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Gene Corrigan, Former Notre Dame Athletics Director, Passes Away

“I love the fact that Notre Dame succeeds with the philosophy the athlete has to be a student. That counts even more than wins and losses.” - Gene Corrigan, 1981

READ: Stong of Heart: Gene Corrigan – Seeing the Big Picture (by Karen Croake Heisler)

Gene Corrigan, Notre Dame’s seventh director of athletics, passed away at the age of 91. Corrigan served in the post from 1981-87, inheriting the position following the 32-year tenure of Edward “Moose” Krause. 

Corrigan departed Notre Dame in 1987 for an eight-year stint as commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference before serving as president of the NCAA from 1995-97.

“As a coach, athletic director, commissioner and NCAA president, Gene’s impact on countless students, coaches and athletic administrators was unprecedented, and I am privileged to be among that number,” said University Vice President and James E. Rohr Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick. “From my earliest engagement with the NCAA some 30 years ago through my time as Notre Dame’s director of athletics, Gene could always be counted on for great counsel and an encouraging word. Now more than ever, college athletics needs leaders like Gene Corrigan; he will be greatly missed.”

One varsity head coach hired by Corrigan remains at Notre Dame, Kevin and Karen Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Muffet McGraw.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity Gene gave me when he hired me and his support for women’s athletics,” said McGraw upon Corrigan’s passing. “I had such a great respect for him. He was so highly admired in all of sport and he always inspired people to be their best. He’s a great role model for coaches to look up to.”

Corrigan’s ties to the Golden Dome run deep. His son, Kevin, has been the Baumer Family Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach since 1988, the longest active tenure in NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse. Three more of his seven children attended Notre Dame — Boo, now the athletics director at NC State, and Tim, a senior coordinating producer for the NBA on ESPN, while David received his law degree from Notre Dame. Three of his grandchildren have played lacrosse for the Irish (Maggie and Lena Zentgraf and Kevin’s son, Will Corrigan), while a fourth, Jack, attended the University and granddaughter, Finley, is currently enrolled at Notre Dame.

Corrigan took over a Notre Dame athletics program on the verge of seismic change. Krause had been in the athletic director’s chair for a tenure spanning five decades, having taken over for Frank Leahy in 1949. Corrigan immediately set in place plans for an athletic endowment fund to expand athletics opportunities. The move contributed to men’s lacrosse, women’s swimming and diving and women’s cross country achieving varsity status during his tenure, while volleyball was expanded with the aim to compete nationally.

During his tenure, Corrigan oversaw the addition of Rolfs Aquatic Center to the Joyce Center, while also spearheading the projects which would become Loftus Sports Center/Meyo Field and Eck Tennis Pavilion. 

Corrigan served as the Division I Independent representative on the NCAA Council and was deeply involved in television rights negotiations between the NCAA, College Football Association and broadcast partners. He was also actively involved in the hosting of the 1987 International Summer Special Olympic Games at Notre Dame.

Perhaps Corrigan’s largest and most lasting impact came with a pair of coaching hires in football’s Lou Holtz and women’s basketball’s Muffet McGraw. Holtz went on to secure a consensus national title in 1988, while McGraw continues to lead the women’s basketball program with a pair of national titles, nine Final Four appearances and more than 800 wins at Notre Dame. 

A native of Baltimore, Corrigan attended Loyola High School before serving 18 months in the U.S. Army. Following his military service, he enrolled at Duke University and played lacrosse for the Blue Devils. He returned to Baltimore after graduating in 1952 and taught Latin, English and history while coaching football, basketball and lacrosse at St. Paul’s School.

Corrigan moved to the collegiate ranks in 1955 as head basketball, lacrosse and soccer coach at Washington & Lee University before moving to the University of Virginia three years later to serve as the head coach in lacrosse and soccer, as well as an assistant with the basketball program.

Corrigan spent three years in coaching before moving to the administrative side, serving as UVA’s sports information director while teaching physical education. He moved from UVA to the ACC office, overseeing the league’s news bureau, officials and investigations.

Corrigan earned his first athletic director job in 1969 at Washington & Lee, spending two years there before a nine-year stint in that post at Virginia.

Corrigan left Notre Dame to serve as the third commissioner of the ACC. The league captured 27 NCAA championships during his tenure, while Corrigan secured Florida State’s membership in the conference in the fall of 1990. He was one of the leaders in the creation of the Football Bowl Coalition, while also securing other bowl arrangements for the ACC to guarantee postseason destinations for the league’s top four teams.

Corrigan spent his final two years as ACC commissioner while also serving a term as NCAA President. At various times, he served on the NCAA Special Advisory Committee to Review Distribution of Revenues, NCAA Cost Reduction Committee (chair), NCAA Division I Championships Committee, NCAA Lacrosse Committee, NCAA Executive Committee, NCAA Division I Basketball Committee, NCAA Division I Steering Committee and NCAA Council. He was chair of the Honors Court and a member of the board of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame and sat as president of both the Collegiate Commissioners and United States Lacrosse Coaches Association.

Corrigan married his wife, Lena, on April 6, 1953. He is survived by his spouse, as well as children Louise (Scott Wawner), Kathryn (Tony Zentgraf); David (Jean), Kevin (Lis), Brian (Kathy), Timothy (Jackie) and Boo (Kristen), 19 grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Details on a memorial service are incomplete at this time.