Ara Parseghian, a legendary coach at Notre Dame for 11 seasons, died on August 2 at age 94. Parseghian, who also coached Miami, Ohio and Northwestern, played a role in the life of Daniel Eugene “Rudy” Ruettiger. Rudy’s life was the inspiration for the 1993 sports movie Rudy.
“Notre Dame mourns the loss of a legendary football coach, a beloved member of the Notre Dame family and good man – Ara Parseghian,” University President Father John Jenkins said in a statement. “Among his many accomplishments, we will remember him above all as a teacher, leader and mentor who brought out the very best in his players, on and off the field.”
Jenkins noted that Parsheghian continued his fight against Niemann-Pick Type C, a disease that took the lives of three of his grandchildren. His daughter Karan died of multiple sclerosis. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen, and their son Mike. His family ran the Parsheghian Medical Research Foundation.
Parsheghian played at Miami University in Ohio, where he was an assistant coach after his brief NFL career with the Cleveland Browns. From 1951 to 1955, he was Miami’s head coach. In 1956, Northwestern hired him. He moved to Notre Dame in 1964, winning national championships in 1966 and 1973. He finished his career with a 170–58–6 coaching record.
Here’s a look at Parseghian’s role in Rudy’s story.
1. Ruettiger Played During Parseghian’s Last Season at Notre Dame
Ruettiger’s story starts late in Parseghian’s career at Notre Dame. He first attended Holy Cross College after his poor grades made it impossible for him to get to Notre Dame. After two years at Holy Cross, where he discovered that he had dyslexia, he finally made it to Notre Dame.
Ruettiger dreamed of playing for the Notre Dame football team and didn’t let his small stature at 5’6″ and 165 pounds stop him. Since Parseghian encouraged walk-ons, Ruettiger thought he had a shot.
After making the scout team and practice squad, Ruettiger decided to ask Parseghian if he could play in a game. Parseghian promised that Rudy could dress for his last season at the university. However, Parseghian left Notre Dame at the end of the 1974 season and Dan Devine took over.
2. Rudy Told Parseghian That He Was a Great High School Player, Leading His Team in Tackles in the Film
As ESPN notes, in Rudy, Ruettiger tells Parseghian that he was a good player at his high school, leading the team in tackles. In reality, Ruettiger did play for his high school team in Joliet, Illinois, where he made the All-Suburban Catholic Conference team. He played offensive guard and inside linebacker in his senior year.
Ruettiger shared his story in Rudy: My Story, which was first published in 2012. Although he might have excelled on the football field in high school, he struggled with his grades and later learned he was dyslexic. Ruettiger, who is now 68, was born in Joilet, Illinois.
Ruettiger also served in the U.S. Navy after high school and worked in a power plant for two years before he enrolled at Holy Cross.
3. Parseghian Didn’t Coach Rudy In His Final Season & It Was Devine Who Decided to Put Rudy In His Last Game
Since Parseghian resigned from Notre Dame after the 1974 season, he wasn’t able to see through his promise that Rudy could dress for every game of his last season at the university. Instead, Devine, a former Green Bay Packers head coach, took over. As the Washington Post notes in its obituary, Devine decided to honor Perseghian’s promise.
In the film, Devine isn’t portrayed as nicely as Parseghian is. However, in his book Simply Devine, Devine writes that it was his idea to put Rudy in his last game at Notre Dame. Angelo Pizzo, who wrote the Rudy screenplay, told Devine he had be the “heavy” in the film, but Devine was surprised to see that he was “such a heavy” in the final film.
In that last game in the 1975 season, Rudy played two defensive snaps, recording a sack in the second play. When the game was over, he was carried off the field by his teammates.
Parseghian retired because of health concerns, notes the Los Angeles Times.
4. Parseghian Was Played by the Late Jason Miller in ‘Rudy’
In the film, Parseghian was played by playwright Jason Miller. The Long Island City-born actor died in 2001 at age 62 after suffering a heart attack.
Miller is best known today for playing Father Damien Karras in the Exorcist movies. He earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance in the first film. Miller was also a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, picking up the award for the 1972 play That Championship Season, which is about a Pennsylvania high school basketball coach.
5. Parseghian’s Niece Amara’s Father Was a Roommate of Rudy’s at Holy Cross
Amara Parseghian, a niece of Parseghian, is a former ESPN producer and writer. Today, she manages Parseghian Productions in New York. Her father, Tom, was a roommate of Ruettiger’s at Holy Cross Junior College, according to a 2013 profile of Amara.
In an interview with NESN in January 2017, Ruettiger said he thinks Tom Brady is a “Rudy.”
“I love Tom Brady because he’s a Rudy,” Ruettiger told NESN. “He was drafted low, worked hard. … His story is wonderful. He used all his talent and skill set to become who he is today. The thing they didn’t measure in Tom Brady is his heart.”