Can there be a worse place to be a mediocre football coach than at Notre Dame? Legends lurk everywhere. Games are broadcast around the world. Subway alumni think they own the place. Orphans and missionaries weep with every TD given up.
Then there are the students. A bright, athletic bunch of wise guys (and, yes, wise women), they revel in needling their losing teams. Take last spring's Bookstore Basketball Tournament, the annual all-campus free-for-all in which coach Gerry Faust (5-6, 6-4-1, 6-5 in three regular seasons) and four of his assistants entered as a team called The Old Men on the Block. Their first opponent was The Esophagus Constrictors, a quintet of engineering students who wore street shoes and black socks and played with slide rules hanging from their shorts. Just before the tip-off the students pulled off their sweat shirts to reveal green T shirts, a parody of Faust's ploy when he had the Irish don green jerseys before last season's USC game.
It was sort of funny, and Faust smiled. The Old Men won and moved on to play Your Freudian Slip Is Showing, led by senior engineering and theology major Mike Kitz. The Slips warmed up in Notre Dame sweat shirts and then took them off to reveal football jerseys, one each from Michigan State, Miami, Pitt, Penn State and Air Force, the five teams that beat the Irish in '83. This wasn't funny.
"The coaches were a little mad," recalls Kitz. "They threw a lot more elbows than in their other game."
Kitz, whose team lost to the coaches 21-19 (baskets counted one point), admits that most students like Faust personally but aren't optimistic about his coaching ability. "We see how big and skilled the athletes are, and then we see them lose," he says. "A lot of students—I'm not one—think Faust should become the head recruiter and step down as coach."
To be sure, Faust can sell Notre Dame. It's generally conceded that he has brought more talent to South Bend in the last four years than any other college has acquired over that span. Faust has had everything but a quarterback, but he has one now in sophomore Steve Beuerlein, who took over early last October and threw for 1,061 yards. The Irish have all but five starters back from last season, losing only guard Neil Maune on offense. Everyone is strong, huge and fast, except for 5'9", 183-pound junior tailback Allen Pinkett, who is only strong and fast. Pinkett, who bench-presses 390 pounds, ran for 1,394 yards last year. If Notre Dame can't win big this fall—and big means going 10-1 or 9-2—Faust will have done less with more than anyone since Jayne Mansfield.
One thing Faust must overcome is November. Under his guidance the Irish are 3-8 in turkey month. Another problem is the team's performance at Notre Dame Stadium. Under Faust the Irish are only 9-7 beneath the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus, the fresco that overlooks the field. "I don't know what the problem is at home," says Faust, "but I don't like it." Nor do the students, and they're ready to punt.