Ara Parseghian, who played for coach Paul Brown with the Cleveland Browns in the 1940s and then became one of the most influential coaches in college football, has died at the age of 94.
Parseghian grew up in Akron and initially enrolled at the University of Akron, but he quit college to join the Navy during World War II and first played for Brown on a service team at the Great Lakes Naval Station. After his military service, Parseghian enrolled at Miami of Ohio, where he played for Hall of Fame coach Sid Gillman.
The Steelers chose Parseghian in the 1947 NFL draft, but he chose instead to play for his old coach on the Browns, who at the time played in the All-America Football Conference, a rival to the NFL. Parseghian’s pro playing career lasted just two years before a hip injury forced him to retire.
In 1950, Parseghian took a job coaching at Miami of Ohio under the legendary Woody Hayes, and when Hayes left at the end of the year to coach Ohio State, the 28-year-old Parseghian was promoted to Miami of Ohio’s head coach. After five seasons and a 39–6–1 record, Parseghian left Miami of Ohio to coach at Northwestern.
The team Parseghian took over had gone 0-8-1 the previous season, but he immediately improved them to 4-4-1 in his first year and by his third year had Northwestern ranked in the Top 20 of the coaches’ poll. After eight seasons at Northwestern, Parseghian left for Notre Dame.
That was where he saw his greatest success. Notre Dame was coming off one of the worst seasons in its history when Parseghian took the job, finishing 2-7 in 1963. Parseghian immediately turned the team around, going 9-1 in 1964. In his third season, 1966, the Fighting Irish won a national championship after Parseghian made the controversial decision to run out the clock and play for a tie against Michigan State in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2. Parseghian would also win a share of the national championship in 1973, and his teams finished in the Top 15 in all 11 of his seasons as head coach.
After retiring from coaching, Parseghian became a broadcaster. In 1980 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.