One state and a football world away from South Bend, Ind., Gerry Faust sits in his office in Akron, Ohio, and worries over how to guide his University of Akron Zips to victories over Cal State Fullerton, New Mexico State and Temple.
Three years ago, the end of Faust’s troubled 5-year tenure at Notre Dame was marked by a 58-7 loss to Miami in his final game, days after he had announced his resignation.
Two Saturdays ago, Notre Dame’s 31-30 victory over the Hurricanes, then ranked No. 1, became the emblem of the Irish resurgence under Lou Holtz, whose team is undefeated and second-ranked after 8 weeks.
“Notre Dame is back,” said Faust, who is in his third season at Akron. “We’re getting there.”
Instead of Rockne or the Four Horsemen, football tradition at Akron comes in the form of the Acme-Zip game, an annual supermarket ticket promotion that draws about 35,000 fans to the Rubber Bowl, the home stadium of the Zips.
Faust’s task there is to guide the program through its transition from a Division I-AA program, which it was in his first season, to Division I-A. In his first season, the Zips were 7-4. Last year, their first in I-A, they were 4-7.
This season, they got their first real taste of the big time in a 42-0 loss to Auburn. At 3-5, coming off a 40-0 win over Cal State Long Beach, they will need to beat all three remaining opponents to notch a winning season.
Notre Dame memorabilia decorates the Akron office of Faust, who after 18 years as the phenomenally successful coach at Cincinnati’s Moeller High School vaulted into the most prestigious college coaching job in the country without a day of college experience.
Five years later, after 2 losing seasons, a 30-26-1 record and no season better than 7-5, Faust resigned before the final game, ending a tenure marked by disappointment and tactical blunders.
“Like any profession, you don’t do things the way you did when you started out,” Faust said, recalling some of the mistakes that contributed to losses. “You learn from the past. You learn how to do things. At first, it was all new to me. We almost pulled it off anyway. We were that close.”
By Faust’s accounting, without a dropped pass here, a missed field goal there, an unnecessary timeout elsewhere, things could have been different at Notre Dame.
“There are a lot of things you can’t control,” he said. “I call them God’s will and leave it at that.”
By some kind of figuring, Faust says Notre Dame could have been 47-9 during his time as coach. He does not, presumably, include the final Miami game in his count.
If it was the small things that made the difference, there were a lot of them.
“Me with the lack of experience . . . " he said. “I know what I’m doing now.”
There is no talk of regret in his discussion of his days at Notre Dame.
“I needed a change as much as they did,” he said. “To prolong something like that wouldn’t have been fair. . . . I’ll bounce back. I’m not concerned.”
The seniors on this Notre Dame team were Faust’s last recruiting class, but if he finds any solace in that, he will not admit it.
“I don’t take any credit for it. I really don’t,” he said. “Lou should take the credit. He’s developed them. . . . I’m happy for them. I’m really for the Irish. I’m very close to everybody, and I talk to Lou once every 2 weeks or so.”
But the task at hand is molding the Zip program, which during the transition is operating with 72 scholarships, considerably below the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. limit of 95. Because of the transition, most of the players on the roster are juniors or younger, and 25 players are redshirting.
“This is going to be a solid program, whether I’m here or someone else is down the line,” Faust said.
Once unable to maintain a great program, Faust’s charge at Akron is to build a good one.
It is a task that Faust, a religious and genial man whose nature is to be harried, says is filled with stress. He maintains that this job is harder than the tasks he attempted and failed at Notre Dame.
“This has been the most difficult,” he said. “It’s frustrating trying to put things together, getting the right kind of kids, changing the mentality of people. I’m trying to build a program from I-AA to I-A. We’re getting there.”
Whether the big time--or at least, bigger time--is calling is a bit unclear.
Faust, 53, took the Akron job in December of 1985 at a salary of $70,000 with perks pushing the yearly total over $100,000. He replaced Jim Dennison, who was 8-4 in his last season and somewhat reluctantly accepted a job as Akron’s associate athletic director. Dennison became the athletic director last year.
Faust says he chose Akron from among 9 offers and 13 inquiries--said to have included Columbia and Rice--because he wanted to be close to his family. One son is a student at Notre Dame and two other children are at the University of Dayton, where Faust played quarterback.
How long will Akron keep him?
“Here’s what I tell everybody,” Faust said. “They hired me to do a job here. The job was to build a solid I-A program, and we’re getting to it. If someone calls me and wants to talk, I’m going to listen, just like I did at Moeller and at Notre Dame. But I’m not out seeking a job.”