Bob McBride, the oldest surviving Notre Dame coach, passed away Wednesday night. He was 89. McBride was an offensive guard for the Irish in the 1940s, including playing for the 1946 national championship squad, before serving as the offensive line coach for the final five years of the Frank Leahy era.
McBride’s passing wouldn’t usually be the subject of an entire post here, but just a quick read about his incredible life gives you a window into a true American hero, and one of the most improbable journeys of any student, coach or teacher to ever come through Notre Dame.
McBride’s football career for the Irish was interrupted by World War II, when he served in the 106th infantry division as a machine gun squad leader.
Back in 2006, when the 1949 national championship team celebrated a reunion, UND.com’s Pete LaFleur profiled the incredible journey McBride traveled as he fought his way back to Notre Dame after service for his country that garnered him three battle stars, a purple heart and the presidential unit citation.
The 1949 team joins all of Notre Dame in honoring Bob McBride, the oldest living former Notre Dame assistant football coach. McBride – who celebrated his 84th birthday last weekend as Notre Dame was playing Georgia Tech – endured a rollercoaster of life experiences during the 1940s, as his playing career at Notre Dame was interrupted by World War II service that saw him spend four months as a German prisoner of war. He returned for his senior season and was a member of the 1946 national championship team, later serving as an offensive line coach in the final five years of the Frank Leahy era (1949-53).
McBride came to Notre Dame in the fall of 1940, following an all-state senior season as a fullback at Logan (Ohio) High School. He earned monograms in 1941 and ’42 (as the starting right guard) but entered military service in the spring of ’43, ultimately serving as a machine gun squad leader in the 106th infantry division.
His division quickly shifted to the Belgian front and met the German counter-offensive in the Battle of the Bulge. Almost 7,000 men from the 106th were killed or captured, with McBride taken prisoner on Dec. 21, 1944. While suffering from frozen feet, he was forced to walk 13 days and was placed in two prison camps before a 50-day march during the German retreat. A starvation diet – one-seventh of a loaf of bread per day – resulted in McBride’s weight dropping from 212 to 90 pounds, before he was liberated 122 days into his imprisonment (ending 39 months of service). He received three battle stars, a purple heart and the presidential unit citation.
McBride used a summer construction job to build up his body before returning to the Irish in the fall of 1946. Relegated to a reserve role, he was an inspiration for his teammates, who rallied to have him serve as captain for the huge midseason game with Army. That historic clash ended in a 0-0 tie (avenging major losses to Army the previous two seasons) and Notre Dame went on to claim the national title (8-0-1).
The only practice McBride ever missed was the day his son Patrick was born. McBride and the former Mary Stein had been married shortly before he departed for the war and their family now includes seven children, 28 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
McBride – who received Notre Dame’s prestigious Byron Kanaley Award (recognizing exemplary student-athletes/leaders) – compiled a 16-3 record as head coach at Chicago’s Mt. Carmel High School before returning to Notre Dame in 1949 as offensive line coach. His skill at breaking down game tape and overall coaching ability made him one of the most valuable members of the program during the final Leahy years.
McBride’s return to football after nearly starving to death truly embodied the spirit of the “Fighting Irish,” and his story is one that can’t been told enough. Born in Logan, Ohio in 1922, McBride graduated in 1947 from Notre Dame in 1947 with a degree in sociology. He passed away at Dujarie House at Holy Cross Village in Notre Dame.