It is the brief,
frenetic, superhuman effort, its psychological motives and its emotional
aftermath, that intrigue Parseghian. "There are great ranges here to be
explored," he says, "ranges above and beyond what we realize. Emotional
peaks—the ability to do things you just wouldn't realize you could do."
Parseghian is not notably bookish about psychology; he has read few works on
the subject. But he is an empiricist, examining and re-examining with deep
introspection his own experiences. Once, when he was at Miami, the home of a
friend caught fire. Parseghian raced to the scene, saw three or four men
struggling futilely with a heavy fire hose, picked it up himself and dragged it
into position. "How did I do it—something three men couldn't do? Why did it
happen?" he asks. He knows the physiology of the event—"the old
adrenaline began flowing." But why? How long could it sustain him? How much
physical effort above the normal could he have brought to the job? What motives
would be needed to duplicate that effort? Parseghian is apt to go through this
sort of searching self-analysis after almost any experience he considers
only has the questions but he has his own self-contained laboratory—a highly
volatile metabolism—in which to seek the answers. After an important game he
frequently cannot sleep for 32 hours or more. "It takes me a long time to
unwind," he says. On Saturday night he looks at the movies of the game.
Then about midnight or 1 a.m. he goes to bed—but not to sleep. "At 2 or 3
o'clock I get up, get out the car and start driving around, just driving around
because I can't sleep," he says. "Then maybe I'll come back and lie
down again, then get up and have a cup of coffee and go out and get the
paper." On Sunday morning he plays with his three children. At noon he's
back in his office, starting on 10 hours of work in preparation for the next
game. Not until Sunday night can he sleep—and sometimes not well then.
In more critical
personal moments he meets the challenge, then approaches a near-physical
collapse. Some years ago his son Mikie, now 4, fell down and cut his lip.
"Ara couldn't drive him to the doctor," recalls Parseghian's mother.
"He was too upset. He had to hold Michael while Kathleen did the
driving." Just about a year ago Mikie began choking on an ice cream stick.
Parseghian picked him up by the heels and pounded the stick loose. Then, while
Mikie romped away to play, Parseghian sank to his knees in a state of near
collapse and for many moments was unable to summon the strength to rise.
"You wonder what happens to you," he says broodingly. "You wonder
In football he
doesn't always wonder, however. For his players, his own best therapy is a
calculated program of fun and informality. Both come easy for him. He has a
sense of humor that leans to the prankish and an informality that is as
pervasive as laughter. His players call him "Ara," never
"Coach" or "Mr." "He empathizes with us well," says
Andy Cvercko, an accomplished and intelligent tackle who graduated last June.
"He's found the line that commands respect without reserve." During
practice, Parseghian substitutes an elaborate game of tag for wind sprints
(with the losers jogging a lap around the field). He leads calisthenics himself
("He's very conscious of his weight; he can't go by a scale without getting
on it," says Tom Healion, Northwestern's trainer) and sometimes he runs
pass patterns to give defensive backs the joyful catharsis of racking up the
coach. From time to time he and his assistants choose up sides among the
linemen for a touch-football game. "Then toward the end of the week we
taper off physically to build up psychologically," he says. "I learned
this from Paul Brown, this tapering at the end of the week—I mean really
tapering. The boys get all enthused and the mental aspect builds up because
they're not working as hard physically."
conservative coach who prefers a ground-hugging "possession" offense,
Parseghian has a lively imagination and a rare sense of timing. Last season he
came up with a dazzling series of widespread pass patterns that apparently
violated his deepest convictions about football strategy. "They worked for
four touchdowns and broke up two ball games the first six times we tried
them," says Alex Agase. The reason? He knew when and how to use them. In
NU's first two wins last year, over preseason favorites Washington State
(29-28) and Stanford (28-0), the Wildcats controlled the ball for two-thirds of
the time and divided their plays on a conservative, low-risk basis of nine
running plays for every pass. Then, with Parseghian's habits and preferences
fairly well established in the minds of scouts, NU went up against Michigan and
erupted in a pass-happy series of spread-formation plays out of an unbalanced
line that stunned the Wolverines—"because we thought they were looking for
a conventional attack out of the conventional T formation," says
Most of his
football strategy came along with Parseghian from Miami. He also imported
another commodity of somewhat mystical value: a brown suit "that's getting
a little shiny," says his wife. "I'm not superstitious in the normal
sense of the word," he insists. He is not superstitious just as he is not
pessimistic. He only happens to wear a brown suit to every game. He only
happens to have worn a brown suit to every game since his second year at Miami
(when his record rose from 7-3 to 8-1). For many years it was the same brown
suit, altered for style and girth. (Parseghian has put on about 10 or 15 pounds
since his playing days and now stands 5 feet 9� inches and weighs 205 pounds.)
When he moved from Miami to Northwestern, Parseghian decided that "a new
job deserved a new suit"—a brown one. Then Northwestern lost all but one of
its first six games under Parseghian. He fumbled around in the trunk, found the
old brown suit and carried it hopefully down to the stadium and on a road trip.
The Wildcats promptly won their last three games. His long losing streak the
next season, brown suit and all, finally convinced Parseghian that no
superstition in the world could save a game. Nevertheless, he still keeps the
old brown suit in his locker, just in case.
Another item of
athletic significance in the Parseghian wardrobe is Mrs. Parseghian's mink
coat. Before the start of last season, her husband promised her he would buy
her one if NU won five games. "At the time, five wins seemed like asking
for the moon," says Mrs. Parseghian. NU won five of its first six games—and
no more. "What kills Ara is that I just got it," she says. "If we'd
won one more, it wouldn't have been so bad."
accepts the burden of her seasonal widowhood calmly. She has painted most of
the rooms in their three-bedroom, brown-and-white prefabricated home herself
and after months of "gentle urging" failed to arouse the carpenter in
her husband, she built the shelves in the garage. "Ara isn't too happy with
them esthetically," she says, "but at least they're there." Their
house, on a quiet, suburban, looped-end street called Lockerbie Lane in
Wilmette, has a spacious lawn that Parseghian attacks regularly and intensely.
"Although now," his wife owns, "he tends to work on the front lawn
and encourages me to work on the backyard where it doesn't show."
Working on the
lawn is a physical and nervous outlet for Parseghian. When he is sitting
around, says his wife, he can get worked up merely by watching a boxing match
on TV. His other physical outlet is golf—"at which he'll cheerfully beat
your brains in," says one friend. His game, once regularly in the low 70s,
has suffered somewhat from a hip injury that ended his football playing career.
"I have restricted inner rotation on the right hip," he says
clinically. "I used to be able to hit the long ball—I mean really the long
ball—but no more."
clearly inherited his temperament from his French-born mother and his looks
from his Armenian-born father. The elder Parseghian, Michael, a sturdily built
man in his mid-60s, was born in Moosh, Armenia, now a part of Turkey. In his
teens he moved to Smyrna, Turkey, enrolled at the Border Mission school and
learned English as well as French, Italian, Greek and Turkish Aramaic. When
barely 20, he moved to Athens, got a job, and—to escape Turkey's atrocities in
the Balkans-came to the U.S. He arrived in December 1916, was drafted in March
1917 and sent to France as a liaison man between French and American officers.
Back in Paris on leave, he met Amelie Bonneau, fell in love, proposed and
arranged to bring her to the U.S. after the war. He did—a year after he
returned to Akron and landed a job in the travel bureau of the First National
Bank because of his linguistic ability. He is now manager of foreign exchange
and of the travel bureau in the bank. On May 21, 1923 Ara was born among the
"gum mines," as the rubber plants of Akron are called. He was named
after an Armenian king of about the ninth century B.C. who became something of
a legend in Armenia's struggle to be free.