by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I could have written this column Tuesday, the day the ax fell. But it seemed to fit on Thanksgiving, a day the Pilgrims sat down with the Indians. A more proper time, perhaps, for you, me and the rest of the football-watching world to smoke the peace pipe with Gerry Faust.

Faust resigned as Notre Dame football coach on Tuesday. His crime was losing. Nothing more. He had been plucked from the high school ranks five years ago — where he was a big-time winner — and handed the reins to the nation’s most popular college football program.

Faust said the job was “the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.”

And he did it proud on most counts. He worked feverishly, turned out good men, a clean program. And technically, a winning program, 30-25-1. But nowhere near winning enough for Notre Dame.

Faust knew it.

So, with a choked voice and moist eyes, he saved the university the ugliness of firing him by resigning with one game left on his contract.

Now all around there is hand-wringing mixed with hand- clapping.

A new neck has already been draped with his whistle. It belongs to Lou Holtz. Holtz, they say, a bone fide college coach, will make up for the lousy years. The losing years. Notre Dame will rise again. Glory, glory.

How sad. Irish are everywhere

For those who don’t know, Notre Dame is to college football what the Dallas Cowboys are to the pros. On autumn Saturdays, in every pocket of the country, there are those who simply cannot think about supper until they hear the Fighting Irish score.

That is a fact. So is this: In big-time coaching, losing gets you fired
— regardless of contracts.

Except at Notre Dame, where contracts are honored, well, religiously. And this is what made Faust’s story unique.

No matter how loudly the fans yelled, the school would not fire Faust. It was a battle between the honor of winning versus the honor of a promise. And the promise remained more important. It was something to be proud of. A nod to the days when a contract meant something.

Sadly, too few people saw it that way.

More saw it as death by flogging, one bloody whip per week. For Irish alumni, Faust’s losing was a ball and chain they had to drag around, because there’s no bragging about a clean or honest 6-6 alma mater.

In the end, a desperate Faust tried to do them all a favor. He resigned a week early, so the school “could find a new coach before recruiting season begins next week.”

It took them 24 hours. By next week recruiters will be telling the latest crop of 17-year-old studs that Notre Dame is the school to attend. That it has returned to tradition. Winning tradition.

Gerry Faust will be recalled as an experiment that failed. A detour on the road where winning never stops.

No kids to coach

Still, I can’t help feeling we’re losing something as Faust falls back to earth.

Maybe Notre Dame never should have hired him. He is not as good a college football coach as some. His teams deserved most of their defeats.

But the school gambled on a man with character, who stood for the principles of the university. He didn’t lose every game he coached, just more than those before him. But while he was around — optimistic, laughing, passing on his principles to his players — we had a reminder that maybe winning isn’t always the do-all, end-all in life.

It’s gone now.

As one of his players said, “He represents everything Notre Dame stands for, except winning enough football games.”

College football was once a game of its name. College kids playing football. That was long ago. Today it is a multimillion-dollar industry, a training ground for professionals, bright on the camera’s lens, high on money, rife with scandal.

“I got into coaching because I love working with kids,” Faust said Tuesday. If that is really the truth, then he belongs somewhere outside major college football. There are no kids here.

Ir’s all big boys now.

It’s all big boys now. We probably won’t see another Gerry Faust experiment again. Everyone will point out that it didn’t work the first time. Schools — especially Notre Dame — will play it safe, will go with the proven won-lost track records.

It’s not right or wrong anymore, it’s just the way it is. But when he sits down with his family to eat some turkey today, Faust should be thankful he survived with his priorities intact. And he shouldn’t feel the worst.

In many ways, it’s our loss.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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