Dan Devine seems out of place as Notre Dame football coach. He appears too easygoing, too controlled, too subdued.
"I have simple tastes," he says.
Devine has won 21 of the 27 games he has coached in 2 1/2 seasons at Notre Dame since leaving the Green Bay Packers, but it never seems to be enough.
Not a week goes by that one doesn't hear or read somewhere that Devin's job is an jeopardy.
Devine says he ignores the talk as best he can, and the people who do the hiring and firing say his job is safe. They will not say for how long. The pressure is always on Devine. Both he and his players know that a lot of people are watching his every move very closely.
"We loss three games like we did last year and the alumni jump on him (Devine) and want a change," said quarterback Joe Montana. "It's not his tault when we make mental mistakes. What do they want from him? Everyone was complaining and we were 9-3 last year. Six and five is a winning record anywhere else, but here it is 11-0."
"It's that people expect so much from us every game," added line-backer Tom Golic, "and if we don't deliver everything everyone expects they blame coach Devine. He coaches his own way and does what he thinks is best. It would surprise me a great deal if they tried to replace him because I can't see any basis for it."
Devine is used to all this by now and says he will never put himself in the position of defending himself. "I don't have to," he said. "Outside forces make it tougher for you to do your job, but you still have to do it your own way."
Notre Dame will play its most important game of the season Saturday when it hosts, Southern California. The winner will be back in the running for the national championship, and the loser will be out of the race.
"There a lot more tension now than there has been with other games," said Golic. "We have to beat them (the Trojans) and beat them convincingly."
This was supposed to have been Notre Dame's year. Most preseason polls picked the Irish to be the No. 1 team in the nation. They had a big, strong defense led by ends Ross Browner and Willie Fry. They had Golic at linebacker and Luther Bradley in the secondary.
The offensive line allso was big and strong with all-America tight end Ken McAfee. And the Irish had a host of talented running backs.
But they ran into trouble before they could get out of the blocks. Al Hunter, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season, the only Notre Dame player ever to do so, was suspended from school for nonfootball-related activities and fullback Willard Browner, Ross' brother, flunked out.
"When we lost those two, we had to throw away our playbook," Devine said.
"At the end of last season we could run basic stuff and blow practically everyone away. They knew what was coming but they couldn't stop it." Notre Dame ran almost exclusively from the winged-T set.
"This season we've used every formation but the wishbone," Devine said. "We may be too multiple now."
The Irish beat Pitt in their opener but were upset by Mississippi the next week. They bounced back with victories over Perdue, Michigan State and Army.
Jerome Heavens was a fullback and Vagas Ferguson was at halfback against Pitt, but Ferguson injured a leg against Mississippi and was replaced by Harry Eurick. When Eurick was injured in the Purdue game, Devine was forced to use Heavens at halfback and untried sophomore David Mitchell at fullback.
"To make it easier on both, Devine lined them in the I-formation with Heavens at tailback and the move has worked like a charm. Heavens ran for a school-record 200 yards on 34 carries in the 24-0 victory over Army, and has now picked up 530 yards for the season.
Montana, who missed the final three games of the 1975 season with a finger injury and all of last season with a separated shoulder, began their campaign as the backup to Rusty Lisch. Montana didn't play in the first two games, was inserted in the third quarter of the Purdue game, brough the Irish from behind and has been No. 1 ever since.
"We're improving every week," Devine said. "I'm happy here and I have a good bunch of kids. We start only three seniors on offense and five on defense so we are still looking to the future."
That doesn't sound much like a man who thinks he may lose his job.