I wrote about Ara Parseghian for my column in the Friday Oklahoman. You can read that here. But I had a lot of leftover material on the famed Notre Dame coach, so I thought I would share it.
* Parseghian on what makes Notre Dame so special: “I attribute to it three things. It has a religious affiliation. It’s a tremendous academic institution. And it has a great athletic history. You put athletics together with a good university and a religious affiliation, and this is what you get.”
* Terry Hanratty, Parseghian’s great quarterback from 1966-68, remembers meeting Parseghian almost 50 years ago, in a Hilton Inn coffee shop in Pittsburgh. Hanratty was headed for Michigan State.
“After an hour with Ara, I drove home and said, ‘Mom, I’m going to Notre Dame. This guy is unbelievable,’” Hanratty said. “He just mesmerizes you with his aura. That’s what he did with this whole Notre Dame community.”
* Parseghian on his ties with Notre Dame: “Look back on the decades, it seems like the associations you had at the university level as an athlete and a student are long-lasting friendships. The reunions that we have, we had the reunion this (last) weekend of our 1973 national championship team, and had 300 people there. Players, their families and so forth. Wonderful reunion to see everybody. Now they’re mature, have families, have professions.
“Being around the university and getting an education is one of the most important things you can do in your lifetime. Your chances of being successful without a reasonable education are pretty limited.”
* As I wrote, Parseghian is not Catholic. But he says he always felt welcomed at Notre Dame.
“Absolutely I did. I had competed against Notre Dame when I was at Northwestern. We played ‘em four times. Got to know Father (Theodore) Hesburgh and Father (Edmund) Joyce very well. Had good communication when I picked up the phone and called Father Joyce. I told him, if you haven’t made a decision yet, I’d like to throw my hat in the ring. He hadn’t, and he followed up on it. The point I’m making, it was a closer tie because when I came here, I was treated well as a competing opponent. They always treated me right.”
* Parseghian on his Oklahoma memories:
“I remember ’66, I think, Oklahoma was undefeated. We were going down there to play. There was a lot of buildup to the game. Oklahoma had a good name, because of Bud (Wilkinson, who was no longer coaching).
“Jim Mackenzie was there. They were undefeated, we were undefeated, they had had pretty good competition.” Parseghian was right; the ’66 Sooners started 4-0, with wins over Oregon, Iowa State, Texas and Kansas.
The Fighting Irish won 38-0. Of course, the ’66 Notre Dame team was one of the best in school history. One of the best in any school’s history.
“We played one of our better games, like Notre Dame did last year against Oklahoma,” Parseghian said. “They played a perfect game. We essentially did that. That’s the significant memory.”
* Parseghian was the Northwestern coach during the famous 1959 game against OU, when the Wildcats pulled a 45-13 stunner and several Sooners suffered from food poisoning after dinner the night before at the famed Chez Parre club.
“They supposedly got sick at the Chez Parre,” Parseghian said. “But it rained like hell. My quarterback is throwing it around like it was dry. I remember after that game, we were going to play the following year in Norman, getting all kinds of mail about how the fans were going to get even with us. They were really going to get us. We went down there and won again.”
* I wrote about how Hanratty wishes Parseghian had taken a leave of absence after the 1974 season, rather than outright resigning.
“I think he needed a break,” Hanratty said. “I would have liked to see Notre Dame get an interim coach. If he would have taken a year off, he would have stayed another 10 years.
“But at that point, his daughter found out she had MS. He put so much energy into raising for MS, for Neimann-Pick (the disease that killed three of his grandchildren). He was all over the world, raising funds for MS. I think he just needed a year. Just to give him a break. I wish they would have done that.
“We wouldn’t have gone through some coaches that we did. Ara could have named his successor and we would have continued on.”
* Parseghian spent 14 seasons as an ABC or CBS analyst for college football. He and Frank Broyles were excellent in the booth.
“We both enjoyed it,” Parseghian said. “It was like, go to the site of the game, lot of the times you knew most of the coaches, you got a chance to watch ‘em prepare, play the game, feel sorry for the loser, elation for the winner, and you walked away and go to another game. It was fun doing it.”
* Parseghian on modern football: “It’s different. I guess that’s the word. The skills in passing and receiving. The idea now is to try to get the ball in the hands of a wideout, five yards down the field or seven yards or whatever it is, with the spread offense that they have. When you look at the yardage they’re picking up, I’m looking at it also from a defensive standpoint, because we were always a good defensive team here. Go back and look at the record. It would be very difficult now to defense the spread with great wideouts.
“Essentially you have running backs, they get their hands on the ball, now in open space, one guy misses and you’re talking about big plays. Look at Oregon, the way they’re doing it. It’s different from that standpoint. And still there’s some running, but it’s not like it used to be.
“I miss some of the old stuff. I miss the sequencing of plays and the running and the blocking. The fundamentals are really expressed with the old tactics and so forth. This is open. It’s still football. Still gotta block and still gotta tackle. But the skills have improved so much, the passer’s ability to be on target, the receivers to be able to run after they caught the ball, then opening up the attack like that open up running lanes with rushing the passer, opens up opportunities for draws and screens, things like that. It’s different.
* Parseghian pointed out that Notre Dame still can win big. It just has to hire the right coach. “I think that’s one of the most important things for this job, is have a coach come in with experience,” Parseghian said. “College experience.”
Let’s see. Roll call on Notre Dame’s recent hires. Brian Kelly, college head coach. Charlie Weis, NFL assistant. Tyrone Willingham, college head coach. Bob Davie, college assistant. Lou Holtz, college head coach. Gerry Faust, high school coach. Dan Devine, NFL coach but with college head coach experience. Parseghian, college head coach. Hugh Devore, college assistant. Joe Kuharich, NFL coach. Terry Brennan, college assistant (but only one year of college). Frank Leahy, college head coach.
* Hanratty says “you can find someone to say something bad about anyone” and adds that “everyone hated Charlie (Weis). But you will not get a player, whether he be all-American or never played, to say a bad thing about Ara.”
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