At Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Coach Gerry Faust and his players drew thousands of people to home games to watch the nation's most dominant prep football team play. Later, when Faust was at Notre Dame, a stadium crowd of at least 59,000 was guaranteed--regardless of the opponent.
Nowadays Faust is lucky if he can get one-third of the seats filled at the Rubber Bowl, home to his University of Akron Zips. Although Faust probably couldn't fill the stadium's 35,000 seats if he gave tickets away, he finally is finding serenity as a college football coach.
"I have a great group of kids with a super attitude," said Faust, who takes his Zips (3-2-1) to Annapolis, Md., on Saturday to face the Naval Academy (2-3). "I'm really enjoying myself now."
The atmosphere surrounding Faust, in his fifth year at Akron, has not always been pleasant. When he left Moeller after the 1980 season to coach Notre Dame, Faust was supposed to carry the winning tradition to South Bend, Ind.
But by the time he resigned after five years, Faust had the most losses of any football coach in school history, with a 30-26-1 record. After the Irish lost, 58-7, to Miami in his last game there, a Sports Illustrated article described Faust as the man who left "Notre Dame's football program . . . in shambles."
"You don't like to read or hear the things you hear about the coaching, but you have to learn to accept that," Faust said of the media attacks. "I wanted to win. Not because people were upset. I wanted to do it because I believed in the university and what it stood for."
What Notre Dame followers could not accept were the two 5-6 seasons under Faust. In that time Notre Dame lost four straight times to Air Force--its only losses to a service academy since dropping a game to Navy in 1963.
Despite his lack of success at Notre Dame, Faust received nine job offers after he left. He settled on Akron, a Division I-AA school that was looking for a well-known coach to engineer its transition to Division I-A.
"I looked forward to the challenge," he said. "After taking the job at Notre Dame, I realized I had a lot to learn. Looking back, I wasn't ready. I know how to deal with college kids now. Ten years ago, I didn't."
The Zips--Zippy the kangaroo is the mascot--are 25-23-2 under Faust. Last year, in just its third year of I-A ball, Akron had a 6-4-1 record after two losing seasons.
"We're doing better than we thought we would be doing. We have a long way to go, but we're pleased with the progress we've made," Faust said. "We eventually would like to get to the level of the Naval Academy, Syracuse, West Point and Boston College. The transition to I-A has been really tough."
After coaching at an institution that pretty much sold itself, Faust has had to become a salesman to attract players.
"We made great strides over the last couple of years, and the enthusiasm is a lot better in the community," he said. "You have to really work hard to get kids here, and I'm always out recruiting. But the work is paying off. Our kids have a great belief in each other."