Thursday, August 3, 2017

To Absent Friends - Ara Parseghian

Ara Parseghian

Death claimed one of college football's all-time greatest coaches yesterday when Ara Parseghian died at the age of 94.

Parseghian began his coaching career at the "Cradle of Coaches", Miami of Ohio, went on to success at Northwestern, but, of course, he is best known for his stint at Notre Dame from 1964-74.  At Notre Dame, he resurrected what had become a poor football program under the likes of Joe Kuharich and Terry Brennan and restored it to the glory days of Rockne and Leahy (I could say that he "woke up the echoes", but that would be just way too easy).  

At Notre Dame, Parseghian complied a record of 95-17-4, which contributed to career record of 170-58-6.  He also won two national championships while at South Bend. I found it interesting in reading the papers this morning that during his years at Notre Dame, he never made more money than the highest paid faculty member at the University.  Such a notion in today's world of Big Money college football is so unbelievably quaint that it is almost laughable.

I can remember a day at Pitt Stadium, probably 1970 or 1971 when Notre Dame came to play Pitt (and deliver a predictable pasting to the Panthers).  I was standing with my Dad under the stands in the end zone where the visiting team entered the playing field, something that we always did before heading to our seats.  Out came the Irish from their locker room, and there was Parseghian, followed by his retinue of assistants.  I can remember looking at him as he walked by, and on the backs of each of his shoes was a wide strip of white athletic tape that had "ARA" printed on it with black marker.  It's an odd memory to have of someone, but that's as close as I can give you to a personal memory of the man.

The obituaries told the story of how Ara lost three grandchildren to a rare genetic disease, and how he devoted most of his life too raising money, over $45 million, for research to combat it and other such diseases.   That is a far greater measure of the man than the W-L records.

The obits also told other stories.  Of the famous 10-10 tie against Michigan State in 1966.  Parseghian took a lot of heat for that game, but I recall how Rocky Bleier, in his book "Fighting Back", defended his coach for that strategy, and Bleier was not alone among Ara's players to feel that way.  Of how even in retirement, he never really left Notre Dame.  I loved the story about how he continued to attend pre-game tailgate parties on campus, but would then go home to watch the games on television so as not to become a distraction for the current coaches, but, mainly, so he could "watch the games uninterrupted".

I suppose that in his own way, Ara Parseghian was as single minded and as driven as the Nick Sabans and Jim Harbaughs of the 21st century are, but it just doesn't seem that way.

RIP Ara Parsghian.

With future Steeler Terry Hanratty

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