Fourth-year Miami (Ohio) head coach Chuck Martin did not necessarily converse much with 1964-74 Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian personally, yet he felt he knew him virtually all his life.
“I’m 5 years old in 1973, and the first thing I know about anything in the world is Ara Parseghian and Notre Dame beating Alabama to win a national title,” said Martin, who was hooked on Notre Dame thereafter and coached in South Bend under Brian Kelly from 2010-13.
The relationship Martin did have with Parseghian took on a deeper meaning when he accepted the head coaching job with the RedHawks on Dec. 3, 2013. In the eight seasons (2006-13) prior to Martin’s arrival, the once-proud RedHawks program was 29-70, with only one winning season, most notably the 0-12 finish the season before he accepted his current post.
One of the first people to contact him was Parseghian — Miami (Ohio), class of 1949, an All-Ohio selection there in 1946-47 before playing with the Cleveland Browns, and then returning to his alma mater in 1950 as the freshman coach for Woody Hayes. A year later, Hayes took the Ohio State job and the 27-year-old Parseghian was promoted to head coach.
“I’m not a memorabilia guy, I’m not a guy that’s very sentimental at all,” Martin said. “I don’t have anything in my office. But there was a note from Ara when I took this job that he wanted to see me get the Cradle of Coaches turned around.
“One keepsake I have I think in my whole career is a letter from Ara Parseghian.”
Last year when Miami (Ohio) went from 0-6 to 6-6, a first in NCAA history, to earn its first bowl bid in six years, Martin cherished some more correspondence from Parseghian.
“He wrote me another note about how proud he was in getting Miami football back to where it belongs,” Martin said. “It means a lot to me not because I knew Ara very well, but just because he’s kind of my childhood idol, the head coach at Notre Dame, larger than life.
“For me to take over at his alma mater and then help his alma mater get the Cradle of Coaches turned back in the right direction, I’m pretty proud of that.”
Top coaches are often noted for producing “coaching trees,” but no school in college football annals has been more renowned at manufacturing elite coaches than Miami (Ohio), which is why it has the “Cradle of Coaches” moniker.
The tree — as a former player, assistant or head coach at the school — includes NFL, AFL and Super Bowl champion head coaches such as Paul Brown, Sid Gillman, Weeb Ewbank, Sean Payton and John Harbaugh, collegiate national champions or Hall of Famers such as Earl Blaik, Paul Dietzel, Hayes, Parseghian, Jim Tressel and Bo Schembechler, and scores of other highly successful figures in the coaching ranks.
Most pertinent for the Notre Dame game this Saturday is Parseghian, who after taking over from Hayes guided Miami to a 39-6-1 record from 1951-55, including a No. 15 finish in his final season, the school’s initial placement in the Associated Press poll.
He parlayed that stint into landing the job at Northwestern, the bottom feeder of the Big Ten that was 0-9 his second season in 1957. By 1959, Parseghian had elevated the Wildcats to a No. 2 ranking in the country and even No. 1 in late October 1962. During that time, he defeated Hayes’ Ohio State juggernaut three times in four seasons — and was 4-0 against Notre Dame.
When Parseghian accepted the Notre Dame post in December 1963 after the Irish had gone through their most miserable eight-year stretch ever (34-45 from 1956-63), including a 2-7 finish the campaign before he arrived, he began one of the great renaissances in college football lore.
Two of Parseghian’s assistants at Notre Dame who remained with him all 11 seasons (plus in previous years) also were Miami (Ohio) graduates: defensive backs coach Paul Shoults, who played in the same backfield as Parseghian, and offensive backs coach Tom Pagna, who starred for him at halfback for the RedHawks.
Parseghian, who died Aug. 2 at age 94, was 95-17-4 in his 11 seasons at Notre Dame, winning two consensus national titles and sharing a third. His affiliation with both schools is not lost on anyone this week.
“I’m sure that there’s a great deal of pride in both institutions, where he started and where he finished — the Cradle of Coaches, and then arguably the greatest college football tradition,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “To be on both ends of that spectrum, I’m sure it’s satisfying, fulfilling in so many ways that Ara is at the center of that this Saturday.”
When news of Parseghian’s death broke, his bronze statue in the south end zone at Miami’s Yager Stadium was adorned with flowers honoring the former multi-sport athlete, coach and advocate for the university.
Martin attended the funeral at Notre Dame’s Sacred Heart Church, and he will be taking his players on a tour of the campus this Friday. Kelly was asked if he’s met anyone he’s coached who loved Notre Dame more than Martin.
“If you take away those that played here, the [Ron] Powluses and the Autry Densons and the Todd Lyghts … for somebody that never went to Notre Dame, Chuck Martin has got to be at the top of the list,” Kelly said.
Parseghian is a major reason why.