The numbers are staggering to contemplate when one researches the coaching career of iconic Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian.
He guided the Fighting Irish to a pair of national championships, and nearly two more in his 11 seasons. His teams won 95 games at a clip of nearly 84 percent success rate. Nine of his 11 teams finished their seasons ranked among the 10 best programs nationally, and he mentored 40 players during his time in South Bend that were named as first team All-America honorees.
He ascended to legendary status within perhaps the most historic collegiate football program anywhere.
And his coaching success wasn't even the most impressive or meaningful achievement that he could lay claim to in what proved to be 94 years of notable moments.
Parseghian passed away early Wednesday morning at his home just outside of South Bend. A Mass for the Feast of the Transfiguration and Celebration of the Life of Ara Parseghian will take place Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the Notre Dame campus.
University president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., will preside.
A memorial celebration will follow at 3:30 p.m. in Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, in which family, former Fighting Irish players and colleagues will speak.
The public is invited to attend both the Mass and memorial.
There are varying categories that Notre Dame football coaches are placed into following their days on the sidelines.
Jesse Harper, Knute Rockne, Lou Holtz, and Frank Leahy each built legacies of success that time will never diminish, while the eras of Joe Kuharich and Gerry Faust are memorable for all the wrong reasons.
However, Parseghian had the ability to create his own identity, by being as successful as any of that first group, but as personable as the dearly loved – as a person, if not a coach – Faust.
“Notre Dame mourns the loss of a legendary football coach,” Father Jenkins said in a release. But he also added that Parseghian was “a beloved member of the Notre Dame family and good man.”
There is no way to singularly define Parseghian, but to categorize him in an athletic sense – and he was a spectacular athlete in his own right, as well as a tremendous coach – doesn't do Parseghian's life justice. For as great as he was on the field, he was even better off it.
“When we talk about traits of excellence,” current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told his team prior to its practice at Culver Academy Wednesday, “traits of excellence, and how hard it is, think about this man and what he went through.”
What Parseghian “went through” in his life wasn't all cheering and victories. The Hall of Fame coach also endured more than his share of personal pain.
Parseghian lost a daughter, Karen Burke, to multiple sclerosis, and he spent the later portion of his life raising funds and awareness to combat that disease. However, it was his family's ordeal with the neurodegenerative disorder of Niemann-Pick Type C Disease (NPC) that garnered the most attention.
Coach Parseghian is on all our minds.
"The pride & tradition of Notre Dame Football will not be left to the weak, timid or non-committed." pic.twitter.com/GTIAVZjAfO
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) August 2, 2017
Parseghian retired at the way too young age of just 51 years, and many around him wondered just what he would do with the rest of his life. It turned out that the Lord had other plans for him aside from trying to beat USC.
In the early 1990s, the first of Parseghian's eventual three grandchildren was diagnosed with NPC, each eventually tragically passing away, and he set about the task of achieving victory once again.
Through the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation, an organization that is based at Notre Dame, he helped raise over $45 million that has gone toward the research necessary to combat the disease.
“… the monies that we've been able to raise and funnel into research have been very beneficial,” Parseghian told the South Bend Tribune last year. “We know a lot about (NPC). When we first started, we knew very little.”
The legacy of Parseghian in the minds of most will be of the many great gridiron battles won through determination, discipline and toughness. But his true legacy will be of a child – at some point in the future – that is able to live a healthy life following their diagnosis of NPC.
There is no scoreboard that can measure the significance of that.
“What he had to do,” Kelly continued in addressing his players, “throughout his life, and what he achieved, makes what we do on a day-to-day basis seem pretty simple.”
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Ara Parseghian Medical research Fund at Notre Dame.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.
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