Ara Parseghian, a Hall of Fame coach who guided not one but three major college football programs to national prominence, died in the early hours of Wednesday at age 94. The president of the University of Notre Dame, where Parseghian steered the team from losing records to a pair of national championships, announced his death in an extensive tribute online.
“Notre Dame mourns the loss of a legendary football coach, a beloved member of the Notre Dame family and good man — Ara Parseghian,” the Rev. John I. Jenkins said in the statement. “Among his many accomplishments, we will remember him above all as a teacher, leader and mentor who brought out the very best in his players, on and off the field.”
In his 11 seasons with Notre Dame, Parseghian won more than 83 percent of his games, turning around a once-storied program that had suffered five consecutive seasons without a winning record before his arrival in 1964. By the time he retired from coaching in 1974, Parseghian had racked up enough victories to rank third in school history for career wins — a number that includes two national championship victories.
In a statement released Wednesday, the school’s athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, recalled what those years meant to him as a student.
“It is impossible for me to reflect on my Notre Dame experience without thinking of Ara Parseghian,” Swarbrick said. “As a student, I enjoyed the thrill of being on campus for his last three years as head coach, including the 1973 National Championship season. And during that time I got to see first-hand the profound impact he had on my classmates who played for him.”
Swarbrick added: “I and this university will forever be indebted to Ara Parseghian, a giant of a man who represented everything that Notre Dame and its football program stand for.”
Though the Hall of Fame coach left an indelible mark on a school that The Associated Press recently ranked in the top three college football programs of all time, Notre Dame was not the only university to mourn his death Wednesday.
Miami University of Ohio, where Parseghian was an alumnus, first hired him as a coach in the early 1950s after an injury brought an end to his brief pro football career. In the next several years, he posted a 39-6-1 record — enough to earn him a statue outside the school’s football complex.
And shortly before Parseghian achieved his famous turnaround at Notre Dame, his teams achieved a similar feat at Northwestern University. He took over the helm there after leaving Miami, spending eight seasons taking Northwestern from a spate of losing records to a national No. 1 ranking.
His run at Northwestern included four wins over Notre Dame, which the latter school candidly admitted in its statement Wednesday.
But the school also notes one off-the-field achievement close to his heart.
Together with his son and daughter-in-law, Parseghian founded the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation in 1994. The organization seeks to find a cure for the neurodegenerative disease Niemann-Pick Type C, “which which claimed three of Parseghian’s grandchildren, Michael and Cindy’s children,” Notre Dame notes.
“I am proud to have witnessed the establishment of an extraordinary organization of researchers, board members and volunteers who tirelessly exhibit an unparalleled level of commitment to curing a devastating disease,” Parseghian once said in a note to donors.
“Most of all,” he continued, “I am inspired by the pure goodness of the human spirit, which has touched our family over and over through innumerable cards, letters, prayers and donations.”