,” Lefebvre said. “I think the stories of these former players and what they went on to do is testament to the kind of job he did with that.”
Lefebvre summarized these themes with Rockne’s fifth and final defining characteristic: a life well-lived. was always corresponding, he was always dreaming up ways of playing the game differently, promoting the game differently,” Lefebvre said.
Lefebvre said there is no figure today who compares to Rockne and his legacy.
“There is nobody in our society that is looked to in the same way that Rockne was. That’s how big his sphere of influence was,” Lefebvre said. “And so when he wrote something in one of his columns or one of his books, it was gospel and it was followed.”
Lefebvre said he wrote a biography of Knute Rockne because he wanted to preserve the memory of a legendary man and football coach.
“It’s important to tell his story to newer generations who may only know of him through the speech in ‘Rudy.’ There is so much more to his life and his story,” Lefebvre said.
“Coach for a Nation: The Life and Times of Knute Rockne” is available at the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore and online at coachforanation.com
Contact Jack Rooney at [email protected]