One-on-one with former Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - When Notre Dame fans think of former coach Ara Parseghian, they remember the wins, the National Championships and even a Heisman winner. But Parseghian's legacy goes beyond his stellar 95-17-4 record. Parseghian brought Notre Dame back to life after a dismal decade.
From the minute Parseghian stepped foot on Notre Dame's campus in 1964, the mood shifted in South Bend.
In the previous decade, the golden dome had lost a bit of its luster.
The glory days of Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy were gone--more loses than wins over that span had fans begging for change.
And in 1963, Hugh Devore led the Irish to a 2-and-7 record.
That's when Parseghian arrived, the fiery coach who had beaten Notre Dame four times when he was at Northwestern.
"I came here in 1964 I guess it was and had an opportunity, of course I knew a little bit about Notre Dame, because when I was at Northwestern, we were playing Notre Dame, so I had been on both sidelines. And, as a result of that experience, I could measure it," Parseghian said.
After Parseghian's first season, he was named coach of the year. He led the Irish to a 9-and-1 record and just missed a National Championship.
It's something that haunts him to this day.
"I remember the games we've lost. I mean I don't like to remember them, but we've had some exciting times. We just missed winning the National Championship in 1964, our first year, in the last minute and a half where officiating did have something to do with it," Parseghian said. "It's like that first year when we missed winning the National Championship in the last 1:33 because of some official's miscall. I can't control, I can't do anything about that but we have to suffer through that part of it."
But Parseghian would eventually win not one, but two National Championships during his tenure--in 1966 and 1973. He admits those are his favorite memories.
"The National Championships that we've won, in '66 which is this team's 50th reunion this weekend, and 1973 National Championship. Those are memorable experiences because everybody knows how much time, effort and being a part of a team and being successful with that are very memorable parts of your life. And that's what coaching is all about, the relationships that you make with all of your players, everybody connected with the university and the elation of winning and being satisfied with accomplishing our mission, you can't change that. You can't duplicate it. And when you're no longer doing that, you become aware of that. And I've been out of coaching now for a number of years but still I understand the game and I know what goes into your heart as it goes through a whole season, good things happen, bad things happen, so you're not quite sure which one's coming and you fight like the dickens to make the best out of every game," Parseghian said.
In his 11 seasons, Parseghian won 83-percent of his games.
His career was cut short due to health reasons in 1974.
Although it's been more than 40 years since he roamed the sidelines he has made a connection with current Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly.
Does he have any advice for Kelly?
"They're in the developmental stage, they've got the kind of talent they need, I think on both sides of the ball offensively and defensively. But you know the problem is, there's certain things the coach can't control. He can't control injuries, he can't control the weather, he can't control the officials. There are so many things as you go through a football season that can have an influence on the outcome of a football game and it seems like it's unfair, but there's not much you can do about it, you've got to play through it," Parseghian said. "And once you're an experienced enough coach to realize that you concentrate on the things that are important and you have to let that go away, just like the golf game, hit a bad shot, ok got to let it go, the next shot's got to be a great one."
At 93 years old, Parseghian remembers the wins and losses like they were yesterday, but what he loves most about Notre Dame has little to do with his record.
"Well, I guess I'd have to say the players. Because you're with them for four years and we graduate everybody and the relationships that you create during that period of time. You're together an awful lot. You're on the field together, you're training together. The emotion of the game is all a part of everybody and so, I guess that's why most coaches are in the business, because of the relationships that they have within their job," Parseghian said.