Childhood & Early Life
Ara Raoul Parseghian was born on May 21, 1923, in Akron, Ohio, U.S., to parents of Armenian descent. His father had migrated from the Ottoman Empire in 1915, during the Armenian Genocide. He had moved to the United States during World War I and had settled in Ohio. He then married a French woman.
Ara was the third-born child in the family and had two elder siblings. Ara grew up in Akron, in a part of the city that had a huge Armenian population. However, there were many anti-social elements in the city, too. Such elements had the potential to ruin Ara’s childhood. Ara himself was an aggressive kid.
His mother was too protective of him, but despite that, Ara managed to sneak out of the house at times in order to play outdoor sports. He joined a local school, where he was one of the toughest kids. He was tall and had a strong frame. Akron’s ‘Board of Education’ hired Ara to patrol his school’s premises at night to keep away the local goons and other anti-social elements.
He played a lot of sports as a kid. He joined the local ‘YMCA’ and played basketball there, among other sports. He joined the ‘South High School’ during his junior year. However, his mother was too protective of him and did not allow him to play sports that could get him into physical contact with other players. He had joined his school team without his parents’ permission, as he enjoyed athletic activities a lot.
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Ara graduated high school in 1942. Back then, the United States of America had already entered the Second World War, following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Ara was willing to fight in the war and thus joined the ‘U.S. Navy’ in 1942. He had joined the ‘University of Akron’ by then and thus dropped out to join the war.
He was transferred to a training camp at ‘Naval Station Great Lakes,’ where he played football under coach Paul Brown. Ara was named the team’s full back from the beginning, but an ankle injury made him quit the team. However, his leadership skills were greatly appreciated by the coach.
Ara joined ‘Miami University’ and began representing its football team in 1946. He played until 1947. His exceptional performance had him drawing praises from all around, and he was named the “All-Ohio halfback” and the “Little All-American” by sports pundits.
In the 1947 draft, he was selected by the ‘Pittsburgh Steelers’ in the 13th round. However, the ‘Cleveland Browns,’ too, selected him. He chose to go with the ‘Browns’ in 1948, initially playing at the halfback and defensive back positions. The ‘Browns’ won the ‘AAFC Championship’ in 1948, and they had won all the games that they had played that season.
However, early in his second season for the ‘Browns,’ Ara sustained a major hip injury. It spelled the end of his football playing career.
Despite the abrupt end of his playing career, Ara was not too disappointed, as very soon, he was appointed as a coach at the ‘Miami University’ in Oxford, Ohio. He was asked to coach the freshman team. He did his job well, and in the 1950 season, he led the freshman team to a record of 4-0. The following year, he joined the team as its head coach.
In 1956, he became the head coach of the ‘Northwestern University’ team ‘Northwestern Wildcats.’ In the first six games of the season, the team registered only one win. In the next season, too, the team’s performance was not too good. However, the team management and the staff believed that Ara was a great coach and that he had managed to keep the team united and focused.
In the 1958 season, the team put up a much better performance and ended up defeating major teams such as ‘Michigan’ and ‘Ohio State.’ Over the next few seasons, the team’s performance was a mix of success and failure. Despite this, there were only praises for Ara’s coaching style. He was known as a focused coach, who was also grounded.
However, the team management had limited financial resources. Thus, Ara’s frustration made him quit the team toward the end of 1963.
The ‘University of Notre Dame’ was going through a poor spell in the past few seasons. Soon, they took Ara in as the head coach. The team’s fate turned around in 1964. In the first season under his coaching, the team almost won the national championship.
In the next 11 years that Ara spent as a coach for the ‘Fighting Irish,’ the team won two national championships. Ara retired from the position of the head coach of the ‘University of Notre Dame’ football team with a record of 95–17–4, which was a record for the second-most wins in the history of the university.
Following his retirement from coaching, he began a broadcasting career with ‘CBS’ and ‘ABC.’
In 1980, he was inducted into the ‘College Football Hall of Fame.’
Family, Personal Life & Death
Ara Parseghian married Kathleen Davis in 1948. They remained married until his demise in 2017. They had two children: Karan and Michael Parseghian.
His daughter, Karan, was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Ara spent many years of his life dedicated to medical causes to spread awareness about the disease.
He passed away on August 2, 2017. He was 94 years old at the time of his demise.