(The Rock Report) – Sports Illustrated described Parseghian thusly, “Ara is an impatient, determined man, convinced he can return Notre Dame to a position of dominance in college football, and this he undoubtably will do one day – but not in 1964.”
Sports Illustrated was wrong.(see this Time Magazine article for a great story on Ara and the MSU game)
Nicknamed hardnose at Miami by none other than the legendary Paul Brown, Parseghian has lived his life with a passion and conviction that led him to stick his hard nose and square chin into tough situations and create change through force of will and stalwart determination.
Ara simply wouldn’t accept mediocrity for himself or his teams and never let conventional thought dictate his success. In fact, Ara Parseghian may never have become a legend at all at Notre Dame if he didn’t take matters into his own hands.
Just to get into the running for the position, Ara had to overcome two hurdles. One, Ara didn’t go to Notre Dame and to that point in time, Notre Dame had a history of only hiring Notre Dame alumnus for the head coaching role. Two, Notre Dame had an unwritten rule that it did not “poach” coaches and Ara was the coach of Northwestern.
Knowing this, Ara made the first move. He called Father Joyce, and inquired first to see if ND was looking for a new coach (that Hugh Devore was just an interim coach.) Father Joyce confirmed that he wasn’t stealing another man’s job, Ara made it clear to Father Joyce that he was not going back to Northwestern.
But the question about a non-alumnus, no less an Armenian-Protestant non-alumnus, coaching at Notre Dame wasn’t answered clearly and Ara left the conversation doubting that Notre Dame would break tradition. Parseghian deemed the conversation, “a little chilly” to his wife and made plans to interview at Miami.
The Miami down south.
While on his way to Florida, at a layover in St. Louis, Ara called home to see if Notre Dame had returned his call…. they had and wanted to meet with him. Ara ditched the Hurricanes and jumped back on a plane, this one was headed to Chicago.
Still, the marriage almost didn’t happen. Ara was eventually offered the job verbally, but he didn’t feel comfortable with a verbal agreement that didn’t have dollars attached to it and after flirting with Northwestern again, finally hammered out a deal with Father Joyce.
After that, things moved quickly.
When Ara spoke to the team, according to Resurrection, he held up his fist “Just look at my fist” he said, “When I make a fist, it’s strong and you can’t tear it apart. As long as there’s unity, there’s strength.” He went on for over an hour mesmerizing a team that had stumbled through a decade of mediocrity.
By the time he was done, Tony Carey said he was ready run through a brick wall for him.
And Ara returned the favor. Upon learning that Nick Rassas didn’t have a scholarship, Ara called father Joyce and got him one. When he learned Carey might be eligible for medical-year, he picked up the phone and called father Joyce again, securing an extra year.
Ara could relate to the players, because he had it in his blood. One of his great disappointments was an injury that kept him on the sidelines in the pros for much of his “career”.
His playing career over, he channeled that passion into Miami of Ohio, where he became head coach, and compiled a 39-6-1 record. Ara was in the crucible period at the cradle of coaches.
Then, on to Northwestern where after one magical season and many other “good for Northwestern seasons”, Northwestern grew tired of Ara constantly pushing for more and told him his contract wouldn’t’ be renewed. Tired of fighting a battle with scholarships tied behind his back, Ara was determined to move on.
When he arrived at Notre Dame he brought order quickly to a program that had fallen into disorder.
Parseghian immediately started fixing what was broken, bringing process and precision where previously there was dysfunction and indecision. He kicked players off the team for rules violations and enforced discipline while motivating players in a way they’d never seen before. Is summing up his impact, Jim Dent noted that “more than anything, he was a master organizer” and that Notre Dame’s staff operated like a “finely tuned military unit.”
Ara brought that same precision to the roster. When Ara evaluated the team, he found players in the wrong positions all over the field. When at Northwestern Ara befuddled Kuharich, whose “elephant backfield” made Notre Dame easy to defend. Parseghian, who’d had small and fast teams that passed all over the field (for the day) with Tommy Myers at Northwestern, promptly moved the entire elephant backfield to the defensive line at Notre Dame.
Perhaps his biggest position move was really a position elevation. John Huarte, 4th or 5th on the depth chart, threw gorgeous spirals all over the practice field and Ara was intrigued. But after years of what Huarte viewed as unfair treatment he was stricken with confidence problems. Ara would mold him into a Heisman winner.
Huarte had gone through some rough times, but Ara shared his own experiences at Northwestern and noted how he battled through them. He turned to Huarte and said, “I think your time has come.”
The same was true for Notre Dame.
Happy Birthday, Hardnose.
I’d love to hear other stories from Ara’s Era if you have them.