Blessings Came Twice To Gerry Faust's Akron Zips On Saturday. For openers it did not rain in the Rubber Bowl—after nine straight wet home games. Then the Zips beat Nicholls State 23-17, which is nicer than losing, say, to Miami 58-7. That, of course, was the sorry note on which Faust departed Notre Dame at the end of the '85 season.
O.K., so whipping Nicholls State is not exactly what Dr. William V. Muse, the University of Akron president, had in mind when he hired Faust to lead the team into the ranks of Division I-A. And the Zips' record hasn't inspired any exploding rockets in Rubberland, either.
No matter. "We are 3-6, and we feel pretty good about it," says the ever-optimistic Faust. "We knew we were going to go through a rough year."
Arriving in Akron in the spring of '86, Faust inherited a Division I-AA team that had gone 8-3 and had 22 seniors—mostly on offense. Those Zips, playing such powers as Salem (W.Va.), Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech, finished 7-4. This year's team, now I-A, has only five seniors and nine juniors, recruited with lower-class competition in mind.
So far, Akron has lost to all its big-time opponents, including Temple (23-3), Oregon State (42-26) and Louisville (31-10). In the next few years, the Zips' schedule will include Auburn, Army, Temple, Florida, Tennessee and Rutgers.
Smart fans should not expect a rerun of the South Bend Massacre just yet. Tom Lemming, one of the nation's more respected high school talent spotters, says, "Faust is the best recruiting coach I've ever seen. He's already brought in some blue-chippers. He is going to do well this year in Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, Florida and the Midwest."
A lot of Faust's players arrived in Akron with grades and test scores that were below the standards set by Bylaw 5-1-(j), which means they have to prove themselves in the classroom for at least one year before they can play football. "Right now we have five junior college transfers and 18 kids who are not playing," says Faust. "And all those kids are getting C's or better. I tell every kid, I don't want them here unless they're going to come out with a degree. We have a tutoring program. We have a peer counseling program. We stay on top of them every day."
And if Faust can keep them in school, they're going to play. "Oh yeah," says Faust, grinning. "A year from now, with the kids that are sitting out, with the kids that we already know to be definitely coming and with the kids that are playing now, we are going to be a pretty good football team."
That's one thing Faust is certain of. Another is that Akron will never schedule Notre Dame as long as he has anything to say about it. "I love that school," Faust says. "And I've got a lot of great friends there. My son Steve goes there. I don't know if I could ever root against Notre Dame, not even if I was standing on the other sideline."