Ara Parseghian, Legendary Notre Dame Coach, Dies At 94

Aug 2, 2017
Originally published on August 2, 2017 9:12 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Legendary Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian died this morning. He was 94. He coached the Fighting Irish during the 1960s and '70s. Parseghian returned Notre Dame to college football prominence and established himself as one of the greatest to lead the storied program in South Bend, Ind. NPR's Tom Goldman has more.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The numbers alone tell a story of success. In Ara Parseghian's 11 years at Notre Dame, the team won 95 games, lost only 17, tied 4. And the winning started quickly. Parseghian took over a Notre Dame team that was foundering - 2 and 7 in 1963. The next year, his first, the Irish went 9 and 1, almost winning a national championship. Almost became a reality in 1966. Notre Dame won the title after an epic tie with Michigan State and then again in 1973 after a 24-23 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: As expected, a fantastic game - five lead changes thus far. We're still in the third quarter with 2 and a half minutes to go.

FRANK POMARICO: That was like a heavyweight fight, toe-to-toe with two great champions throwing haymakers at each other.

GOLDMAN: Frank Pomarico was in the middle of that game-slash-fight. He was a senior captain and starting offensive lineman for Notre Dame. But Pomarico and his teammates had another title. They were "Ara's Knights," spelled with a K. It's the title of the book Pomarico wrote about Ara Parseghian.

POMARICO: He was somebody that cared about each one of us individually as people and then how we were going to make a difference in the world after we got out of school.

GOLDMAN: Pomarico says Parseghian was tremendously disciplined but fair. He worked his players hard and looked for people who were hungry for success. Parseghian never promised a starting position. You had to earn it.

POMARICO: This is a man who could have been a governor, a senator. He could have been the president of the United States. That's how well-organized and charismatic he was.

GOLDMAN: Parseghian is considered part of Notre Dame's holy trinity of football coaches along with Frank Leahy and Knute Rockne, a great honor that comes with crushing pressure. Parseghian talked about it in a 1984 NPR interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ARA PARSEGHIAN: It's more self-inflicted pressure as a result of trying to live up to the enormous traditions that have been set at Notre Dame.

GOLDMAN: He did live up to the traditions, but it took a toll. Parseghian retired after the 1974 season when he was only 51. He worked in broadcasting and fundraised to combat illnesses that took the lives of his daughter and several grandchildren. And when talk turned to maybe returning to college football, Parseghian was quoted as saying, after Notre Dame, what is there? Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUTURE AND ZAYTOVEN SONG, "LAY UP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.