GREAT ONE IS GONE
Ara Parseghian, a Presbyterian of Armenian descent who might have seemed an unlikely saviour of Notre Dame football but became just that, coaching the Fighting Irish out of the wilderness and back to greatness in the 1960s and ’70s, died early Wednesday morning at his home in Granger, Indiana. He was 94. The Rev. John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, announced the death in a statement. Parseghian had recently been undergoing treatment at a care facility for a hip infection. Parseghian ranks with Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy in the pantheon of Notre Dame football coaches. In his 11 seasons (1964 through 1974), his teams won 95 games, lost 17 and tied four, for an .836 winning percentage. His 1966 and 1973 teams were voted national champions. When Parseghian arrived at Notre Dame, the university’s football program had been in decline for years. The Fighting Irish won nine straight games in 1964, with many of the same players from the squad that had lost seven games the year before. Southern California spoiled a perfect season with a 20-17 victory in Los Angeles, but John Huarte, who had not even won a varsity letter until 1964, was awarded the Heisman Trophy. Parseghian was acclaimed coach of the year. But for all his success, Parseghian was saddled for a time with the reputation of a coach who “couldn’t win the big ones.” That image was reinforced on Nov. 19, 1966, when unbeaten Notre Dame met unbeaten Michigan State at East Lansing in the most eagerly awaited college game in 20 years. Notre Dame fell behind, 10-0, then rallied to tie the score. But late in the game and in its own end of the field, Notre Dame played conservatively rather than risk a turnover, and the game ended in a 10-10 tie. Although Notre Dame was voted the national champion by the wire services, there were many who thought the game had taken some lustre from the team’s image. After the 1969 season, Notre Dame accepted an invitation to meet top-ranked Texas in the Cotton Bowl, ending four decades in which the Irish did not take part in post-season play. Texas won, 21-17, on New Year’s Day 1970. A year later, after another seasonspoiling loss to Southern California, Notre Dame returned to the Cotton Bowl and upset Texas, 24-11, to snap the Longhorns’ winning streak at 30 games. Notre Dame’s next bowl appearance was a crushing 40-6 loss to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl following the 1972 season. Parseghian’s year of total redemption was 1973. The team won all 10 regular-season games, then defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, 24-23. The clincher was a daring pass from the Irish end zone for a first down that enabled Notre Dame to run out the clock and silenced those who said the coach lacked nerve when it really counted. The 1974 season was Parseghian’s last, and in some ways his toughest, even though his team finished 10-2. Ara Raoul Parseghian was born in Akron, Ohio, on May 21, 1923. After high school, Parseghian joined the Navy and played football at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center under Paul Brown, who later gained fame as coach of the Cleveland Browns. When he left the Navy, Parseghian enrolled at Miami University in Ohio and earned all-American mention as a halfback. Parseghian joined the Browns after college, but a hip injury ended his professional playing career. He returned to Miami as the freshman coach and became the head coach when Woody Hayes left for Ohio State. After leaving Notre Dame, Parseghian was a colour commentator for ABC Sports from 1975 to ’81 and for CBS Sports in ’88. In ’94, Parseghian founded the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation, dedicated to financing research on Niemann-Pick Type C disease, a genetic pediatric nerve disorder that killed three of his grandchildren.
Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian is carried off the field by his players after defeating Texas, 24-11, in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1971. ARA PARSEGHIAN, 1923-2017
Ara Parseghian stands in front of a statue of himself at the University of Miami (Ohio) on Oct. 8, 2011. Parseghian died Wednesday.