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Chuck Martin returns to South Bend to face Notre Dame

| Friday, September 29, 2017

On October 6, 2014, when Notre Dame announced that they would host Miami (OH) in 2017, RedHawks head coach Chuck Martin didn’t think he’d have to adjust to the idea of hoping the Irish lose.

Yes, he spent four years at Notre Dame (3-1) as a coach, including a two-year spell as offensive coordinator that saw the Irish reach the BCS National Championship Game.

Yes, he had worked under Irish head coach Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State as well, eventually taking over as head coach when Kelly left for Cincinnati.

Irish junior tight end Alize Mack dodges a defender during Notre Dame's 38-18 win over Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing, Michigan.Rosie LoVoi | The Observer
Irish junior tight end Alize Mack dodges a defender during Notre Dame’s 38-18 win over Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing, Michigan.

Yes, he grew up as an Irish fan.

But it wouldn’t be a problem.

It never really occurred to Martin that beating the Irish was an option.

“I didn’t think about it,” Martin said. “I wanted Miami University to experience Notre Dame.”

After all, losing football games wasn’t something Miami (OH)’s opponents did.

It was reserved for the RedHawks (2-2, 1-0 MAC).

They were good at it. The best, in fact.

Or they had been, a week before the game was announced.

Then, two days before it was announced his team would come to Notre Dame Stadium, Martin won his first game.

It was against lowly UMass, but it was a win — the first since 2012 for the RedHawks. When Martin left the Irish and took the Redhawks job — taking a $200,000 pay cut to do so — ending that losing streak, then at 16 games, was the first goal.

That ended an FBS-leading 21-game losing streak: the first step in a rebuilding process.

Martin won another game that year, then three in 2015. Last year, a young RedHawks team seemed like it had taken a step back towards its 2013 self with an 0-6 start.

Then sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland took over the team.

Ragland proved masterful at protecting the ball, throwing no interceptions during the regular season. Much like Martin’s 2012 offense, the Ragland-led RedHawks avoided mistakes while a talented defense did the rest. Notre Dame senior linebacker Greer Martini said Ragland’s decision-making should make him a difficult quarterback to play against.

“I think that he’s a smart kid,” Martini said. “He can run the ball, is athletic, and I think he makes a lot of really good decisions.”

The RedHawks started winning games again, not two or three this time, but all six of their remaining regular-season contests. At 6-6, they earned an achievement the Irish did not: a place in a bowl game. Miami (OH) couldn’t beat the SEC’s Mississippi State, but proved they were capable of matching up with Power-Five opposition in a 17-16 defeat. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said his team is well-prepared for Miami (OH), not simply because of their success last season but because he has put a focus on not overlooking any opponents.

“We’ve only built one mindset,” Kelly said. “It’s to dominate our opponent. I don’t know that there’s any way for us to turn back from what we’ve been building this since January. There’s only one kind of performance that is acceptable, and only one kind of form of preparation that we’re going to begin with this team each and every week. We reset on Monday, and we go back to work on how we want to approach this week. This is really about inner focus on how we prepare for our next opponent, whether it’s Miami University or the University of Miami.”

This year, the RedHawks, who returned 17 starters from last year, opened up with a 2-2 start, beating Austin Peay and Central Michigan and losing to Cincinnati after giving up 18 points in fourth quarter, including a pick-six with a little over a minute left.

Although the RedHawks defense has been a highlight in 2017, recording nine turnovers including six interceptions in its opening four games and giving up only 19 points per game, Ragland’s efficiency has decreased. The junior quarterback has already thrown two interceptions, both returned for touchdowns, this year and his completion percentage has plummeted from 64.2 percent to 52.6 percent. However, Irish senior linebacker Nyles Morgan said he would continue to take Morgan seriously.

“I think anybody who plays Division I football is a threat,” Morgan said. “We don’t take anybody lightly. We’re not that team that thinks, ‘oh, yeah, he’s okay.’ We take everybody seriously. He’s very accurate. He’s very athletic, as well, and he’s, I’ll say, one of the better players on their team from an offensive standpoint.”

Despite Martin’s many connections to Notre Dame, there is one that Martin has a sentimental attachment to above the rest: the late Ara Parseghian, who coached at his alma mater, Miami (OH) before winning three national championships with the Irish.

“The one keepsake I have in my entire career is a letter from Ara Parseghian,” Martin said. “I’m not a memorabilia guy. I’m not a guy that’s very sentimental at all. I don’t have anything in my office. But there was a note from Ara when I took this job, that he wanted to see me get ‘The Cradle of Coaches’ turned around.”

“Last year, when we had a historic run, when we went from 0-6 to 6-6, he wrote me another note about how proud he was and getting Miami football back to where it belongs,” Martin said.

“It means a lot to me, not because I knew Ara very well, but just because he was my childhood idol.”

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

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