When I became old enough to start observing College Football, Ara Parseghian was the coach of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
Obviously, Parseghian did not start up Notre Dame football, but he did revive it after a dark spell of Notre Dame history.
Notre Dame’s first big time coach is more than likely the most famous college football coach of all time, Knute Rockne.
Knute Rockne went 105-12-5 at Notre Dame from 1918 to 1930 winning at a very impressive rate of .881%. Rockne won 4 National Titles while winning so many games.
Elmer Layden was pretty good in the 1930s, with a record of 47-13-3 and a national championship.
Then, along came Frank Leahy who went 87-11-9 with a very impressive 5 national titles.
Notre Dame WAS college football back in those days.
In 1964, Ara Parseghian arrived on the scene. Parseghian took over a Notre Dame that had been struggling for a few years before he was hired. The Fighting Irish of Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy eras had faded into the past.
The Irish had gone 5-5 and 2-7 the 2 years before Parseghian was named head coach. His first season, the Fighting Irish finally had some fight back in them and went 9-1. Little used QB John Huarte threw for 2,062 yards in 1964, which was phenomenal passing yardage in 1964 and he won that
year’s Heisman Trophy. The biggest significance to that, in my opinion, is that the previous coaching staff had the same talent at their disposal and refused to use it for whatever reason.
Wide Receiver Jack Snow caught 60 passes which was also outstanding for those times. College teams only played 9 or 10 games and they generally ran conservative straight T type of offenses, so throwing for over 2,000 yards and 60 receptions was a pretty big deal back then.
In 1965, Parseghian’s squad slipped to 7-2-1, but they were gearing up for another year of greatness.
1966 was the year that Parseghian entered into Notre Dame legend status by winning the national championship. That national championship was not without controversy because of the 10-10 tie with Michigan State in the Game of the Century. Notre Dame was voted National Champions probably due to the 51-0 drubbing of USC later on in the season. USC was ranked #10 at the time, so that was a pretty convincing beat down.
The Irish also whipped up on another #10 team, the Oklahoma Sooners, 38-0 at Norman, Oklahoma. Plus, they whipped #8 Purdue, 26-14. This team was good and proved it by by outscoring it’s opponents by a combined score of 362-38.
Their offensive leader was QB Terry Hanratty and their defensive leaders were Alan Page and Jim Lynch.
The years 1967 and 1968 were 2 loss seasons, but in 1969 Notre Dame ended a 45 year absence in bowl games and played National Champion Texas. Texas won the game with a come from behind victory, 21-17.
During the 1970 season Notre Dame won their first 7 games rather easily and climbed from #6 in the polls to either #1 or #2 and then they struggled a bit with Georgia Tech winning just 10-7. They beat #7 LSU in South Bend, 3-0. In California, the USC Trojans gave the Irish their first loss with a 38-28 win for the Men of Troy.
The Irish got a rematch with Texas in the Cotton Bowl and Notre Dame would have their revenge beating the Longhorns 24-11. That loss ended Texas’ 30 game win streak.
In 1971 the Fighting Irish entered the season at #2 and whipped everybody in their first 5 games. Then, they lost to rival USC again, 28-14. The Irish lost their last game to LSU 28-8 and they voted to not go to a bowl game and play in a minor bowl.
1972 saw the Fighting Irish open the season with just small hopes of winning championships being ranked #13. They lost to Missouri, 30-26 and then they lost again to nemesis #1 USC, 45-23.
They then got whipped badly in the Orange Bowl to Nebraska, 40-9.
A three loss season was definitely not up to standard for Ara Parseghian and Notre Dame football.
That set up the stage for 1973 and Ara’s second national championship.
The 1973 college football season ended with 7 undefeated teams and the Irish were very fortunate to be able to play Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. They beat Alabama, 24-23, and won the National Title. It would be Ara Parseghian’s second and last championship at Notre Dame.
During the 1974 season, Notre Dame went 10-2 losing only to Purdue and to bitter rival USC in the Come Back Game.
The Alabama Crimson Tide got a rematch with the Irish but this time in the Orange Bowl. The outcome was pretty much the same with the Fighting Irish prevailing again, 13-11.
Ara Parseghian stepped down after the 1974 season to go into broadcasting. In eleven years at Notre Dame Parseghian won 95 games and only lost 17 with 4 ties. Parseghian won a lot of games in South Bend and he won a couple of national championships. But, maybe most of all, Parseghian brought the Irish back from obscurity and made them a yearly national contender again much like in the days of Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy.
After Parseghian, there was Dan Devine that went 53-16-1 and won a national title in 1977. Then, there was Lou Holtz who went 100-30-2 from the year 1986 to 1996 and won a championship in 1988.
Holtz and Devine were good coaches in their own right, but when I think of Notre Dame football, I think of Ara Parseghian.