The holiest ghost at Notre Dame, Knute Rockne, used to say, "One loss is good for the soul. Too many losses are not good for the coach." His reverent descendant, Frank Leahy, preached, "Prayers work better when the players are big." Their Protestant successor, Ara Parseghian, came to believe, "Notre Dame fans are bottom-line people." Next to Gerry Faust, these were all football coaches of little faith.
For the worse part of the past five years, Faust, 50, has led a life more damnable than Christopher Marlowe ever dreamed, saying touching things like "Don't read everything you believe in the newspapers." Then abruptly last week, backed up against a blue-gray November sky, Notre Dame's beleaguered coach finally answered the hate mail of every irate fan in Christendom. Four days before the final game on his contract, Faust gave his notice. "Sometimes you don't know why these things happen," he said of 26 losses in 57 games, the direst total in 97 years of Irish history, outstripping even the terrible touchdown famine of Joe Kuharich. "You leave it to the Almighty. I think there was a purpose for me to be here. I enjoyed it. I had five wonderful years ... I'd do it over again."
Throughout Faust's ordeal, though especially in this last 5-6 season, he and his team have experienced such infernal luck that the university's puckish publicist Roger Valdiserri has been sighing, "You'd think Madalyn Murray O'Hair was our spiritual adviser." But beyond the bad breaks, the coach was also inclined to try 52-yd. field goals in head winds when a punt was preferable to a prayer. "Blessed Mother," Faust murmured on the sidelines, "haven't you tested me enough?" His players mumbled much the same thing. In light of such failed piety, Notre Dame's traditional boast of having God on its side has been badly shaken. In fact, some people are saying that the departure of this good man proves God takes no active interest in football, a bitter suggestion in South Bend.
The university itself, the Roman Catholic administration, would prefer not to be defined by a leather bag full of wind. Allowing Faust to complete his term spoke to this perspective as eloquently as the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh when Notre Dame's president said, "The players are first and foremost students. A coach's position should not be at the mercy of last week's score or the vagaries of a single season." All the same, the essence of the place is signaled by the outstretched arms on a campus mural known to the students as "Touchdown Jesus." The statue of Father William Corby may be raising its hand to make some fine academic point or confer some important ecclesiastical blessing. Still he is known colloquially as "Fair-Catch Corby."