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ND used to make tier 1 hires... by Scoop80
4 times in 7 tries between 1940 and 1985, ND did what tOSU and MI have done--it hired HCs w/ successful track records at CFB's highest levels. Not coincidentally, all 4 of those HC's won NC's @ ND. Their tenures covered 39 out of the 53 years from 1941-96 in which ND had a non-interim HC.
Leahy's 2 years @ BC have always been and likely always will be the program's apex. His only regular season loss there was 7-0 to UF in a game where BC's starting HB was held out b/c of his race. Leahy's 2d season there was perfect.
Parseghian is the only NW HC ever to attain a #1 ranking, and he's likely to be the only one who will ever attain it. The B1G was the country's premier conference at a time when the ACC, SWC, and SEC were all still segregated, and Parseghian held his own against the likes of Hayes, Evashevski, Daugherty, and the badly under-rated Mollekopf. He also excelled @ Miami (O).
Devine won an Orange and a Sugar @ Mizzou. The Tigers haven't played in a tier 1 bowl since. Mizzou also routed AL in a Gator. While Pinkel's record may be in the same ballpark, IIRC, Devine still has Mizzou's highest win %. Devine excelled @ ASU before that.
Holtz's first season @ Ark was the program's best in the past 50 years. While his last 4 years there weren't as strong as his first 3 years were, his overall record was still impressive by program norms. He also had excellent tenures @ NSCU and MN.
While one can quibble as to how these 4 compared to Meyer and Harbaugh at the time of their respective hires @ tOSU and MI, these 4 hires were at least in the same ballpark. One can't come close to comparing any of ND's last 5 hires (including GOL) to Meyer 3 years ago and Harbaugh now.
We can argue all we want about facilities and academic standards and all the rest. The top priority, however, stares one in the face if one looks at program history.