Sun, Oct 16, 2005 - Page 23 News List

Successful coaches at Notre Dame gain international fame

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SOUTH BEND, INDIANA

More than four decades separate the debuts of Ara Parseghian and Charlie Weis as Notre Dame football coach. When the two sat down for lunch last week, however, they agreed that little had changed when it came to one of sports' most iconic brands.

In 1964, Parseghian took over a program that had had five consecutive losing seasons. After a 9-0 start, he found himself on the cover of Time magazine. Weis has grabbed headlines this season by leading a team that was 6-6 last season to a 4-1 record and a No. 9 ranking in the AP news media poll.

"Whether you like it or not," Parseghian told Weis last week, "you're a national figure after five games at Notre Dame."

The allure of Notre Dame is fueled by its lore -- 11 national championships, seven Heisman Trophy winners, 177 all-Americans. The legends of Knute Rockne and Joe Montana, and multiple Hollywood films centering on the Irish, can be retold by the Notre Dame faithful or ridiculed by its critics.

"We're like the Yankees," Weis, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1978, said this week. "You touch them two ways. There's all the ones rooting for us, and there's all the ones rooting against us."

The mystique of the Fighting Irish will be magnified on Saturday afternoon when the Trojans of Southern California, ranked No. 1 and the reigning national champions, invade Notre Dame Stadium.

Parseghian, who coached from 1964 to 1974, realized the vast power of Notre Dame when he took a vacation with his wife to London and was shopping for luggage at Harrods. The man waiting on him said, "Pardon me, aren't you Ara Parseghian?"

"How in the heavens do you know that?" Parseghian said.

"I watch you on the telly," the man said with a smile.

When the Irish win, people watch. In 1993, when the Irish went 11-1, they attracted a 6.1 share each Saturday on NBC. In 2001 and 2003, when the Irish had losing records, that number dipped to a 2.4. Notre Dame's only game on NBC this season, a double-overtime loss to Michigan State, drew a 3.8.

"Interest in the country in college football spikes when Notre Dame is good," said Ken Schanzer, the president of NBC Universal Sports. "It manifests at the water cooler, as Notre Dame is one of the small number of franchises that piques the interest of the casual fan."

Weis has turned the most storied amateur franchise into a professional outfit. He hired numerous professional coaches as assistants and even synchronized the clocks in the football offices by satellite so everyone would be on time. That is a ploy used by New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whom Weis served as offensive coordinator and helped win three Super Bowl titles.

The Notre Dame offense has flourished, transforming Quinn into a Heisman Trophy candidate and turning wide receiver Jeff Samardzija from the fourth receiver into an All-American front-runner. The Irish had the nation's 81st-ranked offense (345.5 yards per game) last year; this year, it is No. 9 (504.2).

The Irish have also recruited with verve. Nineteen prospects have committed to play here next season, a highly unusual number this early in the season.

Today's game is being billed as the biggest at Notre Dame since November 1993, when No. 1 Florida State played -- and lost -- to the No. 2 Irish.

This USC team is being hailed as one of the greatest in college football history, as the two-time defending national champions have a 27-game winning streak and the returning Heisman Trophy winner, Matt Leinart.

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