Ara Parseghian will be most remembered for winning two national championships in 11 seasons at Notre Dame. However, his accomplishments in eight seasons at Northwestern — including leading the 1962 team to a No. 1 ranking — should not be overlooked.
“Coach was a giant in our community not only because of what his teams accomplished on the field, but what his players accomplished off it,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “His impact will be felt for years to come because of the impression he made on so many, including me.”
He went 36-35 during his career in Evanston. In 1962, Parseghian coached the Wildcats to an 8-2 record. The Wildcat season started out 6-0 before the Cats suffered two losses and the chance to go to the Rose Bowl.
“We were ranked No. 1 for two or three weeks, which was quite an accomplishment,” he said told the Sun-Times in 1987. “We beat Notre Dame and we beat Ohio State on the road, and we came from behind in that game after being down 14-0.”
Despite his unparalleled success at NU, Parseghian grew tired of the limitations in Evanston.
“NU is faced with the problem of being a private school in what is basically a state-school conference. It always was short of depth and numbers,” Parseghian said. “What would happen is by the end of the season, we couldn’t replace the players who were injured. It makes it difficult to go through a season.”
After the 1963 season, Notre Dame had a coaching vacancy. Parseghian reached out to apply for the job and was hired in South Bend.
“It was a difficult time,” Parseghian told the Sun-Times in 2012. ”I had one more year left on my contract, and a writer from one of the Chicago papers was critical of me and said I wouldn’t be around after the last year on my contract. I discussed this with [athletic director Stu Holcomb] and I didn’t feel like I was getting much support. I saw that the Notre Dame job was open and I called over there.”
It was a bitter pill to swallow for NU football, which went into a decline after Parseghian left until Gary Barnett arrived in 1991 and took the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl in 1996.
‘‘We hated to lose him, especially to Notre Dame because it was our archrival and there was a lot of bitterness,” former NU sports information director George Berens said. “Ara’s role [at NU] was so significant.”
For Parseghian, who can count plenty of glory years at Notre Dame, the 1962 season at NU is still a favorite, “more so probably now as time has given our accomplishment and the problems of NU a better perspective.
“It’s a season I’ll remember well because the No. 1 ranking showed the respect the rest of the nation recognized in that team and because they came back to win the last game.”
“But the thing that distinguished that team is the fact that even after the two losses, they came back against Miami to win the last game of the season.”