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Remembering The Ara Parseghian Era At Notre Dame

A look back at Notre Dame's Hall of Fame head coach, Ara Parseghian

Recently on the Irish Breakdown forum we were having a discussion about the 1993 Notre Dame Football season, and I was taken aback by how many folks had little to no memory of that season. Then it hit me, that was almost 30 years ago, so it makes sense why a lot of younger fans don't remember even that season, much less the legendary coaches and seasons from the past.

So I decided there would be times when we would reflect on the legends that made Notre Dame the legendary program it is.

Yesterday would have been the 99th birthday for Hall of Fame head coach Ara Parseghian, so there is no better time to look back on his career in South Bend. For some it will be a refresher course, but for others I hope it helps you realize how great he was and why older Irish fans hold him in such high regard.

THE BACKGROUND

Parseghian is an Ohio native that played football at Miami (Ohio) from 1946-47 after serving time with the Navy during World War II. Following his career at Miami, Parseghian was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL and the Cleveland Browns of the AAFC. He chose to play for the Browns.

After spending two years with the Browns, Parseghian got into coaching, returning to his alma mater in 1950. After just one season as an assistant under Woody Hayes, Parseghian was promoted to head coach after Hayes left for Ohio State.

Parseghian went 39-6-1 in five seasons, with half of his losses coming during his first season. In his final three seasons the Miami squad went 24-2-1, including a 9-0 record in his final season. Parseghian left for Northwestern in 1956, where he replaced Lou Saban. Inheriting a team that went 0-8-1, Parseghian went 4-4-1 in his first season before dropping to 0-9 in year two.

Over the next six seasons the Wildcats would have a winning record in all but one season and finished ranked in the Top 20 of the Coaches Poll on two occasions.

Northwestern went 4-0 against Notre Dame during Parseghian's tenure, including a pair of victories in Notre Dame Stadium.

NOTRE DAME CAREER

When Coach Parseghian arrived at Notre dame for the 1964 season it had been 15 seasons since the Irish had last won a national title. That came in 1949, which concluded a stretch of four seasons under legendary coach Frank Leahy that saw the Irish go 36-0-2 with three national titles.

Notre Dame was 34-45 in the eight seasons prior to Parseghian's arrival, and the Irish hadn't had a winning record since 1958.

Things turned around immediately under Ara, with Notre Dame going 9-1 and finished ranked 3rd in his first season. Notre Dame won the first nine games of the season before losing a 20-17 contest to USC in the final game.

Coach Parseghian won his first national title at Notre Dame in his third season, as the Irish went 9-0-1. The only non-victory of the season was the infamous 10-10 at No. 2 Michigan State. That season Notre Dame fielded one of the best defenses in the history of college football giving up just 38 points all season (3.8 per game).

Notre Dame pitched six shutouts that season, including a 51-0 victory over No. 10 USC to finish the season and a 38-0 victory over Oklahoma, who was also ranked 10th at the time they played. Only Michigan State and a Bob Griese led Purdue team (14 points) could get into double figures against that Irish defense. Notre Dame beat Purdue - who finished the season ranked 7th - by a 26-14 score.

Notre Dame outscored its opponents 362 to 38 that season.

The Irish finished ranked in the Top 10 in each of the next four season before faltering a bit in 1971 and 1972. The Irish finished 8-2 and 8-3 in those campaigns and fell out of the Top 10 both seasons. 

Notre Dame won its second national championship under Coach Parseghian in 1973. The Irish went 11-0 and had Ara's only undefeated/untied season. Notre Dame was incredibly dominant that season, outscoring opponents 382-89. That included a 23-14 victory over No. 6 USC.

Notre Dame was ranked 3rd heading into the Sugar Bowl matchup against top ranked Alabama. It was a back-and-forth affair in which the Irish took a 21-17 lead into the fourth quarter, but Alabama quarterback Richard Todd gave the Tide the lead with a touchdown pass.

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Notre Dame answered with a field goal to take the lead, but it was a third-down conversion late in the fourth quarter that sealed the game.

Coach Parseghian retired following the 1974 season. In his final game, Notre Dame beat No. 2 Alabama in the Orange Bowl by a 13-11 score.

THE LEGACY

Parseghian finished his Notre Dame career with a 95-17-4 record, which was good for an .836 win percentage. Among coaches went spent more than five seasons at Notre Dame, only Knute Rockne (.881) and Frank Leahy (.855) finished with better win percentages than Parseghian.

He retired with a pair of national championships (1966, 1973), a No. 2 national ranking in 1970 and a No. 3 ranking in 1964. Notre Dame ranked in the Top 5 in seven different seasons during his 11 year career.

His teams never finished lower than No. 14 in the final Associated Press poll.

Coach Parseghian was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980. 

It was a period of greatness for Notre Dame on the field. Of course, if you ask his players from the era you'll find his impact went far beyond his success on the field.

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