Duranko’s Digest: Ara’s critical first spring practice

Ara Parseghian and Terry Hanratty
Unknown Date; South Bend, IN, USA; FILE PHOTO; Notre Dame Irish head coach Ara Parseghian on the sidelines with Terry Hanratty (5) at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Photo By Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With spring practice little more than a fortnight away, we ought examine one of the most critical Spring practices ever conducted at Notre Dame. That was Ara Raoul Parseghian’s first, in Spring, 1964.  We are also nearing (in late December) the 50 year anniversary of Ara’s hiring by Notre Dame. And it’s never too early  to start the semicentennial celebration of the great Ara!

Let’s first revisit some arcane elements of Ara’s reign, particularly given the inadequacy of Dent’s banal tome on Ara, which merely followed the familiar Dent formula.


Ara played college football at Miami (Ohio) and was an integral part of its later designatiion as the “Cradle of Coaches.”  Ara played for Sid Gillman at Miami.  Gillman left Miami to migrate to the West Coast and the NFL.  Gillman  is revered as one of the architects of the modern passing attack, and the forebears of the “West Coast Offense.”  The direct descendants of Gillman’s coaching tree include Al Davis, Don “Air” Coryell, Chuck Knox, Chuck Noll, Dick Vermeil and George Allen.

Then, when Ara had his brief “career” in the NFL he was with the Browns under the legendary mastermind Paul Brown.  Several players who played for both Halas and Brown indicated that while Halas was colorful and feisty, that Paul Brown was “the man” for organization, technique and a thorough approach to football.  Brown famously noted Ara’s self-confidence.

After that, Ara returned to Miami (Ohio) to be the freshman coach under a Denison grad recently hired to shepherd the Miami flock.  His name was Woody Hayes.  And after staying at Miami for a year, refining Ara’s coaching skills in the process, Hayes answered a phone call from Columbus and became the coach, and I mean, THE COACH, at Ohio State. Ara was then elevated to the head coach job.  Gillman, Brown, Hayes.  If that’s not enough, when Ara took over he found on his roster a young kid from Barberton, named Glenn Schembechler.  So Ara was Bo’s college coach too.

Ara’s EXPERIENCE/Ara’s squandered gift to Notre Dame

Young though he was, Ara had 13 years of college head coaching experience when he took over in December of 1963.  He has often, and with great passion and deliberation said:
“I had 13 years of head coaching experience when I took the job at Notre Dame.  And I needed every one of those 13 years to succeed.”  Ara’s advice was arrogantly, sadly, and painfully ignored when Faust, then Davie, then Kansas’ current head coach were hired with NO years of college head coaching experience.


Although it seems unremarkable today, Ara’s hire caused a stir because he  was neither a Notre Dame alum nor a Roman Catholic.  But a snootful of Brennan, Kuharich and the ever loyal Hugh Devore was enough to compel the good Fathers to look beyond the alumni directory.

When Ara arrived, he brought a nice bevy of his Miami/Northwestern cadre with  him.  In those days before the internet there was no squawking from posting geniuses on the perils of a “small time” staff.  So onto campus came Paul Shoults, Doc Urich and Tom Pagna, the Paul Allen to Ara’s Bill Gates, the Watson to Ara’s Holmes.  Ara brought in  a defensive coach who had played at Notre Dame  and was then the head coach at little John Carroll University in Cleveland. Johnny Ray.  Words fail in trying to capture the impact and spirit of Ray.  He was larger than life. He had, well, an attitude.  Alan Page once state that Ray was the meanest white man Page had ever met.  There has never been a better assistant coach at Notre Dame. The ’66 Notre Dame defense was epic. Harmon Wages said this about Norm Van Brocklin, but it would sure fit Johnny Ray.  “I alway imagine him coming back, riding a steed down a road with players hung on crosses on each side of the road as he passed through, like the final scene in Spartacus.”  Johnny Ray!

Ara’s ERA, on the field, at Notre Dame and in America.

We know about the football. But no Notre Dame head coach has ever held the reigns in so turbulent an era.  First, the 60’s is an all-time misnomer.  Mario Savio and the Haight and Leary notwithstanding, the 60’s did not really begin in America until the June, 1967.  The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It signaled middle class, mostly Caucasian, suburban American that gettting high was not only permissible but the best way to go.  Boom! The Summer of Love was ’67.  The 60’s even arrived in sleepy little South Bend in the Fall of ’67 when NOLA’s colorful Billy Kurtz opened the “Delphic Oracle” in the Bend and had “Captain Electric and the Flying Lapels” as one of his feature bands.

When Ara took over, Kennedy had just been assassinated.  He coached his last season after Nixon’s August, 1974 resignation. When he arrived the Beatles had not yet appeared on Ed Sullivan, and “Reefer Madness” was not yet camp but a serious instructional film of the anti-drug forces.  Notre Dame became coeducational during Ara’s tenure and the student body changed as a result of America’s change.  The first waves of returning Vietnam vets began matriculating at Notre Dame. The Black Power movement even made its way to South Bend, and there was a rumor that some African-American students were plotting to paint the Golden Dome black.  So while Ara was doodling X’s and O’s Notre Dame changed more in his 11 year tenure than in any two decades before or since.  And Ara piloted his ship through the stormy off-campus and on-campus seas.


Through 1963, college football had operated under limited substitution rules.  Long story short, players played both ways, mostly.  Old timers will remember Paul Dietzel’s  LSU team with the White team, the Go team and the Chinese Bandits, designed to take advantage of the limited substitution and timing rules.  But the rules changed that Winter of ’63.  In 1964, just like the NFL, college teams would be permitted unlimited substitutions.

Many coaches didn’t want to leap too quickly to change their format, and adjusted gradually to the rule change. They wouldn’t fully convert to “two platoon” until 1965.  Not Ara.  He carped the bloody diem and got his staff and his team on it. They immediately assigned players to one side of the ball or the other.  In fact the only player who played both offense and defense after that was Dick Arrington.  The rest of the team was either exclusively on offense or exclusively on defense and exclusively under Pagna or Ray. Ara blazed past the rest of the pack of coaches who were hesitant to pull the trigger and still dawdling with changing their modus operant.

This  was a monumental benefit to the Irish, not only because of the velocity which which Ara leveraged the rule change but also because of the surprisingly talented roster  of large mammals he had inherited. Hugh Devore had recruited one of Notre Dame’s greatest classes for the Fall of ’63. Of course nothing compares to Leahy’s recruiting class of ’46, but ’63 may have been as outstanding as the ’90 class,  Vinny’s best.

Here are the draft choices that came in with that class:

First Round
Alan Page
Kevin Hardy
Paul Seiler
Tom Regner

Second Round
Jim Lynch
Larry Conjar

Third Round
George Goeddeke

That’s 7 players drafted in the first 100 taken.

That’s two college football Hall of Famers, Page and Lynch.

And there were many other huge bodies like Fred Schnurr, Vic Paternostro, Dick Swatland.

There had always been a challenge in getting large players, often a tad slower and with less stamina, to play both ways.  Ara obviated that by requiring that they play only half the possesssions. On most practice fields across the land it was business as usual.  In South Bend it was business as never before.

Oh, Ara did other things that Spring, “discovering” John Huarte.  duh!  And he moved Jack Snow from being an average running/defensive back to a wide receiver who not only caught most of Huarte’s passes, but caught a bunch in the NFL.  Ara moved Johnstown, PA’s Pete Duranko from being a tough, but ineffective fullback to being a ferocious, highly disruptive defensive tackle.

Ara had used his pedigree, his 13 years of experience, his first rate assistant coaches to completely rework Notre Dame from Devore’s squad into a massive, aggressive “two-platoon” (that phrase now seems archaic) national championship contender.  The early opponents were not ready for what Ara had built.  The first 6 opponents fell by an average score of 30-7.

The era of Ara had begun.

Spring practice is coming.  Don’t get caught watching the paint dry!

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  1. Raschi, eh? You got no room in your story for Eddie Lopat and Allie Reynolds?????

    A bit of Hughie. Greatest pep rally speech ever, before Wisconsin in ’63.
    This was, apparently, a year after Murphy’s great Don Hogan speech. Hughie
    got up and spoke for a few minutes and then said “Men (Notre Dame was not yet coed) there are three things we need to do to beat Wisconsin tomorrow……

    A hush came over the crowd as they awaited these three gems from Devore’s Strategic treasure chest.


    The crown went nuts and almost blew the top off the old fieldhouse.

    When was that??/ yesterday?…………

  2. I keep reading this article over and over, mr fling to mr cling, I still hate cotton spryer from Texas, gave a guy 1 pt in the 10/10 tie. Sorry guys this just brings back some of the great memories.

  3. Terrific story D.I was in the army at the time in SEAsia, we would listen to all the ND games on Armed Forces radio.
    Ara was/is still to me, my KKRockne and Frank Leahy.
    Frank Raschi, nephew of Vic Raschi from Springfield, Ma. shot up his telefunken hi-fi, tv, and radio when ND fell to the loathsome Trojans that Nov. day.
    V. Raschi was a workhorse NYYankee pitcher in the late 40’s and early 50’s

  4. Great article, I,m 70 now, Hugh Devore was our neighbor and my dads classmate. He couldn’t get org the fact that a lot of those players were Hughie,s

  5. One other thing about Ara. He consciously and aggressively enlisted the support of the student body that Spring as well. He even wanted the band to show up at Spring practices and was upset when they didn’t! It was a way different feeling from the year before when we didn’t know – or care – what the Irish did because we knew it wouldn’t make any difference. The Spring of ’64 was different. Way different.

  6. smithwick, the “ara stop the rain story” is just wonderful. My jaws hurt from smiling so widely. Thank you!

    To Hurls, one of Bo’s tricks was to consisntly quote the French General who constantly exhorted “L’audace, l’audace, l’audace” Which Bo rendered as “Audacity, audacity, audacity.” Bo was mostly conservative but he occasionally got audacious with the halfback pass (near the goal line) and he was a master at the intentional safety. When the Ravens pulled out the old intentional safety in the Super Bowl, it reminded me of occasionally audacious “Bo.”

  7. Archangel Michael – “RISK THE UNEXPECTED”?

    Excellent term! And right-on-target, too. That is precisely the origin of Faust’s foibles, Lou’s brilliant success, (ND had not run the option consistently since Lou arrived) Davie’s demise, Won’tingham’s woes, and Charlie’s troubles. (to sound a bit like orator Jesse Jackson w/the alliteration) As a new/different (N/D) coach, a coach absolutely must be different – and RISK THE UNEXPECTED. We are starting to see Notre Dame morph into a spread-offense offense with promise for that DIFFERENT SUCCESS.

    Kelly & Co. kicked butt on the recruiting trail this year. BK no longer has to rely on the “NDRKG” mantra as an elixir for rabid ND-fans. BK has his guys, now. ND will benefit tremendously.


    1. Just a follow-up after my above article, since I posted it without checking the “notify me of follow-up comments” box. PLEASE RESPOND TO THIS!!!

  8. Archangel, (the patron saint of Poland) I agree on all points with your comments. Kelly had to clean up the Augean stables left by his predecessor.
    Last year, the defense arrived, and this year, by October, my surmise will be that the offense arrives. I am a big believer in the goose (production capacity) and the golden egg (production) and believe that Kelly’ program, overall, will be even stronger this year. The proof will come in those unforgiving moments each Saturday.

    But I’m all in on this:
    Go Irish!

  9. A wonderful article. Ara will always be held in the highest esteem by the Irish Faithful. A brief story: Underneath the tent at our class dinner last June. It is our 50th reunion, and Ara is introduced as a surprise guest speaker. There is a typical South Bend Spring down pour. What else ? We chanted, as the coach began to speak: ” Ara stop the rain !”

  10. @ duranko . . .Thanks for the superb era of Ara piece, and clearly noting his deserved place among the pioneers of modern football- from his platooning, to his discovering each athlete’s most effective niche that maximized the talent Ara so successfully positioned and developed when he arrived, even before he brought in the numerous stars after he was on campus.

    Let’s hope BK models similar clear judgment in identifying his players’ strengths (so far, so good i.e. Harrison Smith, Theo, K. Russell, M. Farley et.al.), but also the moxie to risk the unexpected , like Ara’s “mirror defense” against Texas in the bowl game (70?), or the epic pass from deep in our territory against ‘Bama culminating in the NC in ’73, key strategies that propelled ND to help defeat the elite of his day.

    Coach Kelly’s third year established evidence of the ND renewal both Lou and Ara accomplished.

    Ara was key in restoring a slip-sliding program, kick starting ND’s return to prominence 50 seasons ago.

    Lou followed twenty some years later.

    Coach Kelly, you’re up,
    and based on last year’s success, you’re up to it.

    Go Irish!

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