Coach Parseghian introduces his 1960 staff to a football.  [NU Archives]

Ara Parseghian
1923 - 2017

The Era of Ara closed for good today.

Ara Parseghian, Northwestern's legendary football coach who went on to win a pair of national championships at Notre Dame, died early today after a brief illness. He was 94 years old.

Parseghian was one of several Wildcat coaches who came from Miami of Ohio, the cradle of coaches-- not only for the nation, but NU specifically-- and he took a stagnant NU program and propelled it to #1 in the country. He is considered one of the greatest coaches in Northwestern history.

As a player in the NFL, Parseghian played for Paul Brown (who also launched Otto Graham's professional career), and then returned to Miami, his alma mater, to support head coach Woody Hayes. Parseghian took over for Woody at Miami in 1951, and during his five-year tenure as the Redskins' head coach, Ara crafted a reign of terror through the MAC, going 39-6-1, including his final, undefeated 1955 masterpiece of a season. That last season began with a 25 to 14 slap-down of Northwestern at Dyche Stadium. The Wildcats were winless and hapless that season, but their 14 points were the most that Miami were to give to any team: the Redskins outscored their opponents 226 to 47.

Northwestern, in a tailspin during Lou Saban's only year as head coach, cleaned house at the end of the '55 season, ousting Saban and his staff (including future Yankee owner George Steinbrenner) and hiring Parseghian from Oxford (Parseghian's replacement: John Pont, who would also find himself in Evanston in 1973). It took Ara two years to rebuild Northwestern's program, and he began a relentless national recruiting effort, bringing in top talent, including All-Americans Ron Burton and Jack Cvercko, along with Irv Cross, Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, and-- in the sixties-- Tom Myers and Paul Flatley.

The Era of Ara became a national phenomenon in 1959. That season, NU-- just two seasons removed from a winless campaign-- opened the year ranked in the top ten. The '59 season kicked off against Oklahoma, the #1 team in the nation and the most dominant team of the fifties: the Sooners had won 107 of their last 117 games. Parseghian's squad, however, routed Oklahoma at Dyche Stadium, 45-13, and captured the #2 spot in the nation. Later that season, Parseghian would face Notre Dame for the first time. The 'Cats had not played the Irish since 1948, and Notre Dame had won the last eight games vs. NU. the '59 'Cats, however, upended Notre Dame 30 to 24. Parsheghian would go on to establish himself as the master of the NU - Notre Dame series: he went 4-0 in the series as NU's head coach, then 9-0 in the series heading the Irish.

Tough campaigns in 1960 and '61 were followed by Ara's high-water mark in Evanston: a 7-2 run in 1962 that featured Northwestern swamping Notre Dame at Dyche Stadium, in front of a record crowd, to capture the #1 ranking nationally. It was NU's first #1 ranking since 1936, and the last time that the 'Cats would reach the top of the polls.

Parseghian's NU team finished the 1963 season at 5-4, featuring impressive victories at Missouri and at Ohio State. The win over the Buckeyes, the season finale, gave Ara a 36-35-1 overall record as head coach at Northwestern. Parseghian would be the last coach with a winning record in Evanston until Pat Fitzgerald.

After the '63 season, Parseghian's relationship with the NU administration became frayed, and, when asked about his status at NU, Parseghian famously and tersely responded, "I'm restive." Unfortunately, Ara was too restive, moving on to Notre Dame within weeks.

While in South Bend, Ara took the Irish to two national championships, in 1966 and 1973, retiring in '74. He went on to provide broadcast commentary and was famously involved with funding for medical research for Niemann-Pick Disease, which had claimed three of his grandchildren.

Coach Parseghian returned to NU in 2010, to be honored by the team and the school. It was homecoming, and it was a special homecoming for NU's renaissance coach, a great man and a coach whose work at Northwestern was sterling but half-finished, with a record that was great but only hinted at what could have been, had NU prized Ara during his era as much as it prized him in this last decade.

Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat  [Sun-Times image]