Ara Parseghian, the charismatic Hall of Fame coach who woke up the echoes at Notre Dame, restoring the Fighting Irish to football glory in the 1960s and 1970s with two national championships and an innovative, psychologically astute approach to coaching, died Aug. 2 at his home in Granger, Ind. He was 94.
The University of Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins, issued a statement announcing the death. Mr. Parseghian had recently been treated for a hip infection.
Mr. Parseghian (pronounced par-SEEG-yun) took over the head coaching job of perhaps the country’s most storied college football team in 1964, after rebuilding the fortunes of perennial Big Ten doormat Northwestern University.
Notre Dame had been a gridiron powerhouse since the turn of the 20th century, building a nationwide following under coaches Knute Rockne, Elmer Layden and Frank Leahy. Since Leahy’s retirement in 1953, the Irish had descended into mediocrity, with an abysmal 2-7 record in 1963.
The intense, handsome Mr. Parseghian immediately brought a new sense of order, rebuilding the team’s reputation at the same time Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, was transforming the Catholic university in South Bend, Ind., into a preeminent academic institution.
From the beginning, Mr. Parseghian was seen as someone with a new approach to coaching. He wasn’t so much a stern general of the sideline as a sensitive manager of human potential acted out through blocking and tackling.
The start of his tenure providentially coincided with the completion of the “Word of Life” mural on the university’s Hesburgh Library, which stood beyond the football stadium. The granite mosaic mural, which depicts Christ with upraised arms, became known as “Touchdown Jesus.”
Mr. Parseghian had the team’s helmets painted the same shade of gold as the dome of the Main Building, a 19th-century campus landmark. He led his players in calisthenics during tightly organized practice sessions that never lasted longer than two hours. He applied lessons from psychology to help motivate his team.
With an uncanny knack for putting players in the right positions, Mr. Parseghian converted a fullback to tackle, shifted an oversized halfback to defensive end and moved another halfback, Jack Snow, to split end, where he became an all-American.
He installed a quick-strike offense built around the passing of senior quarterback John Huarte, who had seen little action in previous years.
“The game is not won by a pep talk on Saturday,” Mr. Parseghian said early in his career at Notre Dame. “It’s won by preparation of your club from Monday until game time.”
Week after week, Mr. Parseghian’s team rolled on and, in the words of the Notre Dame fight song, began to “wake up the echoes” of past gridiron glory. After a 40-0 victory over Navy and its reigning Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach, the Irish were ranked No. 1.
Notre Dame was on the verge of a perfect season until the last two minutes of the final game, as the University of Southern California scored a 20-17 upset to drop the Irish to No. 3 in the Associated Press poll.
Mr. Parseghian’s team had a 7-2-1 record in 1965 and then sailed through the next season undefeated before meeting Michigan State on Nov. 19, 1966. Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 in the country, Michigan State No. 2.
Billed as the “game of the century,” the battle of unbeaten teams was shown on national television and drew more than 80,000 fans and 750 members of the media to Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.
With several of Notre Dame’s top players out of action because of injury, Michigan State built an early 10-0 lead. Notre Dame fought back with a touchdown and a fourth-quarter field goal to tie the game.
As the clock wound down, Notre Dame had possession deep in its own territory and controlled the ball with a series of running plays until time expired. The final score was 10-10.
The game remains one of the most memorable in football history, yet Mr. Parseghian was criticized for settling for a tie and not making a last-ditch effort to win.
“What was I supposed to do there, throw a bomb?” he told the Los Angeles Times years later. “People don’t realize that not only did we have five starters out of the game, but we were on the road, playing in front of a hostile crowd, and going into the wind as well. Everything was stacked against us at that point.”
A week after the Michigan State game, the Irish trounced Southern Cal, 51-0, in Los Angeles to secure the country’s No. 1 ranking and Mr. Parseghian’s first national title.
During the 1970 season, behind quarterback Joe Theismann, Notre Dame finished second in the country after upsetting top-ranked Texas in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1. 1971.
Mr. Parseghian led his team to a perfect season in 1973, but that year six other teams also finished without a loss. The Irish met the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, coached by Paul “Bear” Bryant, in a Sugar Bowl showdown.
Throughout the dramatic game, the lead changed hands six times. Late in the fourth quarter, with the Irish on their 2-yard line, Mr. Parseghian called a daring pass play that led to a crucial first down and preserved a 24-23 Notre Dame victory — giving Mr. Parseghian his second national championship.
The next year, Notre Dame finished its season with a 9-2 record and was scheduled to meet Alabama again, this time in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day. Two weeks beforehand, Mr. Parseghian announced that the stress of coaching was damaging his health and that the Orange Bowl would be his final game.
Alabama, undefeated and top-ranked, was a heavy favorite. After Notre Dame pulled off a surprising upset, 13-11, Mr. Parseghian’s players carried him off the field on their shoulders. It was his 95th victory at Notre Dame, second most in school history to Rockne’s 105. (Lou Holtz would later lead the Irish to 100 wins from 1986 through 1996.)
“Beating Rockne’s record was never an objective of mine,” Mr. Parseghian said after the game. “I came to Notre Dame to try to do the best job I could, to try to regain the dignity and class that Notre Dame had meant in college football.”
Ara Raoul Parseghian was born May 21, 1923, in Akron, Ohio. His father, who was born in Armenia, worked in a rubber factory.
His French-born mother made young Ara wear a beret to school, which contributed to a toughness that led him to become a schoolyard fighter and athlete. After Navy service during World War II, he became a star halfback at Ohio’s Miami University, where his coach was Hall of Famer Sid Gillman.
Mr. Parseghian played briefly with the Cleveland Browns until a hip injury ended his career. He returned to Miami University, graduating in 1949 and receiving a master’s degree in education in 1951, the same year he took over as head football coach from future Hall of Famer Woody Hayes.
Five years later, after compiling a record of 39-6-1 at Miami, Mr. Parseghian moved to Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., turning around a program that was winless the year before he arrived.
When he was at Notre Dame and for years afterward, Mr. Parseghian repeatedly rejected lucrative NFL coaching offers, including from the Washington Redskins. He worked as a college football analyst on television until 1988.
With a lifetime coaching record of 170-58-6, including 95-17-4 at Notre Dame, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980.
Survivors include his wife of 69 years, the former Kathleen “Katie” Davis, of South Bend; two children, Kris Humbert and Mike Parseghian; and a grandson.
A daughter, Karan Parseghian, died of complications from multiple sclerosis in 2013. Three of his grandchildren died of a genetic disorder, Niemann-Pick Disease Type C, leading Mr. Parseghian and his wife to start a medical foundation to help find a cure for the disease.
One thing that endeared Mr. Parseghian to the Notre Dame faithful was that members of the student body were free to try out for the football team. Few were chosen, but one exception was a 5-foot-7, 26-year-old Navy veteran named Dan Ruettiger.
In 1974, Mr. Parseghian put Ruettiger on the team’s practice squad and told him that he would become a full-fledged member of the team the next year. By then, Mr. Parseghian had retired, but his successor, Dan Devine, honored the promise and put Ruettiger, better known by his nickname Rudy, into a game. The story was the basis of the 1993 movie “Rudy.”
In retirement, Mr. Parseghian continued to live near South Bend and often acted as an informal adviser to later Notre Dame coaches.
“Football does not exist solely as entertainment or as a moneymaker,” he said in 1974. “What is more important to me is the role of educator that a coach plays. We’re dealing with boys between the ages of 18 and 22. They have a lot to learn, despite what they might think, and I know that we can be a real influence on them.”