Look out America, here comes the "human dynamo, the whirling dervish of college football." No, he's not another running back out of Lubbock or a linebacker from the Pennsylvania hills. He's Gerry Faust, who last fall coached a high school team but now is the head man at Notre Dame, as described by one of his assistants, Greg Blache.
Blache, the Irish offensive backfield coach, knows all about dynamos. Not long ago, after accompanying the peripatetic Faust on a nonstop recruiting tour, Blache crashed into bed at 3 a.m. Three hours later the phone rang. It was Faust: "Hey, Greg! Let's go get 'em! It's a beautiful day out there!" Glancing out the window, the semi-comatose Blache could only mutter, "How can you tell, Coach? It's still dark."
During his four months on the job—he succeeded Dan Devine, who retired—Faust has seemed bent on proving that one man really can go in 17 directions at once—18 if you count his daily visits to church for Mass and communion. Subsisting on 4½ hours sleep and one meal on the run a day, dictating letters in taxis and catnapping in private jets, he has been crisscrossing the land as if in hot pursuit of his guiding ideal: "Ya gotta be perfect—or better."
Along with the endless search for the "quality kid," between the banquets, interviews and autograph sessions, Faust has been busily shaping his staff, holding day-long meetings, selecting new uniforms, building a new house, posing for photos, riding on parade floats, tossing Frisbees with students and visiting dorms, hospitals and faculty clubs, with pauses along the way to pick up a gum wrapper or two from the otherwise immaculate Notre Dame quadrangle.
April 13, 1981
If enthusiasm is what it takes to shake down the thunder, then Faust is Thor himself. Hear him ramble on: "Boy, this place is great. I'm really having fun. What a place for young people to go to school. You know, my three kids'll go here. This is the greatest job in the world. I've really been blessed."
Still, for all Faust's effervescence, there have been questions from some of the far-flung faithful. Like, how can a raw newcomer, the only head coach Notre Dame has ever selected from the high school ranks, compete with the hordes of seasoned recruiters from other colleges? What expertise can a former lunchroom supervisor hope to bring to a school that demands the ultimate in sophisticated, high-powered football? And just exactly why does he think he can succeed in big-time college football?
"For the same reason a governor can be President of the United States," says Faust.
More widespread is concern about how well Faust will endure the enormous pressures that go with the job. Can he bear up under the weighty mantle passed on by the legendary likes of Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian? Is he fully aware of the grand tradition he's expected to perpetuate, which includes 10 national championships and a 7-3-0 bowl record? "Frankly," Faust said a while back, "I just haven't had the time to think about that stuff. If I did, it might hit me all at once and that's a little scary."
But hit him it inevitably did when he saw his Fighting Irish suited up for the opening session of spring practice two weekends ago. Typically, Faust was out on the field early that day, tending to details, when he spied the players, 100 yards off, trotting out of the locker room in a ritualized procession. It was a stirring sight: four abreast and 80 strong, they snaked along in their golden helmets like a great river glinting in the sun. Inspired, Faust ran to meet them, cheering them on with all the excitement of a puppy yapping at a parade.
Right then, Faust recalls, is when the chill went up his back: "I said to myself, 'Geez, I'm going to be part of this. This is the greatest thing in my life.' "
And so, for a school that thrives on emotion and legends, let it here be recorded that on the first day of 1981 spring football at the University of Notre Dame, Gerard Anthony Faust, 45, the rookie coach from Moeller High School in Cincinnati, charged onto the field with tears of joy streaming down his face.
Listen up, America, because if Faust's rookie season is anything like his spring debut, you should get to know him before he's canonized for succeeding in the most visible job in college sports.
First, be advised, Faust is deeply religious. He neither smokes nor drinks. He says "God bless you" more often than goodby. And he believes in the power of prayer, any prayers, including those of the non-Catholics on the Irish squad. While he's careful not to impose his beliefs, preferring to "teach by example rather than by word," he doesn't hesitate to avow that "religion is the bond that holds my teams together."
Though sometimes criticized for the openness of his faith, Faust decided upon his ascendancy to Notre Dame that he would continue to "be myself," that is, to call for a Hail Mary when needed and to inscribe the initials JMJ—for Jesus, Mary and Joseph—on everything from the letterhead on his stationery to his practice schedules. Not surprising, the credo for the Moeller High player still holds: "No matter how great he is, he better never cuss, he better never play dirty football and if he burps, he better say excuse me."
There will be no overlooking Faust this fall. He will be the one with the distinctive headlong gait, the splayfooted one flapping his arms and tearing up and down the sidelines like a scalded duck. Faust's forward pitch is so pronounced, in fact, that he kind of spills into a room, back-clapping and bear-hugging everyone within reach regardless of their station. One day a week or so ago, upon spotting a campus parking-lot attendant, he leaped from his car and threw a headlock on the fellow just to let him know he was "the greatest."
Faust's wardrobe only further confirms that he's a man of the people. From the wingtip shoes he resolutely refuses to shine to the shirt that needs tucking in and the tie that's slighly askew, he's a model of off-the-rack casual.
A similar motif prevails in Faust's office. While many coaches surround themselves with so many mementos of their conquests they seem to be enshrined in a museum case, Faust's digs are as nondescript as a dentist's waiting room. Aside from installing a few personal items—a statue of the Blessed Virgin, a drawing of Rockne—he left the decorating up to an aide, who seems to have something like early Holiday Inn in mind.
It would appear that a coach who is such a stickler about his team's appearance would spruce himself up. But Faust doesn't for the reason that "things like clothes and furniture aren't important to me." He has more compelling things to do, like winning football games.
And finally there is the voice, which tends to announce Faust's arrival long before he's in view. "I don't have a cold," he tells strangers of his hoarse rasp. "This is my real voice." It sounds as if he had been out half the night leading a cheering section. Which, in fact, he often has.
Faust is in such demand as a speaker that if he accepted all invitations he'd end up delivering five of his patented tub-thumpers a day. Even while he was at Moeller, clients like Procter & Gamble and IBM favored him over college coaches for his speeches on motivation. And though his fee has since doubled to about $3,500, he still trades more on style than content. No matter that he sometimes throws syntax for a loss, that he once referred to an assistant as "my right hand thumb" and has warned his audience "not to read everything you believe in the newspapers." Faust wins standing ovations by the force of his convictions.
The sum of all these disparate parts adds up to Faust fever. The symptoms of the afflicted are rolling eyes and virtually uncontrollable raving. For example:
•"When I first met him, I knew. He walked into my house the night before the press conference to introduce him, and I just wanted to hug him. In all my years in sports, I've never seen such a magnetic personality. Never. I just love the guy."—ROGER VALDISERRI, Notre Dame sports information director.
•"It's not just the players and the other coaches who are fired up about him. He has this whole campus going crazy. He came and spoke to the guys in our dorm, and you want to talk about some excited people! They just couldn't believe the man's enthusiasm."—JOHN RICE, linebacker.
•"It wouldn't surprise me if at our first game, the players run out of that tunnel, keep running to the other end of the stadium and form a new tunnel."—JOE YONTO, Notre Dame administrative assistant to Faust.
Partly, as Faust is the first to note, the euphoria is the result of a "honeymoon period in which we are still unbeaten, untied and unscored upon." But more important, it is also based on some very solid evidence that Faust just may live up to his supercoach billing.
Exhibit A is his recruiting record. Far from being a babe in the wild, Faust had what he calls a "hidden advantage" over the competition. He explains, "While I was at Moeller, we had more than 150 college recruiters visit us each year, and I've seen all the good ones and the bad ones and how they operate. We've sent nearly 300 players to college, and I know what makes a kid decide where he's going to go."
Obviously so. By unanimous decision of the publications that rank such things, the runaway winner of the 1981 Recruiting Bowl was—surprise!—the babes from Notre Dame. Of the 26 players signed by the Irish, 13 were high school All-Americas and, according to The Blue Chips, four are "franchise players." They are: Larry Williams, a 235-pound lineman from Santa Ana, Calif.; Chris Smith, a 215-pound running back from Cincinnati; Mark Brooks, a 220-pound fullback off Faust's 1980 Ohio State champions: and Mike Golic, a 235-pound linebacker, the brother of Bob Golic of the New England Patriots.
Along with recruiting, Faust has also been in the rejecting business. While visiting the home of one All-America he was ready to sign, Faust was startled to hear the boy sharply reprimand his mother for turning down the stereo. "So I gave him a little forearm in the ribs and told him not to talk to his mother that way," says Faust, who subsequently withdrew the scholarship offer. "There's no room for kids like that at Notre Dame. And he'll probably be a great one in college."
Another advantage Faust has is that when it comes to football, he's undoubtedly the most knowledgeable former lunchroom supervisor around. Truth is, his powerhouse Moeller teams not only executed better than most college teams, but they also ran 35 different plays from 12 different formations, more than many pro teams. If anything, in fact, during their first year with Faust, his Irish will probably be less versatile than his Fighting Crusaders.
Which isn't to imply that the Golden Domers will suffer from a case of the grinds. For Notre Dame fans who thought Devine too conservative during his six years in South Bend, the good news is that Faust promises "wide-open football. We'll do lots of things. We'll be multiple. We'll play full house, trips, slot, the I or most anything. Whatever it takes. We'll throw a lot." About 35% of the time, he estimates. And Notre Dame will gamble a lot. "What Gerry is the Irish will be—unpredictable," says Offensive Coordinator Tom Lichtenberg, one of three Cincinnatians Faust has on his staff. "Just like him, our offense will be in and out. Here, there, all over everywhere."
Like blue darters, presumably, because Faust is switching from the Kelly green jerseys reintroduced "by Devine in 1977 back to Notre Dame's royal blue. Faust says, "Blue is the color of the Blessed Virgin—she's gotten me this far, so I'm going to stay with her."
If ever there was a marriage made in Heaven, it is Notre Dame and Faust. He cannot precisely remember when he started praying for the Notre Dame job, but the fascination was always there. "When I was a fifth-grader playing CYO football in Dayton," he recalls. "I would sing the Irish fight song while riding my bike to and from practice."
An All-State quarterback at Dayton's Chaminade High, where his father, Gerard Sr., now 73, coached for 20 years, Faust played for the University of Dayton only because "I wasn't good enough to make it at Notre Dame." Hired by Moeller to start a football team in 1960, he scrounged some lockers and used equipment, loaded up a borrowed van and left for Cincinnati. In 1963 he fielded his first varsity, and the dynasty that was to become one of the most dominant in high school history was born.
Under Faust, the "prayingest team in football" ran up a miraculous 173-17-2 record and some other mystical numbers: 53-game winning streak, 25 All-Americas, 12 city championships, nine undefeated seasons, five state championships and three mythical national titles. In fact, Faust's move up to Notre Dame will be in some ways a comedown. At Moeller, Faust not only enjoyed the luxury of 18 assistant coaches, 25 student managers and seven team doctors, but he also left behind a new $1.4 million sports complex that he helped finance by staging a lavish picnic at $500 a throw. "Even the outdoor commodes were painted the school colors," he says proudly.
Though Moeller, a Catholic all-boys school, has an enrollment of barely 1,000, no fewer than 210 players were involved in Faust's football program. From the 200-page game program to the pep rallies that could run on Broadway, his professional touch was everywhere apparent. His training techniques, which included year-round weightlifting and ballet lessons, were studied by the Bengals and Reds.
A master promoter and ticket hustler, Faust and his Crusaders drew an average of 18,000 fans, even though they had no home field and had to play in nine different stadiums around the city; the 24,000 they attracted for one game in Nippert Stadium surpassed the Reds' gate of the same night. For Faust, every problem has a solution. When a new rule prevented him from having his entire 80-member squad on the sidelines for last year's state championship game, he sent 20 of his players into the stands and did some of his substituting from there.
That was on the eve of the Big Call, and when it came, Faust, who had always sworn he would never leave Moeller for anywhere but Notre Dame, and his wife, Marlene, left posthaste for South Bend and the Big Announcement. They stopped only once, in Indianapolis, where Faust called Moeller's three best players and offered them scholarships.
All told, Moeller has sent 16 players to Notre Dame, eight of whom will join Faust next fall for a season-long reunion. Meanwhile, ex-Moellerites like Linebacker Bob Crable, the Irish defensive captain, have been lecturing teammates about what to expect. "Coach Faust is more verbal than Coach Devine," says Crable. "I mean louder. He's always yelling and screaming at people, but he yells the good things at them, too."
"I'm a tough guy and a wild guy on the sidelines," Faust says. "I'm an emotional guy. I yell. I'm overly aggressive at times and I am overbearing. I don't like waiting to get something done. But heck, it's not for me, it's for the kids."
Crable, among others, readily attests to the sincerity of Faust's statements about his devotion to his "kids." Crable says, "I really believe he would coach here for nothing." Faust suggests as much when he says, "The biggest advantage I think I have over other coaches is that coaching isn't a job for me. I'm in coaching because I love kids and enjoy watching them develop. I want more than anything to work with young people."
Now he has the chance on a grander scale. And a tougher one, as Faust well knows. He says jokingly, "I think the reason Dan Devine and [Athletic Director] Moose Krause retired last year is because they had a look at the schedule," which opens on Sept. 12 in South Bend against LSU and includes the likes of Michigan, USC and Penn State. Slumping for just an instant, Faust adds, "I hope my lifelong dream doesn't end in a nightmare."
The first day of spring practice ended on a more typically sunny note. Moving among the players, slapping helmets and embracing the weary, Faust then asked the team to gather around him in a kneeling position. "I can't tell you how great it is to be here," he said, turning to glance at the Golden Dome. "You guys are going to be the greatest."
It sounded like a prayer.