SI Vault
 
THE ECHOES ARE WIDE AWAKE
John Underwood
September 29, 1975
It was cheer, cheer for new Notre Dame as the Irish, led by a rejuvenated coach, won two games in the same old style
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 29, 1975

The Echoes Are Wide Awake

It was cheer, cheer for new Notre Dame as the Irish, led by a rejuvenated coach, won two games in the same old style

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Nothing has changed; everything is new. Here is Ara Parseghian, having coffee as usual at Milt's Grill on Jefferson Boulevard in downtown South Bend at 6:30 in the morning, which is when he can find a good parking place. It is the eve of Notre Dame's second victory of the week, this one by 17-0 over old rival Purdue. The first game was played five days earlier, the Irish overcoming a sputtering start to beat Boston College 17-3 after managing only a field goal and a 3-3 tie at halftime. A raucous New England crowd of 61,501, as well as a national television audience, had seen the game. It has been a long time since even Notre Dame won two games in one week. Ara is scratching O's and inverted V's (coaches do not use X's anymore, where have you been?) on the fronts and backs of Milt's paper napkins to clear up a point. His gritty alto voice rises to the occasion. A waitress with a steaming pot of coffee hovers by his cup, which is an eye-catching model with the Notre Dame seal on it. "It's the only one in the place and it's his," says the waitress, "so don't ask. You get yours in one of our old small ones."

Ara is explaining how the Notre Dame defense—talented, tried and true—can raise lumps and cause bad feelings ("I didn't know this until the other day, but we had the best defensive record in the nation the past 10 years"), and how the Notre Dame offense, if it continues to get the time the good defense is providing by pitching near shutouts, will ripen with the season and become respectable, too, even by Notre Dame's uptown standards. Ara is smartly dressed in a sand-colored suit; his face is nut brown. The unmistakable lineaments of age—he is 52, imagine that—do not seem to stand out as much as they did. His shiny black eyes do not sink into his skull anymore. He says he misses the players and the preparation and the scheming and the anticipation. He says he does not miss the Saturday morning stomach ache. He says he watched the Boston College game on television at home with his family, "and still got nervous."

Here is Dan Devine (see cover). Irish and Catholic to Parseghian's Armenian and Presbyterian. Ara lives near the center of South Bend; Devine bought 10 secluded acres 15 miles out. Notre Dame watchers find significance in this. Dan is sitting in Ara's (former) leather chair in Ara's (former) smallish office at Notre Dame. He says things have happened so fast he hasn't had time to redecorate, so his wife and daughters came in and they installed some mementos—Missouri footballs from bowl victories, Green Bay Packer footballs from various upsets, etc. "I've got to get some Notre Dame stuff in here," he says. He is wearing a tie with Green Bay helmets on it and a stylish leisure suit, and complains that his hair "is longer than it's ever been. But when you get to be 50 you listen to what your teen-age daughter suggests because you've got to recruit 18-year-old boys."

Unlike Parseghian's, Devine's is a soft and deliberate rhetoric. If the former might give you insomnia, the latter could put you to sleep. Fullback Tom Parise does impressions of the two for his Irish teammates. When he does Parseghian, Parise cocks his head to one side, squints his eyes almost shut and shouts, "What the hell, Parise! What the hell! How'd you ever get into Notre Dame, anyway?" Parise, an honor student, says he taped his S.A.T. scores on his helmet the first time Ara said that. When he does Devine, Parise jabs the air with his right hand and uses a lot of unfinished sentences.

At his (formerly Ara's) desk, Devine is allowing himself to be self-pleased. "When a man gets to be 50," he says, "he learns to parcel himself around. I still can't eat on Saturdays, but now I can on Fridays." His shiny black eyes appear to be sinking, but those who know him say that is partly the hangover from his Green Bay experience. "You should have seen how he looked then," they say. Devine's success at Missouri was followed by some successful moments at Green Bay before the loyalists found out he wasn't Vince Lombardi and ran amok. One of Devine's six daughters was spat upon when she was riding in a school bus. His dog was shot. "It still hurts," says Devine.

Upon escaping the Green Bay frying pan, Devine headed straight for the Notre Dame fire. With a five-year contract. Beano Cook, the itinerant publicist now with Mutual, which broadcasts Notre Dame games, is fond of saying that the three toughest jobs in the world are the presidency of the United States, the mayorship of New York and the head coaching job at Notre Dame. Notre Dame head coaches are Father Edmund P. Joyce's—if not God's—chosen people. "They have to have a feeling for the job, and understanding of the school," says Moose Krause, the athletic director. There are, however, no guarantees. Terry Brennan, in the recent past, barely stuck his ear up to catch the rumblings when he was tossed out on it; Joe Kuharich didn't win enough, either, and was harassed and dumped. Parseghian, a taut man with high blood pressure, agonized even in victory. It is no secret in South Bend that he was concerned about his health. Toward the end of last year he wanted to know about Frank Leahy, who grew dangerously ill in the job. Close friends now believe Ara is out of football for good, though they do not bet on it.

Devine knew all that, together with the fact that he was following a hit that had run for 11 years. He would, of course, know better than to follow a living legend. Knowing better, he grabbed the job like it was money from home. He said he had had 11 years to think about it, having been neck and neck with Parseghian when Father Joyce narrowed his choice to two in 1964. Devine had spent a day on the campus under an assumed name then. He can't remember the name, just the impression the visit had made. Obviously, says Krause, it was mutual—this time Devine was the only choice. Before the Boston College game last week, he slung an arm around publicist Roger Valdiserri's neck in the Irish dressing room. "I've waited a long time for this," he said.

"I'm not an egotistical man," Devine says. "That in itself may sound egotistical, but I mean I don't set big-sounding goals for myself. I don't say, 'I came here to win the national championship.' Nobody wants to win a national championship more than me, nobody will work harder for it. But there's more to coaching at Notre Dame than that. The pressure doesn't scare me. I've been coaching 27 years, I know about pressure. This may sound foolish, but I'd like to be thought of as more than a football coach. Notre Dame gives me that opportunity. I'd want to coach here if there were no chance of a national championship."

In his haste to get to the mark, however, Devine didn't bother to look at what he was stepping into—not that it would have mattered. As a result, he now finds himself talking a lot about this or that freshman and this or that raw-edged 19-year-old who is expected not to act his age on the field this fall. What he had stepped into was an offense minus 10 of 11 starters. Prudently, he did not dabble with Parseghian's laboratory work; he made hardly a change in the playbook or the lineup. It was easy enough to let things be on defense, where he had outstanding players and had rehired four of Ara's coaches. The temptation was greater on offense, for which he brought in three new coaches. He did simplify the terminology, changing the nomenclature of plays from names to numbers, but that is all. "In my younger days," he says, "I would have felt compelled to make changes just to show I was in charge. I don't have to do that now."

There were other surprises. Devine discovered that Notre Dame football players go to class. A lot. One recent afternoon he looked up to find 11 of his charges leaving practice early to go to school, "and they were passing nine more who were coming in late from their classes. I had to chuckle. I doubt many coaches would believe that."

Continue Story
1 2 3