Chuck Martin lost a little piece of his childhood Wednesday.
The fourth-year Miami football coach learned of the death of one of his predecessors with the program, Miami graduate Ara Parseghian, who was a major figure at two of the universities where Martin has worked — Miami and Notre Dame. The connection goes back even further.
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“I grew up as an Irish Catholic on the south side of Chicago,” Martin said Wednesday morning. “Until about junior high school, Ara Parseghian was the coach at Notre Dame. He was the coach when I first knew what football was. Back then, Notre Dame was the only team that was on TV every week, so for me, nothing existed except Ara and Notre Dame. I lost part of my childhood.”
Parseghian lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Miami, earning All-Ohio honors in football in 1946 and 1947. The 1949 Miami grad played one season professionally with the Cleveland Browns before his career was cut short due to injury.
“Ara demonstrated amazing grace and leadership in life as well as on the football field,” said Gregory Crawford, the president of Miami University, who was Notre Dame’s dean of science when he met Parseghian nearly a decade ago. They became friends and collaborators in the fight against Niemann-Pick Type C, the incurable rare disease that took the lives of three of Parseghian’s four grandchildren.
“I was inspired by his passion and character, especially his understanding of what makes a team — he always used his fist as a metaphor to show how strong individual members can be when they unite in loyalty and pursue a common purpose. He had a huge impact not only in football, where he won two national championships, but in the lives of so many children and families afflicted by Niemann-Pick. His virtuous leadership — his confidence, his courage, his magnanimity — inspire me, and I am honored to have been his friend.”
Parseghian returned to Miami in 1950 to assist Woody Hayes and became Miami’s 23rd head coach when Hayes left for Ohio State. Parseghian went 39-6-1 in five seasons. He moved on to Northwestern and then to Notre Dame, where he won two national championships in 11 seasons from 1964 through 1974.
Parseghian was part of the charter class of the Miami Hall of Fame in 1969 and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975. He is one of 10 members of Miami’s Cradle of Coaches honored with a bronze statue at Yager Stadium on campus.
Martin never met Parseghian until landing an assistant coach job at Notre Dame in 2010.
“For me, he was my only real idol in coaching,” Martin said. “When you were around him, you could never spend too much time talking to him because there was usually a long line of people waiting to talk to him. People would ask me, ‘Did you get to talk to Ara?’ and I’m like, ‘There were about 15,000 people waiting to talk to him.’ ”
Besides a couple of family pictures, the only piece of memorabilia adorning Martin’s office at Miami is a note Parseghian sent to him the day he took the RedHawks job.
Martin recalls going to the South Bend, Ind., barber who’s trimmed Notre Dame coaches’ hair for, he estimates, “50-60 years” to get a haircut while preparing to take the Miami job in December 2013.
“He didn’t know I was taking the job,” Martin said. “He said, ‘Ara was sitting here two days ago talking about Miami and said, ‘They’ve got an opening there, and they’ve got to get it right this time.’
“I hope he thinks they got the right guy.”