Fresh start for Faust at Akron

By Dan Moran

Like the Akron football program he heads, Gerry Faust is rebuilding.

Six years ago, Faust started his first season as head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, fresh off 18 years of guiding a juggernaut high school program in Cincinnati.

Saturday, he leads the Akron Zips into Huskie Stadium to battle the NIU Huskies. Now in his second season at Akron, with a 7-4 record in 1986 and a 3-6 mark this year, Faust was asked to sum up his state of affairs two years after leaving South Bend.

“It’s probably tougher because here you’re building. At Notre Dame, it was more maintaining,” Faust said Wednesday.

Because he’s a native Ohioan and in light of his previous success in Cincinnati, you might expect Faust to feel more comfortable to be back in the Buckeye State. But, while saying “of course, I’m a little more familiar with the surroundings here,” Faust adds, “As a coach, how can you not be happy at Notre Dame?”

Born in Dayton in 1935, Faust spent his collegiate days at his hometown’s namesake university. After a stint as a high school assistant, he took the reins at Cincinnati’s Moeller High in 1963 where he compiled a 174-17-2 record—including nine undefeated seasons and six state championships—before leaving for Notre Dame in 1981.

Needless to say, great expectations followed Faust to the land of Rockne and Leahy. Taking over for Dan Devine, who had won 53 games and a national championship in his six seasons as Irish boss, the last thing anyone in South Bend wanted to see was a losing record in Faust’s first campaign—5-6 in 1981.

“To me, the biggest problem was we lost a lot of tough games that first year,” Faust said. “Then, the second year, we were 6-1-1 going down the stretch. Then we lost three straight and we ended up 6-4-1. Nothing went right for us. We lost our starting quarterback against Pitt, and they were No. 1 at the time. Our schedule was real tough.

“I really believe if we had turned it around that second year, things would have been different.”

Back-to-back 7-5 finishes in 1983 and 1984 were not good enough for the Fighting Irish faithful. After a 5-6 ‘85 season, the Faust era ended with considerably less fanfare than when it started. Lou Holtz stepped in at ND, and Faust moved on to Akron.

When asked to look back and outline the problems he had moving from phenom high school coach to head of the most revered collegiate program in America, Faust said there were both environmental differences and style adjustments.

“Well, there’s a lot of differences,” Faust said. “Number one is the organization. You have recruiting, which you didn’t have in high school. Then, you have the whole day to work on football. Plus, it’s a more sophisticated brand of football. Those are things you all have to adjust to.

“The thing I found hardest to adjust to was I was really tough on the kids in high school. I wouldn’t let them breathe. I sort of let that go a little bit, and you can’t do that. Sure, you’re dealing with a more mature player, but kids are kids, whether they’re 16 or 20.”

aving re-instituted his program of what he calls “fair discipline” at Akron, Faust said he has put his soul into his new surroundings.

“I’m in it because I enjoy working with kids,” Faust said. “That’s why I’m here.”