George Bernard Shaw said there are two tragedies in life. One is not getting your heart's desire. The other is getting it.
Gerry Faust, an excitable man who was into wrinkled clothes before wrinkled was cool, got his heart's desire one day five years ago when he was plucked from a Catholic high school in Cincinnati and given, of all things, the job as football foreman at Notre Dame, a place he loved from his bent nose to his tingling toes. But, sadly, as hard as he has tried—and nobody has tried harder—he has not won often enough. So Jeer, Jeer for Old Notre Dame. The Faust Years are undoubtedly over, which proves that heart's desires don't always come out the way you dream.
Final rites to Faust's Irish-missed career were administered on Saturday in State College, Pa., where No. 1 Penn State rained fire on Notre Dame under a weepy sky, winning 36-6. If Faust isn't as good as gone now, the Golden Dome is made of RC Cola caps. Did you have to win today to keep your job?
Faust, smiling: "Nahhhh. But it would have made it easier."
Faust could find a gleam in the eye of a hurricane. Less than an hour after Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions had handed the Irish their worst defeat in a dozen seasons, Faust was back in from the rain, back up to his original height and brightness, slapping backs, toying with reporters, dancing in the dragon's jaw. Hold everything. Had Faust tuned in the wrong game? Hadn't this been Notre Dame's chance to save a season, maybe a career? Hadn't the Irish just been Pennsylvania rail tied and run squat over? Hadn't Penn State scored on seven straight possessions? Did you say retirement party? Hadn't this been another patented Irish-over-the-Irish loss: five turnovers, four of which turned into 16 Penn State points? Hadn't this just blown the Irish out of New Year's Day fun and sun? Hadn't Faust, like Huck Finn, just witnessed his own interment services?
Not to worry, dearly beloved. For Faust, every mushroom cloud has a silver lining. "Why am I like this?" he said, smiling. "Cuz with this job, I don't have much choice. You'd go crazy." If Faust is ever given a last meal, he'll order seconds to take home.
Maybe that's what will make Faust's a fond fare-thee-well. For Faust is everybody's favorite uncle, one blue sock and one brown, unraveling rapturous tales and pulling quarters out of your ear. Faust defuses sportswriters with banana splits, outhugs Tommy Lasorda, prays at the Grotto and looks both ways before crossing streets.
No Irish coach has lost more than Faust, but none has worked harder. Once, he went to a coaching clinic in Hawaii. But unlike any sane person, who would have made a vacation out of the trip, he flew home the same day he arrived. Last year, Faust worked until one in the afternoon the day he was to have knee surgery. He was back at his desk the next day, foot propped on a pillow.
But much as you love the Faustian uncle, you can't afford him. Neither can Notre Dame. The scenario will be something like this: Soon after season's end, Notre Dame will call a press conference. Palms will sweat. Collars will shrink. Tongues will tie. Who will be able to stand the expression on that face? "He is such a nice man," says tailback Allen Pinkett. "It's a shame his livelihood depends on whether a bunch of college kids win a football game."
What will be his new livelihood? Faust won't hang on as a fund-raiser for the university as had been rumored, school officials say. Fund-raising at Notre Dame isn't just handshakes and attending funerals. It's a slick science that raised $34 million in 1984. Nor will Faust likely become a recruiter for Notre Dame.
"I'm not worried," Faust said last week, offering a rare peek behind his what-me-have-a-problem? countenance. "I can get a job anywhere."
Ah, but Faust has betrayed a little worry lately. Last week, in fact, he was acting like a man trying to avoid Western Union. Anything he could find to throw was worth throwing. Liberally and uncharacteristically, Faust spread blame for the current Irish stew everywhere. However, who could blame him? Notre Dame's subway alumni have been at their Bernhard Goetz best for five years when it comes to Faust, and here was Faust's chance to speak for the defense—his own:
•The Redshirt Theory. "Only Duke and Notre Dame [and the service academies] don't redshirt," he said. "That means, on the average, our kids are a year younger than every other team's."
•The Nobody Understands Theory. Faust lamented that the public refuses to accept the age of parity. Said Faust, "Any team can win on any Saturday." Concurred Paterno, "There aren't any more dynasties. There aren't going to be any more Leahys or Wilkinsons." The only problem with the parity theory is that it's hard convincing Rice that recruiting equality has arrived. Notre Dame's current cavalcade of 30 Parade high school All-Americas doesn't help, either.
•The Luck (All Bad) of the Irish Theory. From fumbles ("How many teams have had a guy [Chris Smith] get the ball kicked out of his hands twice in a game [South Carolina in '84] by his own linemen?" Faust asked) to the blocked field goal returned for the winning Air Force touchdown ("It went sideways right into a guy's hands!") to an alleged whistle from the Purdue stands that he says made an Irish receiver stop his pass route on what was sure to be a touchdown to lousy meteorology for Penn State ("What are you gonna do with a day like this?").
It's true, Faust teams have been unlucky. They also have been, at times, ill-conceived, oddly coached and Keystone Kop chaotic. To wit:
•Against Navy this year, the Irish had to call timeout because they had 16 men on the field. Their previous record of 14 had been set a month earlier at Air Force.
•In the final seconds of the first half against Air Force, the Irish sideline couldn't decide whether to punt, try for a touchdown or kick a field goal. As the seconds ticked, no play was called, and Notre Dame had no timeouts left. Suddenly, placekicker John Carney ran madly in to try a 59-yard field goal against the wind. It missed badly.
•Twelve players on the field against Purdue kept a Boilermaker touchdown drive alive.
•Only once in 14 games has a Faust team come from behind at the half to win. Penn State has rallied for victory six times this season alone.
•Against Penn State a field goal was aborted and a punt and an extra point were blocked.
Faust will not bear up well in the Irish record book. In nine of 11 years under Ara Parseghian, the Irish finished in the Top 10. A Faust team has yet to finish in the Top 20. His 24 defeats have come in five years, and he still has to face LSU and Miami. Over the same span Terry Brennan lost six fewer times. He was fired just before Christmas.
Faust must know what's coming. Last season he said he would need to be "8-3 or 9-2" to merit another year's worth of paychecks. Now, at 5-4, a finish above .500 would be a moral victory. And even in the unlikely event that Notre Dame should win its last two games, a bowl is probably out of the question. "There will be no bowls," mumbled a somber Notre Dame official after the Penn State debacle. "Not after this."
This was every bit that bad, unless you happen to be a Nittany Lion, in which case it was pure bliss. Coming into the game, Penn State was No. 1 despite having won nine games by the most unconvincing of margins. Six of those wins—against Maryland, Syracuse, Alabama, Boston College, East Carolina and Rutgers—could have been lost in the last two minutes. So who would have thunk Notre Dame, which had won four straight games and had beat Penn State 44-7 last year, would be the Lions' biggest blowout of the season?
That the Irish came into Beaver Stadium as only one-point underdogs was slap enough in the Lions' face. More subtle slapping was directed toward Lion quarterback John Shaffer, who has been criticized for having an inadequate arm. Shaffer completed five consecutive passes, one of which went for the game's first TD, a perfect 21-yard strike to tailback D.J. Dozier with a ball that was not yet the weight of iron ore. "After everything got so wet," Shaffer said, "it was like throwing a basketball."
Once Notre Dame got behind, Irish quarterbacks might as well have been throwing a basketball. Steve Beuerlein and Terry Andrysiak, manning Faust's two-quarterback system, were less than the sum of their parts. Together they completed 13 of 24 passes for 133 yards and no touchdowns. Beuerlein, who was unhappy at having to share his job, threw three interceptions, including two early in the second half, which set up 10 Nittany Lions points and gave Penn State a 33-0 lead minutes into the third quarter. "I just made some stupid decisions," he said. Said Faust, "Neither of our quarterbacks played too well."
Shaffer waterlogged down, too. Following his hot start, he was back to his old self, completing just two of his next 11 passes. However, as long as the Irish were still clobbering themselves, Shaffer didn't need to be very good, and Shaffer is very good at being exactly as good as he needs to be. He's now 53-0 as a starting quarterback since the seventh grade and damned if he can remember who last beat him or how it felt. "I just know we didn't go through that season undefeated," he says.
The Nittany Lions can this season. Only 5-4-1 Pitt awaits, and then comes the Orange Bowl. Meanwhile, Notre Dame fans can start handicapping the coachly names that have fallen from the trees, led by George Welsh and Lou Holtz (3 to 1), Bobby Ross (5 to 1), Dick Vermeil and Dick Coury (8 to 1), Joe Restic and Rick Carter (20 to 1), Terry Donahue (25 to 1), Jack Bicknell and Howard Schnellenberger (30 to 1), Ara Parseghian (50 to 1), Bill Walsh (99 to 1) and Gipper Reagan, provided he can get out of the last two years of his current contract (200 to 1).
Rumors, rumors. That gives Faust an idea. "I'll start my own rumor," he says. "You ready to start passing it along?"
"Gerry Faust just signed a new 10-year contract to stay at Notre Dame."
You heard it here first.