The independent voice of Notre Dame Athletics

  • Hardnose

    by SEE

    (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.

    * Sources include:  Resurrection, Talking Irish, Notre Dame Football Encyclopedia


    15 Responses to “Hardnose”

    1. I was standing at the Circle one day in early 1964 right after Ara was hired. ND students commonly hitched a ride into South Bend in those days. (We wern’t allowed to have cars on campus.) A blue Ford Mustang pulled up and the driver offered me a ride. I jumped in and much to my surprise it was Coach Parsighian. I thought he was one one of the nicest, most personable man I’d ever met. The students loved him from day 1. Much of that was reflected by the feedback we received from the football players, all of which was positive. Personally I never had one worry the ND had hired the right coach. The fact that he was a heck of a nice person was just “icing on the cake”. The Era of Ara was one of the greatest in our history and I was proud to withness it first hand.

    2. Tom Gabriel '65 says:

      I was at the student rally for Ara in front of Walsh in February, 1964. The crowd was large and very animated, although we didn’t really know much about Ara except that he had kicked our butts at Northwestern for several years. Once he spoke, we were ecstatic, and now we knew what all the fuss was about. He was electric, and we left the rally with a buzz that I have never forgotten. In September, playing basketball at the Rock, we listened to the Wisconsin game on the speaker. Huarte and Snow led us to a big victory, and now we knew for sure that ND was back. We had no idea that Ara would take us to within 30 minutes of a National Championship, but we knew the long drought was over.

      • 31sorin says:

        The rally that introduced Ara to the students was held on Sorin porch, not in front of Walsh.

    3. Mike Bradley says:

      In our 1966 National Championship year, at a press conference after the game, Ara was answering questions from at least 30 reporters. One poor guy with a pen and pad arrived late and asked the identical question that Ara had just answered. A very noisy locker room became very quiet. Ara had a way of looking at you sideways, with one evil eye, when he was not happy. He threw the “look” at the reported, paused for what seemed like five minutes, and said “Next question”. The man did not suffer fools.

    4. mpsND'72 says:

      One correction – You should have written: “Happy Birthday, MR. Hardnose.”

    5. goirish67 says:

      Dan Logan ’67 and I (john Kelleher ’67) sat in awe that Saturday in the rain at Camp Randall stadium in Madison. We could not believe our eyes. Huarte to Snow and Nick Eddy running was beyond belief. After the previous year it was truly like a dream. What a way to begin the “Ara”. Will never forget it. One problem, neither one of us can remember how we got there. We hitched a ride with someone on campus and we have searched often for the answer. Does anyone remember giving us a ride??? Seriously!

    6. Fall of 1968 there was a game at ND in November and about the 3rd quarter it started to snow. Then came the immortal chant “Ara stop the snow! Ara stop the snow!”

      Anyone remember that?

      June 1969 I went to a wedding @ ND in the Basilica. We had the reception in the Bend somewhere and during it (Captain Electric and the Flying Lapels were playing) Ara wandered in. Everyone tried to act cool as he asked the question “how many people in your orchestra?”

    7. ron zier '52 says:

      The ‘Ara, stop the snow’ story has another chapter. When the chant came from the stands, he asked an assistant, “Could I?”

      Years later, as his fame grew, the same chant issued from the student body. He again turned to an assistant and asked: Should I?”

    8. Dave Redle '70 says:

      The “snow” game in ’68 was against navy, i believe. The snow did stop…. eventually

    9. Dave and Ron – Thank you both for your terrific replies.

      As of today – 100 and a wakeup, as of tomorrow we are in double figures until the season starts.

    10. RocketShark says:

      Ara is an inspiring success story and utterly beloved by ND Nation. That he had not graduated from Notre Dame (and wasn’t even Catholic) apparently grated on older alumni at the time of his hiring. It’s interesting to note that none of the three supposed candidates for the job were alumni (the other two being Devine and Lombardi). The administration had struggled with the hires after forcing Frank Leahy out. But this time they got the perfect man at the perfect time. That it came dangerously close to not happening on the day the announcement was to be made to the press is a bit scary to consider (the story was there was a sticking point in the last minute negotiations and Ara angrily left. Neither he nor Fr. Joyce publicly commented on the issue, but Ara later joked Fr. Joyce wanted shamrocks on the helmets and Ara wanted camels). A lot of coaches with big egos would have never returned. But it’s plain to see that Ara really wanted to come to Notre Dame, and it happened. God bless him.

      • You need to publish your own book; you’ve got a lot of cool stories in that head of yours.

    11. 69domer says:

      I recall some “enterprsing” ND students pulling up some of the rotting redwood benchs in the student section and building a fire IN THE STADIUM during the 68 Navy game. It was snowing so hard the security guys must not have noticed. I also remember when Pat O’Brien (played Rockne in the movie) appeared at the pep rally before the USC game. HIs magic did not work; we lost on last minute field goal.

    12. mikefocke says:

      I was at Madison and got a parking ticket that took 5 months to catch up via a call from my father. No doubt about it, he said you did it and pay. Same as Ara’s attitude.

      It was a glorious year made only the more so after 3 years (for me) of Joe and Huey. I’ve seen several examples of leadership making a huge difference over the years with new leadership being able to win with the same guys who were average the year before. Ara made a difference and I’m only glad he got out before it cost him his health. A class guy.

    13. NCHDomer says:

      Ara is not only my favorite coach but also the embodiment of the Notre Dame spirit that was told to me by an upperclassman my freshman year – we never lose, we only run out of time now and again. I always point to Ara as an example of the significance of both coaching and the concept of a team. That turnaround in 1964 truly was remarkable and showed that the right person could turn, in one year, a losing team into one of the best teams – irrespective of the talent he had on the team. And after reading the book Resurrection, I was able to talk to the player mentioned in this article, Tony Carey, who relayed wonderful stories of Ara and his time at Notre Dame. Anyone fortunate to have a chance to talk to any of his former players should avail themselves of the opportunity and listen to how they speak of Ara. You will hear respect, humor, love, fondness and loyalty in their voices.

      My own small story is a variation on the snow story. I remember the first time it started to rain during a game. The student section started chanting “Ara stop the rain” and I, of course, followed along wondering why we were doing it. During the chant the rain stopped. I do not remember louder cheers coming from the stadium than at that moment. I never wondered again why we asked Ara to stop the rain. He is a great man that I got to meet a few times while in school and after graduation on football Saturdays. I am happy for those very brief encounters and having been a student during the Era of Ara.