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Remembrances and Reflections of Ara

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Ara Parseghian’s certainly was a life filled. Describing him as a two-time national championship-winning coach misses the point, entirely. These pieces found better ways to encapsulate the coach, the friend, the grandfather.

The Aura of Ara by Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated — “That’s not to say he was perfect and didn’t have his detractors. Everybody does. Or do they? I can say with complete honesty that I have never spoken with a Parseghian detractor.”

ARA: Shining Light of Irish Camelot has Flickered Out by Notre Dame senior associate athletics director John Heisler — “Parseghian ran the Irish program with a stern hand, yet his charges—players, assistant coaches and administrators—lovingly and reverentially held him in the highest regard. In maybe the ultimate compliment, the 1966 Notre Dame Football Guide in Parseghian’s biography suggested, ‘He invented desire.’”

Parseghian rebuilt Notre Dame football during the ‘Era of Ara’ by Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, perhaps the most-thorough obituary published yesterday — “Along with his successful coaching career, Parseghian’s legacy will be his relentless work to find a cure for a deadly genetic disease that killed three of his young grandchildren. In the last three decades of his life, Parseghian helped raise millions to find a cure for Niemann-Pick Type C, the rare neurological condition that claimed the lives of the three youngest children of his son, Michael.” (more…)

Ara Parseghian: 1923 – 2017

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Legendary Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian died early Wednesday morning, the University announced. He had been battling a hip infection at his home in Granger, Ind., just outside of South Bend. He was 94.

“Ara was a remarkable man,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “We come across thousands and thousands of people throughout our life, and most of the time, they come and go, but there are certain people from the moment you meet them, you realize they’re truly unique. That’s Ara.”

Most notably, Parseghian led Notre Dame to two national championships in 1966 and 1973, part of his 95-17-4 record in 11 seasons with the Irish. Including his seasons coaching at his alma mater Miami (Ohio) and Northwestern, Parseghian’s career record was 170-58-6 across 24 seasons.

Despite spending his first 13 years of coaching elsewhere in the Midwest, Notre Dame may have always been on Parseghian’s mind. At least, it had been since two months before his eighth birthday.

“I remember vividly, back in those days we didn’t have a television and we had sparse radio compared to what we have today,” Parseghian told this writer during a 2012 interview. “The newspapers would print extras and they’d be coming down the street in the middle of the day when an incident occurred.

“I remember the paperboy coming down the street, ‘EXTRA EXTRA EXTRA. Rockne killed in air crash.’ That has been in my mind and vivid through all these years. That tells you the kind of impact that he had on the school and college football, and certainly when I went to Notre Dame I played on that part of the tradition. … You use the spirit and tradition of what had happened in the past as a positive note.”

Parseghian arrived at Notre Dame from Northwestern, having added four losses to the struggling Irish seasons following Frank Leahy’s retirement. From 1959 to 1962, Northwestern beat the school 113 miles eastward each year. University President Fr. Ted Hesburgh watched. Executive Vice President Fr. Edmund Joyce watched. Notre Dame quarterback John Huarte watched.

Thus, when Parseghian reached out to Joyce to inquire about the opening following the 1963 season, neither Hesburgh nor Joyce worried about hiring the first non-alum and first non-Catholic since Jesse Harper handed the team over to Knute Rockne. (1944 interim coach Edward McKeever was not Catholic, as well.) They worried about securing the coach who had made besting the Irish a routine.

“Ara said to us, ‘I’ve gone as far as I can … I’m a believer in emotionalism in athletics, and I know they have it at Notre Dame, and I know I can do better there,” Hesburgh wrote in his memoirs “God, Country, Notre Dame.” “Ara was right, of course, and he proved it many, many times.”

“The opportunities at Notre Dame far exceeded those at Northwestern,” Parseghian said. “They both have strong academic reputations and admissions requirements, but Notre Dame with the religious affiliation, the academic reputation and the great tradition of football was an opportunity to recruit on a national basis. … At Notre Dame, the whole country was open to us.”

Parseghian nearly proved his fit with at the University from the outset, despite taking over a team which had posted a 2-7 record in 1963. Then again, when he arrived, the Irish already knew who he was. They undoubtedly remembered the 35-6 rout Northwestern had delivered to Notre Dame in 1962.

Huarte and receiver Jack Snow felt they could run Parseghian’s offense. Not only could they, but they could run it well. Huarte threw for more than 2,000 yards in 1964 with more than half those yards courtesy of Snow’s hands, and Huarte received the Heisman Trophy a week before the season finale against USC.

“Ara said to me, ‘John, if you make a mistake, don’t worry about it. You’re my quarterback. I’m going with you,” Huarte said of the coach’s conversation before the season-opener at Wisconsin. “I think that was really smart as I look back on it. It made me kind of relax and go on to have a big year.”

Entering the matchup in California at 9-0, a final-minutes, 20-17 defeat to USC cost the Irish a national championship. Parseghian got his first title two seasons later, going 9-0-1 in 1966. Naturally, it is the tie that is best remembered, a 10-10 knot with undefeated, second-ranked Michigan State. Never mind the 51-0 victory over No. 10 USC a week later.

“There was only the national championship as the only thing we could strive for,” Parseghian said. “The circumstances we were facing when we started our season … all we were fighting for, the only thing open to us, was a national championship, and that’s pretty hard to get when you’re going against 120 schools.”

Another close call in 1970, again robbed by USC in the regular season finale, made the 1973 championship even sweeter, a 11-0 season punctuated by a Sugar Bowl victory over then-No. 1 Alabama.

“When you least expect it, you might have [a title]. When times are predictable that you are chosen to be, things can happen that you don’t even come close.”

After considering retirement following the 1973 title, Parseghian called it a career a year later following a 10-2 record. But he never really left South Bend. When three of his grandchildren were diagnosed with the rare neurological condition Niemann-Pick Type C, Parseghian’s literal and figurative closeness to the University led to the creation of the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation. Parseghian’s three grandchildren all died from the disease, but it has raised millions of dollars to further progress combatting the disease.

“We have lost one of the most remarkable men I have ever known,” former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz said. “He was a role model for me in every facet of his life, as a husband, father, coach, businessman and genuine friend. People will remember Ara for his great success as a football coach or the valiant battle he and his family have waged in order to find a cure for Niemann-Pick Type C disease and rightfully so. I will remember him as a true friend, a great golfing partner and a person willing to help anyone in need.”

In 2007, the University unveiled a statue of Parseghian outside Notre Dame Stadium.

Parseghian was born May 21, 1923 in Akron, Ohio, and is survived by his wife, Katie, whom he married in 1948, as well as his daughter, Kris Humbert, and son, Michael. In addition to his three grandchildren, Parseghian was preceded in death by his daughter Karan.

To donate to the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Fund, visit parseghianfund.nd.edu.

A look at defensive backs and ends in practice videos

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This post could simply be the two embedded videos below, but you’re busy. It is Wednesday, after all, and you do not want to sit through any excess football video.

Wait, what’s that? With a full month to go still before a bona fide Irish game, you’re willing to watch as much pads-less practice footage as you can get your hands on? Well, fair enough. But nonetheless, what harm is there in pointing you toward a few specific moments within the clips?

Starting with the highlight reel pushed out by Notre Dame …

Last year’s performance left many Irish fans concerned about the defense moving forward. It seems fitting these 74 seconds seem to focus on some defensive highlights. What may be most impressive is the number of different defensive backs breaking up passes. (more…)

Preseason practice officially commences

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Notre Dame officially opened preseason practice Tuesday. That means a game is now only one month away. The Irish did not wear pads in the two-hour session, thus making any conclusions drawn, by definition, hasty. Nonetheless, seeing who is actively in the mix at the outset is the first step toward arriving at proper conclusions in 31 days.

Some of those involved greatly impressed all in attendance. At the top of that list may be junior Shaun Crawford, apparently quite recovered from his Achilles injury. With his theoretical resurgence, Notre Dame truly could have a wealth of talent at cornerback, increasing the chances of sophomore Julian Love buttressing the safety rotation.

On the flipside of both the impression delivered and of the line of scrimmage, sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson apparently mixed displays of talent with frustrating inconsistency.

Stepherson may not have much time to prove he can be relied on thanks to the arrivals and quick implementations of the two graduate transfer receivers. Michigan transfer Freddy Canteen reportedly saw action with the second unit in the slot while Arizona State transfer Cameron Smith got a figurative starting nod as the boundary receiver, bumping junior Miles Boykin down a notch.

Smith’s initial edge could simply be due to him knowing offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme from playing under Long at Arizona State for three of the last four seasons, but one would think now would be the time to educate Boykin, Stepherson and the rest of the receivers rather than simply defer to a prior understanding. As long as Smith is working with the starters, presume he has earned that due to his talent as much as his grasp of the offense.

Finding the proper mix at receiver may take the Irish a bit, but deciding on a right tackle should be a simpler task. Per Hansen, sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg were not the only ones with an opportunity there. Freshman Robert Hainsey could make a push, as well, though that seems unlikely in the long-run as of now.

On the defensive line, it makes sense to see some freshmen finding their way into the rotation given the ceaseless wondering this offseason about Notre Dame’s defensive tackles,

That leaves Darnell Ewell as the newcomer in the cold right now, though both Hinish and Tagovailoa-Amosa would still need to work their way past more upperclassmen to see the field consistently.

Overall, it sounds like the first day of practice was a success for the Irish. Then again, that bar is cleared if day one is devoid of injury while creating some glimpses of potential.

A projected Notre Dame offensive depth chart to open fall camp

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Much of the spring’s analysis, summer wondering and now fall discussion has focused on Notre Dame’s defense — and it was admittedly furthered in this space. Questions obviously surround both the defensive tackle and the safety positions.

RELATED READING: Things to learn: Notre Dame’s defense filled with questions as camp begins

But those ponderings should not be so grand as to block out any conversation of the Irish offense, a unit which just may be the most-potent of Brian Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame. With that in mind, below you will find an attempt at a refresher of a practical depth chart. The qualifier practical is included because it will defer from any listed depth chart. For example, officially listing the starting right guard as the backup center would elicit a number of fruitless and unnecessary questions. If the situation were to arise in a game, though, the Irish would possibly expect senior Alex Bars to move to the middle of the line.

By no means will this be the depth chart in 32 days when Notre Dame kicks off against Temple. That’s why there is a fall camp, right? This is just a starting point for context as some players rise, others fall and a few even switch positions.

Quarterback: Jr. Brandon Wimbush — So. Ian Book — Sr. Montgomery VanGorder or Fr. Avery Davis. The “or” translates to: If a short-term solution is needed, look to VanGorder, but if the situation were to dictate a long-term change, Davis would likely spend a year of eligibility to at least be ready to aid, a la Wimbush in 2015.
Running Back: Jr. Josh Adams — Jr. Dexter Williams — So. Tony Jones — So. Deon McIntosh — Fr. C.J. Holmes, likely to preserve a year of eligibility after suffering a shoulder injury in the spring.

Field, or X, Receiver: Jr. Equanimeous St. Brown — So. Kevin Stepherson
Slot, or Z, Receiver: So. Chase Claypool — Jr. C.J. Sanders — Jr. Chris Finke — Sr. Freddy Canteen
Boundary, or W, Receiver: Jr. Miles Boykin — So. Javon McKinley
Additionally, Arizona State graduate transfer Cameron Smith and freshmen Michael Young and Jafar Armstrong slot into the depth chart somewhere, though where will remain unclear until some practice repetitions are observed. (Such as today’s, possibly.) The best guess this morning would place Smith competing with Stepherson at field, Young competing with McKinley at boundary and Armstrong getting chances at multiple spots.
Tight End: Fifth-year senior Durham Smythe and junior Alizé Mack — Sr. Nic Weishar—Freshmen Brock Wright and Cole Kmet. Smythe and Mack may alternate being 1A and 1B this season, depending on the game plan, but both will certainly be involved. As of now, the freshmen are behind Weishar, but that could change with a solid August from either Wright or Kmet.

Left Tackle: Fifth-year senior Mike McGlinchey — So. Liam Eichenberg
Left Guard: Sr. Quenton Nelson — Fifth-year senior Hunter Bivin — Jr. Trevor Ruhland
Center: Sr. Sam Mustipher — Sr. Alex Bars
Right Guard: Sr. Alex Bars — Fifth-year senior Hunter Bivin — Senior Jimmy Byrne
Right Tackle: So. Tommy Kraemer — So. Liam Eichenberg
The freshmen trio of Robert Hainsey, Dillan Gibbons and Aaron Banks fill in the offensive line depth, as well, but it is unlikely any see the field barring multiple injuries this fall.