Herb Juliano

Herb's Archive this month is an excerpt about Coach Laydenís first year on the sidelines, 1934. Itís from The Glory of Notre Dame by Don Kowet.




Coach Laydenís first game was a 7-6 loss to Texas coached by former Notre Dame
great Jack Chevigny.

In hiring staff to work under him, Layden followed the precedent set by the administrators who had chosen him to succeed Hunk Anderson. He filled his coaching slots with Notre Dame alumni who had rubbed shoulders with glory. Chet Grant, from the Gipp era, became his backfield coach. As an assistant, from the Rockne era, he chose Joe Boland, a lineman and former teammate on the 1924 national champions. And from that same era, as his other assistant, Layden chose Bill Cerney, who had been the reserve fullback behind Elmer for three years. Rounding out Layden's coaching staff was Tom Conley, captain of Rockne's 1930 and last team, who became end coach.

Ironically, Notre Dame's first opponent that season, Texas, was coached by Jack Chevigny, the ballplayer so fired up by Rockne's famous halftime rhetoric in 1928 that he had gone out and had won one for the Gipper. However, in this particular game, the Irish leprechauns took no sides. What told was strength on the gridiron, and Texas won, 7-6.

But the score itself suggested cliffhangers to come. Moreover, the game previewed Layden's quirky coaching style. Despite the close game, and despite the heavy pressure to start off with a win, Layden had done what a coach will usually do only in a runaway. He had given every single member of his squad at least token game-time. After the loss, critics complained bitterly. With a toughness and stoicism that carried him intact through the most dire crises, Layden calmly replied that there was only one way to test a player, and that was by playing him.

On defense Layden continued the 6-2-2-1 formation that Anderson had adapted from Rockne's 7-2-1-1. Likewise, on offense Layden refused to innovate, keeping to a basic T -formation and the famous "Rockne shift" that would become known as the "Notre Dame box". (The quarterback and one halfback lined up directly behind the offensive linemen, the fullback and the other halfback closing the "box" a few steps to the rear.)

Still, Layden, like the Notre Dame greats before and after him, devoted considerable time and effort to concocting a bag of tricks. An inveterate improviser, at Dusquene he had experimented with night-football, hot soup spiked with wine as a sideline stimulant, and dressing his backfield in soccer shorts to increase their downfield speed. (No improvement, by the way.) During that 1934 season with Notre Dame, Layden sprung his "talking play" on an unwitting Northwestern team. At a crucial moment in the game, with long-yardage on a fourth down, Bud Bonar, the Irish quarterback, crouched over his center and began calling out signals. Suddenly, his fullback called "check", prompting Bonar to cut his count and walk into the backfield, ostensibly to clarify the fullback's "check" call. While Bonar nonchalantly strolled away, the Notre Dame center snapped the ball to a halfback and the Notre Dame offensive linemen charged the flustered Northwestern defense. The halfback sped straight downfield to score the game-winning touchdown.

"Like all trick plays," Layden says, "you could use 'em a couple of times in the same season, but never against the same team twice. Oh, yes, we had others, too - making ineligible receivers eligible and things like that. My idea was to catch the other team sleeping and get as much as I could out of every rule in that football book. The idea was to keep just this side of being legal."

Overall that 1934 season, Notre Dame posted a respectable 6-3-0 record, losing, after the Texas defeat, only to Pittsburgh and Navy, but defeating Southern Gal and Army -a cliffhanger in which Notre Dame scored with four minutes remaining to win 12-6. And the new stadium was filling up again. Under Layden's erratic but always exciting brand of football, attendance rose from a 1933 low of 278,758 to 365,077 in 1934.

In one year, Layden had restored Notre Dame to the vanguard of college football.

Coach Layden says goodbye to his team for the last time in 1941.

A link for statistics and records for the Layden years:


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