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Football

New Mexico matchup will be a first, but ND is familiar with Davie

| Wednesday, September 11, 2019

In the first meeting between these two universities, the Irish will compete against New Mexico during their home opener on Saturday. Both teams are coming off of bye weeks, so the players should be well-rested for the game. The Lobos’ head coach, Bob Davie, is a familiar face for most Notre Dame fans, as he was a member of the Irish coaching staff from 1994 to 2001. Davie’s first time coaching against his former team would have been this weekend, but, due to a grave medical issue, he will not be traveling to South Bend; offensive line coach Sage Tuitele will assume the head coaching role while Davie is recovering. 

Though this matchup is a first, Bob Davie brings plenty of history to the game. In the early 1990s, Davie established himself as a rising star when he contributed to Texas A&M’s success as their defensive coordinator, helping the team to a No. 1 ranking in total defense during the 1991 season. His work at A&M impressed Notre Dame legend Lou Holtz, who selected Davie to be the new Irish defensive coordinator.

Stephen Hannon | The Observer

Irish sophomore tight end Tommy Tremble runs downfield during Notre Dame’s 35-17 victory over Louisville on Sept. 2 at Cardinal Stadium.

Davie’s tenure under Holtz is generally viewed as a success, and, under his leadership during 1996, the team broke the single-season school record for most sacks with 41, which is one of the best defensive performances in Notre Dame history.

Davie’s time in charge of Notre Dame football is more controversial. He continued his meteoric rise to prominence after the 1996 season when he became the head coach after Holtz retired.  In his first year, Davie posted a relatively average 7-5 season before losing to LSU 27-9 in the Independence Bowl. The Irish rebounded quite nicely in the next year with a 9-2 season and a berth in the Gator Bowl. In an exciting game, Georgia Tech slipped past Notre Dame 35-28 in Jacksonville.

The 1999 season proved to be a major step back for Davie’s Irish, as they only managed to win five games; however, Notre Dame would come roaring back the following year with a solid nine-win campaign. Despite having to open the 2000 season against four straight ranked opponents, the Irish were able to fiercely compete in every matchup while only turning the ball over eight times throughout the year. Expectations for Davie and Notre Dame remained high as they prepared to face Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Beavers clobbered the Irish 41-9 in a thoroughly disappointing contest while future NFL legend Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson caught two key touchdowns for Oregon State before being drafted by Cincinnati later that year.

 After such a discouraging bowl game performance, Davie needed to perform well in 2001 to keep his job secure. For the first time in its history, Notre Dame lost its opening three games, and they finished the season with a lackluster 5-6 record. To make matters worse for Davie, the Irish decided to move on from him as head coach at the end of the campaign, and his overall record as Notre Dame head coach capped out at 35-25.

Davie took over the struggling Lobos program in 2011 after a decade-long break from coaching. During his seven full seasons in Albuquerque, the Lobos have only had a winning record twice. However, in 2016, Davie won his first postseason game as the he defeated the UTSA Roadrunners 23-20 in the New Mexico Bowl. New Mexico also finished first in the Mountain West Conference that year with nine total wins. 

The quality of Davie’s time in South Bend is often debated by the national media and Irish fans alike. Davie’s supporters point to his success as Holtz’s defensive coordinator and to the fact that he led Notre Dame to three high-profile bowl games during his five-year tenure as head coach. His detractors argue Davie could not handle the pressure of postseason play — as he did lose all three of his bowl games.

Regardless of his inconsistent results at Notre Dame, it is clear Davie was a major part of Irish football around the turn of the century, and it is a shame that he will not be able to participate in what would have been his homecoming.

Saturday’s matchup has a few implications for both universities. For Notre Dame, this game is an opportunity for exposure in the southwestern media market, an area of the country where the Irish are lesser-known. It also allows Brian Kelly to test out any modifications to the Irish game plan after being challenged at Louisville.

For New Mexico, a nationally-televised game against such a prestigious program will garner more countrywide attention for the university while putting the Lobos’ talent to the test against an opponent stronger than any team in the Mountain West. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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