Tony DeMeo

Resurrection: The Miracle Season That Saved Notre Dame Football by Jim Dent

I stumbled upon this book by accident and I was very pleasantly surprised. I’ve always been a Notre Dame fan but never realized what a great job Ara Parseghian did in restoring The Fighting Irish back to football supremacy. Jim Dent goes into detail about how the great Notre Dame Football program built by Rockne and maintained by Leahy was unceremoniously dismantled by the Notre Dame administration and how Ara brought it back.

Dent starts the book in 1953 when two people decided to tear apart the Notre Dame Football Program. President Fr. Theodore Hesburgh wanted ND to be the “Harvard of the Midwest” and hated the success of Frank Leahy and the football team. So he and Fr. Edmund Joyce seized the opportunity of a Leahy health issue to dump one of the greatest college football coaches of all time. Leahy had won 6 National Championships at Notre Dame despite a cut in scholarships in 1947. Regardless, Leahy was dumped in 1953.
With Leahy gone the dastardly duo hired 25 year old Terry Brennan who’s only experience had been as the Head Football coach at Mt. Carmel High School for 3 years! Brennan still had Leahy’s guys and went 17-3 in his first two seasons but things went downhill despite having the great Paul Hornung on the team. Brennan was fired after the 1958 season with a 32-18 record.

Joe Kuharich replaced Brennan in 1959. Kuharich came to the Golden Dome from the NFL Washington Redskins and a 26-32 record as a head coach. Joe started out with a 5-5 record in 1959 but embarked on an 18 game losing streak that stretched into 1960. Kuharich continued to flounder despite having an array of future NFL stars like Darryl Lamonica. They just could not score. Kuharich ended his stay at ND with a pathetic 17-23 record.

Next was an interim coach Hughie Devore for the 1963 season. He was worse than Kuharich. The high point came in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium, the scene of many great victories of the Rockne/Leahy eras of excellence. Hesburgh hated those eras. The Irish played inspired football and lost a close game to heavily favored Syracuse 14-7. Devore’s squad had an anemic 2-7 mark in 1963.

Since the dismissal of Leahy, the once proud Fighting Irish had had lost 44 games and had gone five straight seasons without a winning record. ND had only two winning seasons in the last eight years. Fans had lost interest, students didn’t attend pep rallies and Notre Dame had fallen a long way from being a premier program.

Meanwhile, there was an outstanding young coach at Northwestern University who was winning where few have won. Ara Parseghian was a coach’s coach, a leader who made Northwestern competitive in the Big 10 when the Big 10 was really big. He had great mentors like Woody Hayes, and Paul Brown and had become a coach to be reckoned with.
As destiny would have it Ara Parseghian was the answer to Notre Dame’s need to “Shake down the thunder once more” – he was hired in 1964 and the Irish had the fight in them again.

The story of “The Resurrection” is a lesson for any coach facing a turnaround situation. Ara’s first order of business was to place players in the best position for them to succeed. He took Kuharich’s big running backs and moved them to defensive line for defensive coordinator John Ray’s new Split Four Defense. Speed on defense was a must. He moved reserve running back Jack Snow to wide receiver and he became an All American. He decided to make unknown, unused John Huarte his starting quarterback and Huarte won The Heisman Trophy! He also featured Alan Page a lanky six foot six defensive end on his defensive front and had Nick Rassas return punts where he also reached All American status.

Nick Eddy a blazing fast running back added additional quick score capability to an explosive offense. Notre Dame went from a team that couldn’t score any points to an offense that could score points in bunches.

This is just a great story of a young coach that needed the right platform to showcase his ability coming to a school that was crying for someone to lead them back to the glory days. Ara and Notre Dame was the perfect fit.

I’ve always had great respect for Ara Parseghian. He was one of college football’s most overlooked coaches. He was undefeated against legends Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno. He beat The Bear twice for the National championship. He also ended Darrell Royal’s University of Texas teams 30 game winning streak. I also had a friend, former Notre Dame All American Mike McCoy, who always sang the praises of Ara. I also worked for legendary Tubby Raymond who was a good friend of Ara and always said how brilliant Ara was. But this book was still eye opening because Jim Dent told the whole story of the “resurrection” through the lives of individual players. Dent really scored a touchdown with this book.

I could not put this book down. It’s that good. Ara led The Fighting Irish to a 9-1 season in his first year at Notre Dame and in two years won the national championship. This is a great story about a gifted coach and a great bunch of players who came together in 1964 and saved the storied Notre Dame Football program and truly “Shook down the thunder” again.