Joseph Lawrence Kuharich (April 14, 1917 – January 25, 1981) was an American football player and coach. He served as the head football coach at the University of San Francisco from 1948 to 1951 and at the University of Notre Dame from 1959 to 1962, compiling a career college football record of 43–37. Kuharich was also the head coach of the Chicago Cardinals in 1952, the Washington Redskins from 1954 to 1958, and the Philadelphia Eagles from 1964 to 1968, amassing a career coaching record of 58–81–3 in the NFL. He played football as a guard at Notre Dame from 1935 to 1937 and with the Chicago Cardinals in 1940, 1941, and 1945.
Kuharich was born April 14, 1917 in South Bend, Indiana. He played college football at the University of Notre Dame under coach Elmer Layden, who rated Kuharich as one of the best and smartest players he ever had. In his college career, Kuharich's greatest game was the stunning Fighting Irish comeback over Ohio State in 1935.
Kuharich began his coaching career as an assistant freshman coach at Notre Dame in 1938. In 1939, he coached at the Vincentian Institute in Albany. He then moved to the pro ranks as a player, playing guard for the Chicago Cardinals in 1940 and 1941. After serving in the Navy, he returned to the Cardinals in 1945, his last season as a player. In 1946, Kuharich served as line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, then in 1947 he moved on to the University of San Francisco as line coach and was promoted to head coach in 1948. His overall record was 26–14, including an undefeated 9–0 docket in 1951. Among his most prized pupils was Ollie Matson, who would become a Pro Football Hall of Fame running back with the Chicago Cardinals. When Kuharich felt the time was right, he moved up to the NFL himself, serving as head coach of the Chicago Cardinals in 1952, succeeding Curly Lambeau. In 1953, he served as a scout for several pro teams, then in 1954 became coach of the Washington Redskins, then owned by the controversial George Preston Marshall. Once again, Kuharich succeeded Lambeau. The team "boasted" of diminutive Eddie LeBaron, the smallest quarterback in the league, who had the daunting task of succeeding the legendary Sammy Baugh. A successful campaign in 1955 landed Kuharich "Coach of the Year" honors, then hardships sent Kuharich's 'Skins to a losing stretch. After five seasons in Washington, Kuharich resigned when Notre Dame beckoned.
He took the head coaching position at the University of Notre Dame in 1959, realizing a longtime ambition to return to his alma mater. He had earlier been courted by Notre Dame after the 1956 season, after the Irish finished 2–8, but before he had a chance to accept an offer, Terry Brennan was given a reprieve. He brought a professional touch to Irish football, putting shamrocks on the players' helmets and shoulder stripes on their jerseys. Kuharich compiled a 17–23 record over four non-winning seasons and remains to this day the only coach ever to have an overall losing record at Notre Dame. Included was a school-record eight-game losing streak in 1960, a year in which the Irish would finish 2–8. It was one of the worst stretches in Notre Dame football history. The consensus opinion was that Kuharich never made the adjustment from pro football to college football, attempting to use complicated pro coaching techniques with collegiate players, and never adapted to the limited substitution rules in effect at the time, having big, immobile linemen playing both ways in an era where smaller, quicker players were preferred. He often said, "You win some and you lose some," and seemed perfectly content finishing 5–5 every year. This did not sit well with the Irish faithful, who expected Notre Dame to beat everybody. When the pressure of winning became too much to bear, Kuharich resigned in the spring of 1963 and assumed the post of supervisor of NFL officials. Because it was so late in the spring, Hugh Devore was named interim head coach while the search for a permanent replacement was being conducted. Little did Joe know at the time that the players he had recruited would come to within 93 seconds of an undefeated season and a national championship in 1964 under first-year coach Ara Parseghian.
Kuharich was involved in a game whose controversial ending resulted in a rule change still in effect today. In 1961, Notre Dame faced Syracuse at home and trailed, 15–14, with three seconds left to play. A desperation 56-yard field goal attempt fell short as time ran out, and Syracuse appeared to have won the game. But the Orangemen were penalized 15 yards for roughing the placekick holder, and given a second chance with no time showing on the clock, Notre Dame kicker Joe Perkowski drilled a 41-yard field goal for a 17–15 Irish victory. Syracuse immediately cried foul, claiming that under the existing rules, the second kick should not have been allowed because time had expired. It was later determined that the officials had erred in allowing the extra play, but the Irish victory was permitted to stand. The current rule which states that a half cannot end on an accepted defensive foul was implemented as a result of this game.
Kuharich returned to the NFL coaching ranks with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1964. The team had gone through an unsteady 1963. Eagles' owner Jerry Wolman made Kuharich head coach and general manager with an unprecedented 15-year contract. In return for quarterback Norm Snead and defensive back Jimmy Carr, Kuharich traded away Hall of Fame and perennial Pro-Bowlers Sonny Jurgensen and Tommy McDonald. Philadelphia also acquired Ollie Matson from the Detroit Lions. Despite the acquisitions, the Eagles continued to decline.
Kuharich's only winning season with the Eagles came in 1966. That gave the team a date with the Baltimore Colts in the "Playoff Bowl," a postseason exhibition intended to draw fans and help coaches plan for the following season. In the "Playoff Bowl" of January 8, 1967 that Kuharich became the first coach to wear a wireless microphone for NFL Films. Portions of his wiring and the Playoff Bowl itself, were used at the end of NFL Films' 1967 special They Call It Pro Football.
The 1968 season would be Kuharich's last; the Eagles vied most of the season for the league's worst record, which would have had them finishing ahead of the Buffalo Bills, which thereby earned the chance to draft Heisman Trophy winner O. J. Simpson No. 1 overall. But the Eagles won their last two games and the Buffalo Bills won the rights to Simpson.
Three months after the 1969 NFL draft, financially-distressed owner Jerry Wolman sold the Eagles on May 1, 1969 to trucking millionaire Leonard Tose. Tose and Kuharich agreed to a settlement on the final eleven years of the ex-coach's $60,000 annual contract.
Kuharich was married to the former Madelyn Eleanor Imholz on October 6, 1943. They had two sons, Joseph Lawrence, Jr. (Lary) a former CFL and AFL head coach, and Bill who has followed in his father's footsteps as the New Orleans Saints General Manager from 1996 to 2000 and Vice President of Player Personnel for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2006 to 2009.
|San Francisco Dons (NCAA Independent) (1948–1951)|
|Notre Dame Fighting Irish (NCAA Independent) (1959–1962)|
| #Rankings from final Coaches' Poll. |
°Rankings from final AP Poll.