From the Vault: 'The Bold Experiment' with Gerry Faust at Notre Dame

Faust coached Moeller from the ground up
Posted at 7:00 AM, Dec 01, 2016
and last updated 2020-02-16 04:11:39-05

CINCINNATI -- In 1960, Gerry Faust pulled a football team out of thin air.

With donated equipment, Archbishop Moeller High School's first football team -- a reserve squad -- went 4-4.

By 1962, Moeller had varsity teams. The varsity Crusaders went 4-6 that year.

But Faust's teams were a force to be reckoned with over the next two decades; from 1962 to 1980, the Crusaders had a record of 178-23-2. They went unbeaten for seven years, won nine state championships and four national championships.

Below: Moeller's 1979 state championship win over Padua Parma High School


Faust's last win with the team was a big one. The state championship game versus Massillon Washington High was played at Nippert Stadium. Moeller, which won 30-7, brought out reserve players in the last quarter.

Below: Faust's last game with Moeller, 1980 state championship


The players also knew it could be their beloved coach's last time with Moeller, as rumors circulated that Faust was a likely candidate for the University of Notre Dame head coach job after Dan Devine stepped down.

"We dedicated the game to him because we thought it might be Coach's last game, so we wanted to take him out in style," said Mike Larkin. "I think we did that."

Faust's next move would be called "The Bold Experiment" -- he was hired as head football coach for Notre Dame, an unprecedented leap. The hire was made the morning after the 1980 state championship game.

WCPO Sports Director John Popovich made the drive to South Bend as soon as the 1980 state game ended.

WATCH: Gerry Faust special from WCPO in 1980


Larkin, Tony Hunter, Bob Crable and many of Faust's Moeller stars went on to play for him at Notre Dame. Hunter and Crable became All-Americans and starred in the NFL.

Faust's personal connections to the school dated back to his adolescence. He was offered a partial scholarship to Notre Dame, but instead took a full scholarship to play quarterback at the University of Dayton. Faust played for Hugh Devore, a former Notre Dame coach.

Faust also had a background rooted in Catholicism, both at the University of Dayton and Moeller. Gerry's father, Gerard "Fuzzy" Faust, was a longtime head coach at Chaminade Julienne, a Catholic high school in Dayton.

Below: Reactions to the hire


Critics said the difference between high school and college football was too steep of a change to make so drastically. Proponents said Faust already -- essentially -- ran a college program at Moeller.

"I'm willing to change some things, but I won't change myself," Faust said at the Notre Dame press conference announcing his hire.

Popovich told me that Faust was the same nice guy, even in the circus of college football.

The hire resulted in a national phenomenon in college sports called "Gerry Faust Syndrome," according to a report from the Los Angeles Times in 1986. High school coaches increasingly applied and inquired about college coaching positions after seeing Faust's speedy upward climb.

But the end of his tenure at Notre Dame sent a very different message to high school coaches across the country.

When he saw his first Notre Dame football schedule ahead of the 1981 season, Faust said, "I hope my lifelong dream doesn't end in a nightmare," during a press conference. Sadly, for those who rooted for the coach's success, the Fighting Irish went 30-26-1 with Faust at the helm.

</p><figcaption><p>Faust on the cover of Sports Illustrated, 1984

Faust's Irish team wasn't bad: The team achieved notable wins over LSU, Michigan, Joe Paterno's Penn State squad and Pittsburgh (with Dan Marino at quarterback). But earning a mediocre record at one of the best college programs in the country was enough to send Faust packing by 1985. His successor was Lou Holtz.

"I only had 26 miserable days at Notre Dame, and that's when we lost," Faust told Jerry Crowe for a 2008 profile. "Other than that, I was the happiest guy in the world.

"If I had the opportunity to do it again and knew the results would be the same, I'd do it again in a minute."

Faust's next gig was at Akron, where he aided a transition to Division I-AA to Division I. William Muse, the athletic director for the University of Akron in 1986, said he wanted the program "to have instant credibility."

While his record wasn't a winning one (43-53-3), Faust still holds a record as the third most winning coach in Zips football history.

Faust is retired now, but speaks at events and enjoys "the best hobby I've ever had" -- his grandchildren.

He also lives on in Cincinnati. 

At Moeller High School, a bronze statue of Moeller's first coach greets players and spectators at the top of the stairs leading to the football, soccer and rugby fields. You can feel his enthusiasm.

<figcaption>Faust with three of my brothers at a Moeller rugby game in 2012.

And sometimes, the coach shows up at Moeller games in the flesh. Championship games, especially -- I think it's safe to assume that he's their lucky charm.

SEE more video and stories about Tri-State history in our "From The Vault" series.