For one thing, Ara Parseghian is a brilliant offensive coach, as he proved at Northwestern. He beat teams he should not have beaten, and with fewer athletes. For another thing, Ara Parseghian is smart enough to know you must have a loyal, hard-working staff and, in his particular case, a defensive specialist. He has such a staff, and it features Defensive Coach John Ray, who set six NCAA defensive records at John Carroll in 1962.
Like Parseghian himself, John Ray is a fiery, persuasive, resonant man who, from the beginning in the near-perfect year of 1964, has constructed a distinctive spirit in the defensive unit equal to that in Ara's spicy offensive platoons. Though Ray dislikes seeing it put quite this way, Notre Dame has, in effect, two head coaches, one for offense and one for defense, both of them highly accomplished, as the record indicates. (In its first six games this season Notre Dame scored 197 points and allowed only 28 but, of course, the team's biggest test, Michigan State, is yet to come.) "It's Ara's team," John Ray argues, honestly. But Ara counters with equal kindness. "John deserves full credit for our defense," he says.
The casual fan doesn't realize it, but a lot of head coaches do not treat their assistants with the concern, tact and understanding that Parseghian does. Some have rules that the assistant may not speak to the press, may not be seen in highlight films, may not appear at clinics, address luncheons or attend conventions. This type of head coach is invariably a loser, though it is not implied that there aren't other ways to be one. Ara Parseghian is a winner, and he is as generous with his assistants as possible.
But the surface of the man is what Notre Dame followers like the best, the things they can see and hear. Take Ara at a Friday night pregame rally in the gymnasium, which is as close as free men can come to a prison riot for better food and bedding. Or Ara leaping around on the sidelines during a game, hugging players, shouting instructions and encouragement. Or Ara at the end of a day's practice, building his squad lecture to a crescendo, combining, one is told, the passion of Rockne with the dedication of Leahy.
For all of this intensity, the Irish workouts may be fun and certainly are not agony sessions. Every successful team goes about things differently, so you can't say whether Parseghian's procedures are the best. But there is more chatter, more hustling, more continuously earnest activity on the part of everybody than at a great variety of other campuses.
Maybe the Notre Dame coaches simply have louder voices. You don't have to be all the way down on the end of the field with the defense to hear blond and husky John Ray, for example.
"Where were you? he shouts to a player who has missed an assignment. "Were you here, like a good, smart Notre Dame man? Or were you there! Come on, come on, come on. Let me see the defense the way Notre Dame plays it."
And up on Ara Parseghian's end of the grass The Baby Bombers are at work. This is mid-October, before Jim Seymour injured his ankle against Oklahoma. Over and over again, Terry Hanratty slings the bomb and Seymour gets there. A flat pass, a screen, a hook, then the deep one again—and Seymour has it. The ball doesn't seem to touch the ground for an interminable number of plays.
Notre Dame has seen a lot of passing combinations through the years: George Gipp to Eddie Anderson, Harry Stuhldreher to Don Miller, Angelo Bertelli to John Yonakor, Lujack to Brennan, Bob Williams to Leon Hart and then to Jim Mutscheller, Ralph Guglielmi to Joe Heap, Paul Hornung to Jim Morse, and Johnny Huarte to Jack Snow. Forget them. Nobody ever threw a football to anybody until The Baby Bombers found each other.
Notre Dame knows it. Off to the side, Tom Pagna, the assistant coach in charge of the offensive backfield, hides his delight in a joke, repeating his remark from the dressing room after the Purdue game.