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  • Why We Mourn

    by Mike Coffey

    I only met him once.  But as many would tell you, once was enough.

    Some years back, I was asked to serve on a committee to organize a charity dinner in Chicago for Lou Holtz, Charlie Weis, and Ara Parseghian.  The thought was outreach via NDN could fill a couple tables, and I was happy to contribute to that effort.

    Holtz was the coach during my ND tenure and I’d met him a couple times, and I’d encountered Weis through NDN before.  But I’d never met Ara, and I walked into the dinner that evening hoping I could check that box.

    I grew up in a Notre Dame household, and while I was too young to experience the Era of Ara, I heard plenty about it.  The steel-jawed coach who demanded excellence of his players while holding himself to the same standard.  The inspirational leader who made Notre Dame players and fans believe the program could succeed.  The man who truly had made Notre Dame football great again in all its best ways.

    But what amazed me most was the reverence his former players had for him.  When I would attend Rockne Dinners and meet them via my uncle and my dad, I never heard a bad word about the man.  They would speak of him in relatively hushed tones, and to a man, felt he had been the biggest inspiration in their lives.

    A build-up, perhaps, but that certainly made him someone I wanted to encounter for myself.

    As the dinner progressed into the post-program socializing, Ara was holding court at one of the tables.  I found myself reluctant to interrupt his conversations with the guys who had come to the event to see him, and as the minutes passed, my intimidation only grew.

    The evening was wrapping up when my buddy who had asked me to join the committee came up to me.  “You meet Ara yet?”  Watching me shake my head, he shook his in response.  “You big wuss.  Come on.”

    Ara was wrapping up with two guys when my friend and I approached.  “Coach,” he said, “I want you to meet one of the event organizers, Mike Coffey.  He runs NDNation.com, and he helped us get the word out to the younger crowd.”

    The coach immediately turned from his current conversation to look me right in the eye, shake my hand, and thank me for all the work I’d done.  I tried to clarify that said effort was small in comparison to what others had done to make the night happen, but he brushed that off immediately.

    What I’d hoped would be a 20-second how-do-you-do turned into a 10-minute conversation.  He had heard about the site, although wasn’t a big ‘net guy himself — “I leave that to the grandkids” — and said some of his players were readers.  He asked how I’d gotten into working on it, and I gave him the 30-second version.

    Then he asked me a question I’ll never forget:  “Do you like doing it?”  I responded in the affirmative.  He said, “Good, because that’s the most important thing.  A lot of other people can like or hate it, but if you don’t like doing it, you shouldn’t waste your time on it.”

    I asked him how the Foundation was going, we talked about some other ND subjects, and I took my leave while shaking his hand and thanking him for his time.

    I know it’ll sound like a cliche, but for those 10 minutes, I felt like I was the only person in his world.  He had genuine interest in me and what I was doing … someone he’d never met before and (unfortunately for me) would never see again.  And he took time to offer me some very valuable advice to boot.  Doing something like that requires a gift, and of all the souls I’ve encountered on my travels, Ara had the most of it to give.

    Now I understood the reverence and the respect.  He’d shown the latter to me, and I certainly felt the former for him.

    The world is a lesser place without Ara Parseghian, and we are better people who have known him through the example he showed to others.

    Rest in peace, Coach.

     

    23 Responses to “Why We Mourn”

    1. Well said, Mike, and thank you for sharing.

    2. Stephen Kerr says:

      Thanks for the wonderful story.

    3. Ron Hillery says:

      Am a big fan of ND. Since I was in grade school my father took us to ND games and in high school was a good friend of Frank Leah’s Jr in Long Beach, Indiana. Subsequently, I met Ara on two occasions and once was as a after dinner speaker–if you thought he was a good coach, he had a “golden tongue” as a speaker. Very SAD TO SEE AND HEAR THIS BUT ALL OUR TIMES ARE COMING. R.I. P Ara

    4. Charlotte Putnam says:

      Thank you for the wonderful tribute to a great man and a great coach who represented Notre Dame
      with class and brought glory back to Notre Dame during his era.

    5. Glenn Hane says:

      I grew up watching Notre Dame Football with my Dad in the early 70’s and Ara was a God in our Family. He was respected on and off the field and that says a lot. Rest in peace Coach!

    6. Christopher says:

      Nice story – quite a person, mentor, motivator, speaker, coach, and most-importantly, family man, parent, and dad … he’s missed, and will be … – but we were so lucky to have had him in our lives …

    7. TOM RILEY 1957 says:

      MIKE, A GREAT AN D BEAUTIFILLY WRITTEN PIECE. TOM

    8. DenverJoeIrish says:

      I was ten years old when my Dad (ND Class of ’49) took the family on a tour of the ND campus, and I have loved ND since. Living in Austin, TX in the early 70s, I’d ask Dad to take us to Saturday Vigil so I could stay home Sunday morning to watch the hour-long broadcast of ND’s football game the day before. Ara was shown on the sidelines creating fond memories of the glory days for viewers and players alike. The thrilling bowl game victories over Bama are my favorite memories of Ara’s era. RIP, coach, and thanks for the memories.

    9. My wife and I meet Ara a few years ago outside the Bookstore. I had gone inside to see who was going to be signing books and making pre-game appearances. I go back toward the Parking Lot and discover my wife Narda in conversation with Ara like they were old friends. I come up and made apologies for my wife having bothered the legend and Ara turned to me in a gracious way and just kept the conversation going. Just a wonderful, open, engaging guy who loved Notre Dame and the people who love it. We had several more encounters with Ara just like that, in almost the exact same place in the Parking Lot. It’s a special memory for me and for Narda who just calls Ara her “little friend”. We are both sad tonight. RIP Coach Ara.

    10. irishhawk50 says:

      I was too young to really understand how bad things were before Ara, but I grew up a Notre Dame fan since a kid. The first TV game I clearly remember was the 1957 ND/Oklahoma game. I clearly suffered through the Kuharich years and the Devore year listening to the games religiously on the radio though I was too young to really grasp how far ND had fallen. I remember that last 2-7 year that was only spared from being 2-8 by the cancellation of the Iowa game the week of the assassination of President Kennedy.

      When Ara arrived and Notre Dame just kept winning and winning it just seemed natural and that all was right in the universe again. This was the way it was supposed to be. I don’t think I truly understood until much later in my adult life just what Ara meant to Notre Dame football. I saw an article today in which someone wrote that he saved Notre Dame football and that may not be too far from the truth.

    11. John Phillips says:

      I was a freshman when Ara was introduced to the students who gathered on the main quad
      On a snowy February night in 1964. Ara spoke to us from the porch of Sorin Hall and lighted
      the campus in ferocious spirit which I still experience and relish. Thank you Coach Ara for all
      You do for God, County and Notre Dame.

    12. Jim Kress says:

      Ara won’t “stop the rain” anymore, as we used to chant.

      The world is a darker place in his absence.

      Hail and farewell, Coach.

    13. Nick Grosch says:

      A sad day….our Mount Rushmore is gone, Moose, Father Ned, Father Ted and now Are, as Notre Dame alums and fans we are now orphans…

    14. Bo Scott ND '73, '75, '80 says:

      I was blessed to be on Campus for a part of Ara’s tenure. i was blessed to meet him on several occasions both as coach and after on the many times he returned to campus. I have to agree. He had a gift to make to whom he was speaking feel as if they were the most important person in the conversation if not the room. He described himself as always in a rush, but yet always had the time to stop when someone said hello.
      Eternal Rest Grant unto Him O Lord. Allow him to enjoy his grandchildren again!

    15. PanDomer'73 says:

      With all the frivolity and nonsense of our current culture it is both enriching and inspiring to reflect on the contributions of this great man. Ara stop the tears! Nice remembrance Mike. RIP Ara and thank you.

    16. I met Ara in 1968 when i was a freshman at ND and a student worker living in Moreau Seminary. The football team used to sleep there the night before a game. The coaches would gather in a small lounge on the 2nd floor and talk after the movie, and then turn in. My recollection was going out of my room, which was adjacent to the lounge to hit the communal bathroom at about 3:00 a.m., and there was Ara, still awake, still going over the game plan the game.. We spoke for a couple of minutes, and then i left him and went back to bed. He was as interested in what I had to say as anyone I have ever met, even though I was just another student at the school.

      I met Ara a second time in his office in 1994 when our company was getting approvals to produce a DVD on the highlights of Notre Dame football through the years. Once again, Ara demonstrated he was a high quality gentleman who treated everyone with as much respect and dignity as any other person.

      If you want a great insight into Ara I would recommend reading Frank Pomerico’s book “Ara’s Knights”about his experience as a player for Ara, and how he treated his players. Thanks, Frank, for writing the book.

      Chris A. ND 1972

      What a gentleman. What a gift to Notre Dame he has been. The Era of Ara will be a great memory as long as i live.

    17. The entire World is a little lighter today and we have lost a legend and a very good man. And the best Football Coach that ever lived We are not likely to see the likes of him again. Thank you Coach for the wonderful times and memories that kept me young and happy on many many Saturdays. Rest in peace great man as we have lost another anchor in the Sea od Notre Dame history.

    18. John Kelleher '67 says:

      My most memorable game was the season opener against Wisconsin. Sitting in the stands in Madison, Dan Logan and I were waiting with trepidation not knowing what to expect. The whole country did not know either. Then with the opening kickoff, it was pure joy to witness the event. Huarte to Snow, Nick Eddy, the O line and what a DEFENSE, the game was incredible, all because the Ara’s leadership. It was great to see him at the reunion for sure. May he rest in peace.

    19. Ara was truly a Notre Dame man in every way. A great person and leader and family man.
      He taught so many people such valuable lessons. I was fortunate enough to have been a student trainer
      from 1965 to 1969. He was remarkable. There are a lot of former players who will tell you that they
      owe so much to Ara. He will be missed in so many ways. Rest in Peace Coach and may God grant strength
      to his family in this time.
      I can’t wait for the first game when we encounter some rain and with all the respect possible the students
      can chant once again, “Ara, stop the rain!!”

    20. I remembver the ’64 Navy7 game. The students chanting, “Ara, stop the snow !” It stopped, of course.
      There’s magic in the sound of his name. God Bless uou, Ara! RIP

      Bill Read, just an Irish fan.
      Syracuse, NY

    21. Great story. Great man. When you talk about luck of the Irish, how lucky was ND to have Ara as part of its tradition. He is the kind of coach and man who continues to inspire us to dream and strive for what can be. His spirit lives on. Thanks for the memories. Rest in peace, Coach.

    22. I was at that “Ara stop the snow” game. It was really funny and almost 50 years later it is still funny.

      I was at a wedding reception at one of the inns or restaurants in South Bend in June of 1969 and ‘Captain Electric and the Flying Lapels’ were playing, and in walked Ara. We all did our best to stay cool about it, while he walked up to one of the band members (I think it was Geoff Gillette) and asked “how many players are in your orchestra?”

      From all accounts he was a good and gentle man, we are richer for having known him, poorer for our loss.

      Rest In Peace

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