Gerry Faust Notre Dame

Giving away my age yet again, I first started seriously following recruiting way back in the 1970’s.

Back in the stone age of recruiting, Cincinnati Moeller High School was a monster powerhouse. They were winning state championships and one right after another and putting out the recruits by the truckloads. They were a really popular place to visit for college coaches on the recruiting trail.

Ohio high school football powerhouses Masillon Washington, Canton McKinley, Youngstown Cardinal Mooney and several schools out of Cleveland produced player after player and these guys were filling out rosters at Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan and other schools.

But, none of those football factories had an advantage over Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Moeller High School produced All American Linebacker Bob Crable, Doug Williams, Michael Munoz, Greg Jones, Tom Waddle, Tony Hunter and many more in football.

Moeller was also really impressive as far as producing baseball players with such future Major League super stars as Ken Griffey Jr, the Larkin brothers Barry and Stephen, Buddy Bell and his two sons David and Mike, and quite a few more. Barry Larkin actually was recruited by the world for football and he signed with Bo Schembechler and Michigan but elected to play baseball only for the Wolverines.

Cincinnati Moeller started it’s football program from scratch in 1962 and hired Gerry Faust as it’s head coach. Faust was the head coach at Moeller High School for 18 years, from 1962 until 1980. During that time period, the coach led his team to a simply incredible 178 – 23 – 2 record. Faust’s Moeller teams were credited with 4 national championships and 5 state championships. His teams basically

averaged a 10 – 1 record over an 18 year period which is an outstanding statistic, obviously. Seven of his Moeller teams finished the year unbeaten, but apparently the state of Ohio has strange playoff systems because he should have had more state championships.

Even if his teams weren’t loaded with outstanding talent, they were a consistent winner year after year which goes back to good coaching and leadership.

Gerry Faust had supposedly said during his days at Cincinnati Moeller High School that he would only leave for one job and that was Notre Dame.

But Ara Parseghian  was the head coach at Notre Dame at the time, and then later it was Dan Devine.

Following a legend is never an easy task and make no mistake about it, Ara Parseghian was a legend at Notre Dame. After Parseghian stepped down in South Bend, the Irish hired Devine and he was never received very well by anyone at Notre Dame. Devine won a national title for the Irish and he coached them to a 53 – 16 – 1 record. But, even with such success he was never much liked.

Devine stepped down after the 1980 game stating health problems and suddenly the Irish were in need of a new head coach.

Notre Dame, for whatever reason, decided to hire mega successful Gerry Faust from Cincinnati Moeller High School as it’s next head coach.

Gerry Faust was an intriguing figure to say the least, but was he ready to take the head job at a major college with the history and tradition of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish?

To say it’s a huge jump from high school football to college football is a huge understatement. But, this was not just college football, this was Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish, whether you love or hate them, are clearly one of the most recognizable programs in the country. The pressure to win there, like at many schools, is intense. That’s a lot of pressure to put on even the best of college coaches, much less a coach coming straight from the high school ranks.

But, the mystique and the history of the Fighting Irish make this job one of the top ones in the country and one of the most desirable, but also one of the toughest. Not only Gerry Faust’s dream job, but his successor Lou Holtz said the exact same things. This was their dream job.

The history in South Bend, with the Four Horsemen, the Gipper, Knute Rockne, Elmer Layden, Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian is second to nobody else in the country.

Jumping from being a high school coach, no matter how much success, to being the head coach at Notre Dame was just an incredible step.

Some people scratched their heads in wonder about this hire. Some people called this a  bold experiment, which could be a great description.  Others thought he would be great, they said he had been recruiting for years at Cincinnati Moeller High School and that he was a great coach for winning so many games at Moeller.

Whatever your opinion, Gerry Faust was a very intense, a very positive and a very likable guy and I personally pulled for him to do well in South Bend. I tend to enjoy a guy with a huge heart that gives his all whether he is good enough or not.

I vividly and clearly remember Faust saying that his Grandmother could recruit for Notre Dame. Every Catholic kid in American dreams of growing up and playing for Notre Dame, and even some none Catholic kids.

But, while recruiting is extremely important, it’s not all that is required to run a major college football program and especially one that is so much in the limelight as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Things started off well for Gerry Faust at Notre Dame and everyone thought the Irish had made a wonderful decision.

Taking over for Dan Devine, Faust inherited an excellent team and there were quite a few of his former players from Moeller on the team. Moeller had been a farm team for Notre Dame for years, and this now worked as an advantage for Gerry Faust.

Devine’s last team at Notre Dame had gone 9 – 2 -1. They had just lost to the national champion Georgia Bulldog team which had an outstanding true freshman named Herschel Walker. If the Irish had beaten the Bulldogs, they would have been crowned national champions.

When the Irish opened up  in Faust’s first game in 1981 with a big win over LSU, the Pollsters quickly moved Notre Dame to the #1 spot in the Polls.

That didn’t last long as 11th ranked Michigan crushed them the following week, 25 – 7.

The Irish fell to the 13th spot in the weekly Polls and then they visited long time rival and unranked Purdue and Notre Dame lost by a single point, 14 – 15.

That was it for being ranked in 1981 and they were 2 – 4 at one point in the season before beating 3 patsies and improving to a 5 – 4 record.

They lost a close one to Penn State before being crushed by Miami to end the year. The Irish finished 5 – 6 on the 1981 season which was not the greatest of starts for a hire that was already questionable.

Gerry Faust and his Fighting Irish opened up the 1982 season ranked 20th and then proceeded to go out and whip 10th ranked Michigan in their opener, 23 – 17. The Pollsters were impressed and they moved the Irish down to the 10th position.

Notre Dame beat Purdue, then Michigan State and then impressively they beat 17th ranked Miami to improve to 4 – 0 on the season. Gerry Faust had his team rolling.

That, too, did not last as they lost to unranked Arizona and then tied Oregon. This was not the present day Oregon Ducks that we all know and the 1982 Ducks finished with a 2 – 8 -1 record.

They beat Navy and then shocked the world by upsetting top ranked Pittsburgh and Dan Marino, 31 -16 at Pittsburgh. Younger fans won’t think that was a big deal, but the Pittsburgh Panthers in the late 1970s and early 1980s were just loaded with talent. Bobby Bowden of Florida State said the 1980 Pitt Panthers team may have been the best team he had ever faced. A lot of those talented players from 1980 were still Panthers in 1982

The Pollsters all too eagerly moved the Irish back into the rankings and then they lost their very next game to 5th ranked Penn State. That really turned out to be one of Penn State’s best teams and they beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to win the national championship.

Notre Dame lost it’s last two games to Air Force and to the Trojans of USC to finish the year at 6 – 4 – 1.

The Irish had shown some promise in 1982 and won a few big games, but they were inconsistent and lost some games they should have won. Irish fans might have been growing restless with Gerry Faust at this point of his tenure.

One of the biggest complaints for Notre Dame haters is that they are sometimes overrated and that often really is the case and I am not a hater. The Fighting Irish opened up the season in 1983 ranked 5th in the preseason Polls. They opened up with Purdue and absolutely destroyed the Boilermakers, 52 – 6, and they dropped to #4.

But, they were upset by Michigan State, 23 – 28 and they were moved to the 13th spot again in the weekly Polls. Next came the Miami Hurricanes down in the Orange Bowl and the Canes whipped them, 20 – 0. As expected, the Irish dropped out of the Polls completely, but then they went on a  5 game winning streak which included a nice win over 7th ranked South Carolina and their biggest rival the USC Trojans. The Irish found themselves back in the national Polls again at number 19 and they dropped to number 18 after they beat the Naval Academy.

After 5 straight wins, the bottom dropped out for the Irish yet again when they lost to Pittsburgh at home. This was not the same Panthers from the year before as they lost so much talent from the year before including 3 first round draft picks. Dan Marino was one of those picks.

It was a close loss and so were the next 2 losses to Penn State and Air Force, but Penn State was a shell of it’s previous year’s team and Notre Dame should never lose to Air Force in football.

The Irish got a bowl bid and played against Boston College and future Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie in the Liberty Bowl and they won by a single point, 19 -18.

The 1983 version of the Irish finished with a less than impressive 7 – 5 record in Gerry Faust’s third season and the faithful being unhappy should not surprise anyone.

This was Notre Dame, the one time home of Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy. 7 wins and 5 losses in a season didn’t cut it there, just as it wouldn’t at USC, or Alabama, or Texas, or most any other national powerhouse football school.

The bright spot for the 1983 Notre Dame football season was the Green Jersey II game in which they pulled out the old Green Jerseys for the USC game and beat the Trojans for the first time in 5 years. But, that was not enough to stop the grumbling.

Gerry Faust did some good things at Notre Dame and had some big wins. I doubt his grandmother helped him recruit all that much and that may have been a harder thing for him than he imagined.

The 1984 season rolled around and yet another Notre Dame Fighting Irish team was ranked. This version of the team was ranked 8th in the preseason.

As had been the standard the past few years, the Irish stumbled out of the blocks and lost in their first game to Purdue. This Boilermaker team also beat Ohio State and finished 8 and 4 on the year and their coach, Leon Burtnett was the Big 10’s coach of the year.

Dropping out of the Polls once again, the Irish rebounded with wins over Michigan State and Colorado. They beat Colorado so convincingly that they made it back into the Polls at the 19th spot which improved to the 17th position when they beat Missouri.

Losses to 14th ranked Miami, Air Force and 11th ranked South Carolina left them with 3 wins and 4 losses on the season and seemingly dead in the water.

But, here they went again and shocked 6th ranked LSU in Baton Rouge, 30 – 22. They beat Navy and then absolutely destroyed Penn State before thumping 14th ranked USC in Los Angeles.

Pollsters were not going to be tricked again in 1984 and they left the Irish off of the Polls. The Irish were still invited to the Aloha Bowl where they lost to 10th ranked SMU to finish off another disappointing 7 – 5 season.

From my memory, Gerry Faust looked awful around this time. The pressure was starting to get to him and he was not a youthful coach any more.

The national Pollsters never learned as 1985 came around and they had Faust and his Irish ranked at 13 in their preseason Polls.

As had been the standard under Gerry Faust, the Irish fell quickly and they fell hard.

Michigan beat them in their opener, 12 – 20.

MIchigan State was bad in those days and the Irish beat them again, but Purdue came next and surprised the Irish with a convincing win.

Air Force owned Gerry Faust and Notre Dame in those years beating them yet again after the Purdue debacle. This actually was a pretty good Air Force team.

But, they bounced back and beat a surprisingly ranked Army pretty thoroughly.

The Irish thumped USC amazingly easily in 1985 with a 37 – 3 beat down. Then, they blasted Navy and Ole Miss.

Penn State was ranked number 1 when they beat the unranked Irish, 36 to 6.

The Irish lost to 17th ranked LSU, 7 – 10.

Gerry Faust resigned after that game, but wanted to finish out the season which was a trip to Miami, Florida to play the stout Hurricanes.

The Canes were coached by Jimmy Johnson at that time and they poured it on hapless Gerry Faust and his Irish who had little fight left in them. The Hurricanes blasted the Irish that day 58 to 7 in a game that the Notre Dame Irish and their fans would never forget.

Gerry Faust, the amazing high school coach at Cincinnati Moeller High School was done at Notre Dame and his last season was an embarrassing 5 – 6 disaster.

Faust finished his Notre Dame campaign with a very average 30 – 26 – 1 record.

He was not done with coaching as he was hired by Akron before the 1986 season to take over that program.

His days there were very similar to his ones at Notre Dame as his Akron Zips floundered to a 43 – 53 – 3 record.

The Zips had a miserable season in 1994 when they finished up 1 – 10 and Faust was fired.

 

Minnesota Gopher coach Lou Holtz was hired to take over as the new Notre Dame head coach.

Gerry Faust is alive and well at 80 years of age and still lives in the Akron area. He may have been one of the all time great high school football coaches, but that clearly never translated to the college level. Of course, it might have helped had he started as an assistant coach somewhere under a winning coach and not starting out as the main guy at a juggernaut like Notre Dame.

I always felt bad for Gerry Faust and thought he deserved better. He just looked awful his last few games at Notre Dame and maybe his last couple of seasons.

The bold experiment as some called it for Notre Dame and his hiring of Gerry Faust was a failure and Faust came out looking like a loser.

Gerry Faust was not a loser as his 178 wins against only 23 losses at Cincinnati Moeller clearly illustrate. Notre Dame was just a job that was over his head and I do hate that this is the way he will be remembered by most.

Fans get upset about losing and begin hating a man just because he is not cut out for the job. They seem to forget that he is a human being with thoughts and feelings just like the rest of us and he did his best. It may not have been good enough, but Gerry Faust dreamed of coaching at Notre Dame and he gave it the very best that he could possibly do. He did fail, but the man was not a failure.

 

No, I am not related to Gerry Faust. But, we fans get carried away at times and that goes for pretty much every school.

 

Remember Gerry Faust as one of the great high school football coaches of all time and a man that gave his all. Faust even had some big wins for Notre Dame, but just came up a few victories short.

9 thoughts on “Gerry Faust Notre Dame

  1. Russell Lewis

    Great story on Gerry Faust. When I was growing up, I really hated Gerry Faust. Moeller was not too far from where we lived. A number of Moeller folks lived on our street. My school (Princeton) would have a great season and would always lose to Moeller the last game of the season. I really hated seeing those Moeller guys walking up and down our street wearing their Moeller jackets. What irritated me most was that Moeller recruited from all over the Cincinnati area. I thought that was terribly unfair.

    As I got older, I did start to appreciate Gerry Faust a lot more, knowing that he was a man of character and a man of faith.

    Reply
    1. Brad Post author

      I’m like you, I appreciated Faust much more after the fact.
      Those schools like Allen in Texas still recruit and get away with everything. Allen has way more kids that any other school in the state and they still recruit a QB from out of state to replace their departing one. They will always deny, but it’s certainly true.

      Reply
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  4. Tom

    Moeller High school was a special place in the 1970’s……… the comments about Moeller HS and Gerry Faust brings back some special memories for me ……In 1972 I was 12 years old and living in Florida; when my father transferred jobs and we relocated to Cincinnati and by chance lived in Montgomery, Ohio. The quality of Pop Warner football in South Florida was very high and we traveled all over South Florida playing many teams that were completely African-American. Little did I know that I was moving into the hot-bed of high school football and when my father announced we are moving to Cincinnati – I was shocked. I knew nothing about Ohio, or the quality of the high school football. I had a shop teacher in my Florida Middle School tell me not to worry; Ohio had great football………
    My brother attended Moeller HS for 1-year and I was set to attend as Freshman in 1974 when my father again ,unexpectedly, relocated us to NY for employment reasons. So I was there in Ohio for about 2 years in total.
    I never played for Gerry Faust ( I moved the summer between 8th grade and 9th grade) but was all set to play for the Freshmen team in 1974. I went to his summer sports camp at Moeller HS and experienced first hand some of his personality and exuberance for sports. I was a much better football player and sprinter then I was a softball player. In the final game of the camp there was a softball game between Faust’s team and his offensive coach (Phil Gigliotti). I dropped a couple of pop-ups in the outfield and as a result we lost the game. The deal was the losing coach got hit in the face with a big Boston Creme Pie; Gigliotti really smacked Gerry Faust with the pie. He (Faust) seemed to take it pretty good. At one point in the game another kid on our team failed to step on home for a force out with the bases loaded; a bunch of runs scored and Gerry was pissed; he really chewed the kid out. The kid was very funny; he told Faust – well I am done here now, and I am leaving the game if your going to yell at me like that. It was very funny to see a 13 year old kid stand up to Faust. He (Faust) was tough on us – but not verbally abusive.
    The camp was a great “behind the scenes look” at Moeller HS and their football program at the time. Their weight room was completely home-made and very forward thinking at the time. When I later moved to NY and would compare the state of HS football in NY to Ohio at that time there was such a huge gap. The Moeller weight room had all types of weight’s and machines there were built from scratch. I recall seeing manhole covers slipped over an axle of sorts for dead lifting. Moeller was all about speed and strength; if you were a really big guy and could bench a lot of weight – you actually ranked behind a lighter guy who could equally lift almost the same weight. So it was all about that ratio between your weight and what you could lift. They had all kinds of boards with lifting records screwed to the wall that they constantly updated. They had an “Iron-man” classification when you had to achieve a certain standard in 10 categories. I recall that in the dead of summer this room was packed with guys. It was a simple single story concrete block building with no windows. Just all of these weights and machines; with slogans and phrases painted everywhere.
    I played Pop Warner football in the 8th grade in Ohio; not knowing that the Middle Schools in Ohio also played football. It wasn’t that way in Florida or NJ where I had previously grown up. The Pop Warner program in Ohio had some type of reciprocal agreement with Moeller and a few of us better players from our team were invited to the Moeller HS annual football team dinner. What an event! The captains for next year’s teams were announced with these giant banners that were attached to the ceiling and with great deal of drama these banners were unfurled from the ceiling.
    The Moeller players I recall received their helmets in June of the school year and wore them all summer to acclimate to the heat; I remember seeing guys cutting lawns with their Moeller HS football helmets on. The summer heat/humidity in Cincinnati was absolutely brutal I recall; hotter than anywhere else that I had lived.
    The Moeller HS team did have this Catholic “win with God” element infused within the team and the entire school. There were slogans and phrases letter and painted everywhere. No doubt this was used as a unifying element among the boys and all the teams at Moeller; not unlike many Catholic schools. I can’t speak about their “recruitment” policy; but the school was mostly all white with some black guys. My mother was worried that I was not big enough to play at Moeller; she walked right up to Faust at the Freshman orientation meeting and asked him if I could play Freshman football; he looked at me and said sure; sign him up.
    You could see that the freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams were all inter-related and few underclassmen played on the varsity. Sometimes the reserve team dressed for the varsity game but it seemed more pyschological; like a 120 kids total then showing up ready to play. The teams were big as well; 60 to 80 kids on each team. The teams had the same offensive and defensive philosophy. I can recall in the summer sports camps, I had returned some kick-offs for touchdowns when the offensive back coach (Gigliotti) told me “here at Moelller we run North and South so stop with all of these crazy cutback moves.” I was proud to have returned the kick-offs for touchdowns – but you could see they really were about specialized coaching, even for an incoming freshman.
    Moeller’s offense ran a “power I-formation” I recall; almost a college or pro-type set-up. I even recall that they had an observation tower as well I think in the back of the fields. They did not have a field for their home games; and the practice fields were almost bare of grass. I think they played their home games at Sycamore High School back then. Their offense was all about speed and execution and I thought was very innovative at the time. When I moved to NY that summer – the local high school was running a ‘Winged-T’ formation; something that seemed a throwback to the 50’s and 60’s in football. When I was living in NY, I constantly found myself comparing Ohio and NY state football; almost like two different worlds.
    There was a mystique about playing for Moeller High school football team no doubt; the older players wore the blue football jacket with ‘”Crusader” simply lettered across the back. They really wore those blue & gold jackets with pride. I can recall playing a Pop Warner game against an all black team from Ohio; a really tough team that went up two touchdowns on us quickly. We ended up tying the game and we kept running this off-tackle dive play that worked so well, we kept running it; after I had scored the second touchdown – some of the other players on the side line from the other team came over and asked me where I was going to play in High School. When I told them I was going to play at Moeller they were like “oh shit this white boy is going to Moeller to play.”
    These memories and recollections are now over 40 years old now and I am sure not 100% correct. No doubt Moeller High School was and still is a special place; but there was something very special about it in the early to late 1970’s which certainly was it’s greatest football period. I still occasionally have a recurring dream where I go back to Moeller High School and try out for Gerry Faust again; he is much the same in my dreams, yet I am now 56 years old.

    Reply
    1. Brad Post author

      Awesome and I read every word of it. I would have loved to have seen some of those Faust teams at Moeller. Do you know if there are any videos out there?
      Thanks for your comments.

      Reply
  5. tom

    Hi Brad… I am glad you and perhaps others will enjoy these recollections. I am sure there are videos out there; but you would have to really work to get them for sure. In that era it was all Super 8 movies I recall; I am sure someone on the inside like Phil Gigliotti or Faust himself would know where the tapes/videos are kept. The high school football (State) championship set up in Ohio did not really start until 1972 I believe; and then it was changed in 1977 or ’79. So as the football program at Moeller started to really gain momentum; the state championship did the same in Ohio. Moeller struggled I think in the early 70’s to beat the big boys to the North; their big rival I recall was Youngstown Cardinal Mooney. It took them a few years and by ’75, ’77 and ’79 they were State Champions for sure. Those are probably the games to look for because the competition was so fierce at that State level. In 1977 Moeller played a big inter-state game with Monsignor Farrell HS from Staten Island NY. It was written up in Sports Illustrated and in Cinncinnati Magazine I believe; Moeller won the game and it was played in UC stadium. I think they drew over 30,000 that night and out-drew the Reds who were playing the same evening.

    Faust was such a dynamic personality; and I am amazed that even as a 14 year old I could recognize that quality. He had this raspy voice; almost like someone permanently hoarse that was non-stop. He was very loyal to his players; and I am sure they remain fiercely loyal to him to this day. For someone who was all about preparation and discipline he was also very innovative. He really recognized the importance of strength conditioning and off-season training. I know for a fact that in 1973 he had arranged for ballet class in the winter months for his players; not just the varsity team I recall. Football at Moeller was really a 12-month program culminating with the Fall season each year…….

    Reply
    1. Brad Post author

      Thanks. I am going to check Youtube first and see if there’s anything. I also recently read Faust’s book ‘Golden Dreams’ and I wish more of it had been about his high school coaching days. I never lived in Ohio, but their high school football has always been fascinating to me.

      Reply

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