SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Ara Parseghian, a Navy veteran who took over a foundering Notre Dame football program and restored it to glory with two national championships in 11 seasons, has died. He was 94.
University of Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins announced in a statement that Parseghian died at home at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Parseghian had recently returned to his home in Granger, Indiana, after spending more than a week in a nursing care facility in South Bend, Indiana. He was treated for an infection in his surgically repaired hip, and was still receiving round-the-clock care at home.
Born in Akron, Ohio, Parseghian enlisted in the Navy after graduating high school. He headed to Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, one of 1 million sailors who underwent training there in preparation for World War II service.
The base’s football team, coached by Pro Football Hall of Famer Paul Brown in 1944 and 1945, drew from that talent pool to compete against some of the nation’s top college programs. Parseghian played running back on the 1944 team that went 9-2-1, with wins over Wisconsin and Purdue and losses to Ohio State and, in the season finale, Notre Dame.
After service, Parseghian attended Miami University in Ohio before playing two seasons under Brown with the Cleveland Browns of the All-America Football Conference (1948-49). A hip injury led to a coaching career that began as a Miami-Ohio assistant and would end with more than a decade in charge at Notre Dame.
Parseghian and the Irish won titles in 1966 and 1973, but he abruptly retired after the 1974 season at age 51 with a record of 95-17-4. He said he was worn out and ready for a change.
Parseghian, Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy are the only Irish coaches to lead the storied program to more than one national championship. His .836 winning percentage puts him third on Notre Dame’s coaching list behind fellow College Football Hall of Famers Rockne (.881) and Leahy (.855). Only Rockne (105, 1918-30) and Lou Holtz (100, 1986-96) won more total games at Notre Dame.
Parseghian came to Notre Dame in 1964, with the Irish having gone five seasons without a winning record. Parseghian didn’t just revive Notre Dame football. He made Fighting Irish fans believe in the program again. He later became a powerful advocate and fundraiser in the fight against rare diseases.
Parseghian led Notre Dame to national championships in two different decades, restoring the luster to what had been college football’s most glamorous franchise in one of its most important eras. He began his tenure in South Bend with an impromptu pep rally that drew 2,000 students to the steps of a residence hall and eventually persuaded Notre Dame to end its longstanding policy against playing in bowl games.
Parseghian was so beloved by students that when the weather turned bad, chants of “Ara, stop the rain!” or “Ara, stop the snow” cascaded down from the grandstands.