University of Washington

Legend, UW coach bound by heritage

Other than a few two-day road trips with Southern California to face Notre Dame on the field, Steve Sarkisian has no real connections to the many college football traditions around the South Bend, Ind., campus.

But one particular Notre Dame lineage that Sarkisian reveres is the one to Ara Parseghian, the school’s legendary coach for two of the Irish’s 11 NCAA football championships.

Like Parseghian, Sarkisian got his first head coaching position at an early age. Like Parseghian, the former Brigham Young quarterback is regarded as a bright offensive mind.

And together, the two represent the handful of Armenian Americans who have coached NCAA Division I football.

“To achieve something that isn’t the norm, it means a lot to me,” Sarkisian said. “You sort of break the expectations or the what-is-supposed-to-be’s in the world doing that.”

Sarkisian has great respect for Parseghian, someone he considers a trailblazer for the Armenian culture. This week, he said he hopes to meet the former coach, who is now 86 and still lives in Indiana.

“I know of him, of course,” Parseghian said of the new coach at the University of Washington. “I know he was immensely successful at Southern California, concentrating on the offensive side of the ball. I don’t know his entire background, but my experience against USC wasn’t good. It’s the only school in my 11 years that held an advantage over us.”

Parseghian is Armenian and French. His father left Turkey in 1915 and attended an American school, where he met his wife.

They settled in Akron, Ohio, where Parseghian was born. That was where American football – and not soccer, wrestling or boxing – grew into an important part of his life.

“I went out for my team in high school and liked it,” Parseghian said. “It was fun. And the values of the sport carried over into college.”

He was a running back who played at Miami (Ohio) University. He spent two seasons with the Cleveland Browns in the NFL (1948-49), then decided to return to his alma mater to pursue a post-graduate degree.

In 1950, Miami head coach Woody Hayes needed a freshman coach. He recruited Parseghian, then 27, to join his staff, even though he had no coaching experience.

The next season, Hayes was hired to coach at Ohio State, and Parseghian was named the new coach at Miami.

“Happened all in 10 months,” Parseghian said. “How lucky can you get? It takes some guys 10 to 15 years to get a job. I stumbled into it, and I hadn’t even been there a full year.”

In 1956 Parseghian left for Northwestern. And after eight seasons there he took over at Notre Dame, where he won NCAA titles in 1966 and 1973. He retired in 1974 because of health concerns.

It’s now Sarkisian’s turn to carry the Armenian American mantle in college football, one he bears proudly.

“I’m very proud of the fact my father was born and raised in Tehran, and overachieved in so many things to meet my Irish mother,” Sarkisian said. “And I get my work ethic and stubbornness from her.”

Extra points

Of the regulars, linebacker E.J. Savannah (plantar fasciitis) and receiver Devin Aguilar (sprained knee) did not participate in the no-pads, one-hour practice Monday. Savannah, who did not play in the second half Saturday against Stanford, had a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test done earlier in the day, and the results should be known today. … Going too low and trying to hit ballcarriers, not wrap them up, were the two most glaring issues plaguing UW tacklers Saturday in giving up 424 total yards, Sarkisian said. … Placekicker Erik Folk did not ignore directions on booting the ball right on the opening kickoff, returned 91 yards for a score by Chris Owusu. The first-year coach said he just “mis-hit” it. … Kickoff for the UW-Arizona game Oct. 10 has been set for 7 p.m. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Northwest.

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442