John Jordan, Notre Dame's basketball coach, normally is a peaceable blue-eyed Irishman with a ready smile and a gregarious way. At 50 he displays the pear-shaped paunch and philosophical passivity of an aging plainclothes detective, which he might well have become. At the Hoosier Classic tournament in Indianapolis recently he seemed to be sitting with characteristic quietness, watching his listless team being pummeled by Purdue. But a close observer could see that Jordan's complexion, which is normally a sort of peach pink, was changing to, literally, apple red and plum purple.
When his team fled to the dressing room at half time Coach Jordan was in hot pursuit, followed briskly by a priest. ("Last rites," said an irreverent fan.) In Jordan's 10 years of frequent ups and occasional downs at Notre Dame this was clearly a down, and just when it would have been so nice to show up the football team, which this season was Notre Dame's worst ever.
John Jordan's basketball teams, always playing in the shadow of Notre Dame football, consistently face the best teams in the country. Adolph Rupp's fearsome Kentucky is always on the schedule. This year so are North Carolina, St. John's and UCLA, all ranked among the top 10.
The reason for such a rigorous schedule is not so much to establish a good record as to put Notre Dame on display in many different cities before avid coteries of Kellys and O'Rourkes. "In a sense, we are a national school, like Army and Navy," Jordan explains, "so we try to play a national schedule." This coast-to-coast consciousness has the disadvantage of putting Notre Dame on the road a lot, where basketball teams tend to get beaten. It has one advantage, however. "I can go recruiting, say, in Louisville, and Adolph Rupp can't ask me, 'What are you doing down here?' " says Jordan, trying hard to hide his obvious amusement. " Rupp knows I'm just looking for nice Catholic boys who want to go to Notre Dame."
This year Jordan's nice Catholic boys come from such diverse locales as Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and—yes, Adolph—Louisville.
Jordan believes in rugged defensive basketball, and the size of his team reflects this. Football coaches have cast covetous looks at more than one of his big, tough players. "When they start banging under the backboards," Jordan says, "it stands to reason the meaty man will eventually beat the bony one." Rough as a cut corn field on defense, and brutal as an off-tackle smash on offense, Jordan's Notre Dame teams have had many fine seasons. They won the Sugar Bowl tournament twice in succession (1954 and 1955), have been invited to the NCAA championship tournament five times and have produced a handful of All-Americas. In 10 years under Jordan they have won 173 and lost 98—which, incidentally, is better than the football team has done.
Football is still king
Not that Notre Dame will ever become a basketball school. The field house is a South Bend reconstruction of a Roman ruin: an ill-stacked pile of yellow brick, vintage 1898. It seats only 4,000, with the fans and school band so close to the floor that the slide trombone player could block a shot on a low note. All but 500 of the seats are free to students, who in return raise a din that can only be described, even at Notre Dame, as unholy. The concentrated male screaming has led some rival coaches to refuse to play at South Bend. After Rupp saw two of his best Kentucky teams lose there he swore he'd never come back again. "Not only did the student body roar at us," he complained, "but that group in black in the corner [priests and seminarians] must have been praying against us." Notre Dame now plays Kentucky on a neutral floor.
Jordan's office is no better than his basketball court. He and Assistant Coach Jim Gibbons share a tiny room in a freshman dormitory where the architecture and d�cor are early scholastic. "We face it—and it's only right," says Jordan. "At Notre Dame football is it."
It was football, as a matter of fact, that brought Jordan to Notre Dame. One of the seven children of an Irish policeman, he was raised in the aromatic "back of the yards" section of Chicago. His ability at touch football so impressed a Notre Dame All-America football player that he recommended Jordan to Knute Rockne, who offered him a scholarship.