Gerry Faust, a high school coaching legend with a reputation as a nice guy and a passion for Notre Dame, resigned yesterday from the only job he ever wanted, ending five years with more losses than any coach in Fighting Irish history.

Faust made a surprise announcement of his decision at his weekly news conference and reiterated his feelings in an evening news conference, ending a season of speculation that he would not be asked to return to Notre Dame when his five-year contract ended next week.

"I think it's best for the university and best for me," Faust said. "I felt it was best to give them an opportunity to get another coach in here before recruiting starts."

Although Faust's departure was widely expected, his timing came as a shock to the Fighting Irish, who have one game remaining, Saturday against fourth-ranked Miami at the Orange Bowl. Faust informed the Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, the university vice president who also is chairman of the athletic board, Athletic Director Gene Corrigan and his coaching staff of the decision shortly before he went to the morning news conference.

"Gerry's announcement was a surprise to Father Joyce and myself," Corrigan said last night. "We appreciate the extra time he has given us in naming a successor.

"The history of Notre Dame is not to wait around in naming a new coach. My best guess is that we'd do something no later than Monday. Father Joyce and I met several times today and I'll work some more tonight. We won't dilly-dally."

Corrigan said there have been inquiries about the job but Notre Dame had not actively contacted anyone concerning the job before Faust's announcement. Corrigan would not say how many people were being considered but did say, "We need somebody with experience and someone who's had success at this level. But his integrity has to be unquestioned. He will have to accept what Notre Dame is about academically, and that's not automatic for some people."

Faust's announcement brought expressions of sympathy from his players. Said senior running back Allen Pinkett, from Sterling, Va.: "I feel sorry for the man. No one wanted to win more than he. In my opinion, even though he didn't do that well in terms of wins and losses, he's still a winner."

Added junior running back Hiawatha Francisco, who played for Faust at Moeller High in Cincinnati: "You hate to see someone you know go through what he's gone through the past few weeks. For his family and him, I'm glad it's over."

Faust said he talked to the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, the university president, yesterday morning, and that his resignation would be effective after the Miami game.

Faust's resignation immediately increased speculation over candidates for his replacement. Some who have been prominently mentioned for the job are Terry Donahue of UCLA, Lou Holtz of Minnesota, Bobby Ross of Maryland, George Welsh of Virginia and former Philadelphia Eagles Coach Dick Vermeil.

In a letter to Faust, Hesburgh said he accepted his resignation "with genuine regret. During your five-year tenure here you have certainly earned the respect and affection of a vast segment of the Notre Dame family."

But Faust, 50, was the subject of much controversy with a 30-25-1 record at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are 5-5 this season after a 1-3 start and successive losses to No. 1 Penn State and No. 13 Louisiana State the last two weeks. Prior to Faust, Joe Kuharich had the most losses, going 17-23 from 1959 to 1962.

Despite constant speculation as to when he might quit and the increasing call from fans to "Oust Faust," he said he did not think of resigning until after the LSU loss.

Faust had a 174-17-2 record in 18 seasons at Moeller before he was hired to replace Dan Devine in 1981. Faust said then that Notre Dame was the only job he ever wanted, and he appeared to perfectly suit the Fighting Irish, with his rumpled, amiable persona and a permanently hoarse voice that seemed to motivate teams. But he had no experience coaching at the college level, particularly in the high pressure zone of Notre Dame.

"Gerry was a bold experiment," Corrigan said. "It was such a huge step. He had so little to fall back on, in college experience, especially in the first years."

The Fighting Irish had seasons of 5-6 in 1981, 6-4-1 in 1982, 7-5 in 1983, and 7-5 in 1984. They went to the Liberty and Aloha bowls the last two seasons, considered unsatisfactory at the school that prides itself on Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian.

"Sometimes you don't know why these things happen," Faust said. "You leave it to the Almighty. I think there was a purpose for me to be here. I enjoyed it, I had five wonderful years. Even with the results, I'd do it over."

Faust said he had not had a chance to make plans for the future. Nor had he decided whether he would remain in coaching.

"I have no idea," he said. "I'm going to sit back for a couple of weeks and look at everything. I'll look at coaching situations. Maybe I need a fresh start. Maybe I'll be a head coach at a major college. Maybe I'll go into something else."

The Minneapolis Star and Tribune, citing unnamed sources, said the job has been offered to Holtz, but he denied the report. The newspaper, quoting Minnesota Athletic Director Paul Giel, said Holtz had talked within the last two days to Corrigan.

Holtz, a former coach at Arkansas, is in the second year of a five-year contract. He recently expressed interest in the job, and has a son at Notre Dame. When Holtz signed with Minnesota he demanded a clause that would allow him to leave to accept an offer from Notre Dame.

Donahue said any speculation on his behalf is "unfounded. I have never been in contact with anyone from Notre Dame." This season, UCLA will be making its third Rose Bowl appearance in four years.

Ross, nearing the end of a one-year contract, is among the most available of the potential candidates. He has led the Terrapins, 7-3 overall and 5-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, to four straight bowls. The Terrapins, who will play Virginia Friday, will go to the Cherry Bowl on Dec. 21 to play Syracuse.

Welsh led the Cavaliers to an 8-2-2 record last year and a 27-24 victory over Purdue in the Peach Bowl. He was named Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year in 1983 and 1984. The Cavaliers are 6-4 this season.

Welsh has a 10-year contract with the Cavaliers under which he can coach for five more years, with options after that to either go on coaching for the next five, go into administration, or go elsewhere.