Ara Parseghian At 90: Part I

Former Notre Dame athletics director Ed “Moose” Krause (1949-81) used to joke that there are three stages of life: youth, middle age and, “Gee, you look good.”

Parseghian was 95-17-4 in 11 seasons at Notre Dame with two consensus national titles and one shared.

At 90 today, Ara Parseghian looks better and better each year in ways that can’t be quantified. With each passing year, Parseghian’s achievements at Notre Dame during his 11-year regime from 1964-74 become more revered. However, they have never masked his everlasting impact from the outset of his regime.

Born on May 21, 1923, Parseghian broke the mold of past Notre Dame coaches since 1918. He was neither a graduate of the university nor Catholic. Yet the Presbyterian was evidence of how a “Notre Dame Man” transcends possessing a degree from the school. His combination of character, charisma, competitiveness, integrity, innovation and production placed him alongside Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy in the program’s pantheon when he retired at the alarmingly young age of 51. Current Irish head coach Brian Kelly turns 52 on Oct. 25.

Twice he won consensus national titles (1966 and 1973), and in Parseghian’s “Resurrection” debut campaign in 1964, the Fighting Irish were awarded the MacArthur Bowl from the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame. Along with the Grantland Rice Trophy (given by the Football Writers Association of America), the Associated Press poll and the coaches’ poll, the MacArthur Bowl is recognized by the NCAA as a share of the national title.

Devastated by personal setbacks such as oldest daughter Karan getting afflicted with multiple sclerosis — she passed away at age 61 on Feb. 11, 2012 — and losing three of his grandchildren, Michael, Christa and Marcia, to the rare but deadly Niemann-Pick Disease Type C during an eight-year period from 1997-2005, Parseghian has continued to wage a courageous battle in all endeavors.

He is the oldest living national championship coach in college football, ahead of LSU’s Paul Dietzel (89 this Sept. 5) and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden (84 this Nov. 8). That tidbit is dwarfed by so many other on-the-field achievements. Here is Parseghian by the numbers:

0 Back-to-back games lost during the regular season in 11 years at Notre Dame. Since the hiring of Knute Rockne in 1918, Parseghian is the lone Irish coach among the 13 hence who did not see that occur. (The Irish did lose the 1972 regular-season finale at USC, and then the Orange Bowl to Nebraska, but consecutive losses in the regular season never happened.)

.8362 Winning percentage posted at Notre Dame from 1964-74 (95-17-4). Since 1964, the only major college football coach who won a better percentage with at least 10 years at the same school is Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer — .8368 from 1973-88. Close behind are Nebraska’s Tom Osborne (.8355 from 1973-97) and Alabama’s Bear Bryant (.8274 from 1964-82).

3 Passing combinations at Notre Dame under Parseghian that earned first-team All-America honors from the AP or UPI: John Huarte to Jack Snow (1964), Terry Hanratty to Jim Seymour (1968) and Joe Theismann to Tom Gatewood (1970). A fourth, Tom Clements to Pete Demmerle (1974), saw Clements finish fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting and Demmerle earn consensus All-America recognition.

4-0 Record at Northwestern (1956-63) against Notre Dame, with the victories occurring from 1959-62. It is the best winning percentage of any coach who has faced the Irish at least four times in his career.

7 More wins Notre Dame posted in his first season (1964) than the Irish did the previous year without him. The improvement from 2-7 in 1963 to 9-1 in 1964 is the best in Irish football annals. No. 2 is the five-game improvements from 1956-57 (2-8 to 7-3) and 2001-02 (5-7 to 10-3).

14 The lowest finish ever in the AP poll under his direction. The Irish finished in the AP top 10 nine times in his 11 years, including seven times in the top five while twice capturing the national title (1966 and 1973).

37.6 Points per game averaged by Parseghian’s 1968 unit — a school record since the Jesse Harper era commenced in 1913. The next closest is 37.2 by Lou Holtz’s 1992 team that finished 10-1-1.

50-2-1 Record of the five bowl opponents Parseghian played once Notre Dame rescinded its non-bowl policy in 1969. Both Texas teams he faced in the 1970 and 1971 Cotton Bowls were 10-0, and both Alabama outfits in the 1973 Sugar Bowl and 1975 Orange Bowl were 11-0. Nebraska in the 1973 Orange Bowl was merely 8-2-1. Parseghian posted a 3-2 mark against that quintet — 3-1 against the four unbeatens.

213.6 Yards yielded per season by the Notre Dame defense under Parseghian. The Irish never finished lower than 15th in the nation in total defense during his 11 seasons, and the worst total was 258.3 in 1972. Since 1981, the best figure at Notre Dame was 270.0 in 1996. Last year’s stellar unit finished at 305.5.

350.2 Yards rushing per game averaged by the 1973 national champs. That qualifies as one of the unbreakable marks in Notre Dame football history. The closest any Irish team has come since then is 287.7 by Lou Holtz’s 12-1 outfit in 1989.

510.5 Yards of total offense averaged per game by Parseghian’s 10-1 team in 1970 — a record that still stands. Notre Dame averaged a balanced 257.8 yards rushing and 252.2 yards passing en route to a No. 2 finish in the AP poll, highlighted by the 24-11 upset of No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl to end the Longhorns’ 30-game winning streak.

Tomorrow: Parseghian reflects his career and what Brian Kelly and the 2013 Irish can anticipate.

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