Two years ago, Lou Holtz had a whim, or perhaps a sneaking suspicion, written into his contract at the University of Minnesota. Yesterday, the man who rebuilt the Golden Gophers invoked that unusual clause and became the 25th football coach at Notre Dame.

Holtz, a bespectacled, gray-haired 48-year-old with a mouthful of country humor, was named by Athletic Director Gene Corrigan yesterday at 2 p.m. to replace outgoing Gerry Faust, who resigned Tuesday.

Holtz signed what is believed to be a five-year contract to coach the Fighting Irish, less than a day after Faust decided to step down with the most losses in the history of the school.

Holtz was in the second year of a five-year contract at Minnesota. He had taken the Gophers from 1-10 to 4-7 in his first year to 6-5 this year with a berth in the Independence Bowl. Included in his contract, however, was a stipulation that he could leave at any time. He said yesterday he had the Notre Dame job in mind when he designed that clause.

"This is the happiest day of my profesional career," he said at a press conference in South Bend, Ind. "How many people get to chase a dream at 48?"

Holtz has a 116-65-5 record over his 16-year collegiate coaching career -- including a 5-4-2 mark in 11 bowl games -- in his tenures at William and Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas and Minnesota. His son Skip attends Notre Dame, and Holtz was widely thought to be the favored replacement for Faust, who has a 30-25-1 record in his five years. Faust's contract was not expected to be renewed after this season. The team is 5-5 with one game remaining against No. 4 Miami Saturday at the Orange Bowl, Faust's final appearance as coach of the Irish.

Corrigan called Holtz at 4 p.m. Tuesday to offer him the job, and they began negotiations over the phone that lasted until 12:30 a.m. Holtz informed Corrigan he would sleep on the offer, then accepted yesterday morning and flew to South Bend.

"I couldn't be more happy," Corrigan said. "I've known him since he was a wild young coach at William and Mary, when he had blond hair."

Holtz and Corrigan would not discuss the terms of the contract.

Holtz said Notre Dame would "unequivocably" be his last coaching job. He also said he had no direct knowledge two years ago that he might become a candidate for the position someday when he had the clause written into his contract.

"I had no idea I'd ever come here," he said. "I wasn't looking over my shoulder. But I've followed Notre Dame since 1946. My grandfather followed Notre Dame. In coaching, that's the place you want to be . . . So I said that if Notre Dame ever called I would like to be free to talk to them. Talk about premonition or wishful dreams."

Holtz, who was born in Follansbee, West Virginia, and raised in East Liverpool, Ohio, did what some considered a miracle job at Minnesota and had a 60-21-2 record at Arkansas, where he went to six straight bowl games before taking over the Gophers. He is regarded as the coach who will bring dominance back to the Fighting Irish. But Holtz issued a warning on that account.

"I'm not a miracle worker," he said. "I'm not a genius. While we do have fine athletes here, other schools have fine athletes, too. There's a fine line between winning and losing."

Holtz, unlike Faust, has experience coaching at the college level, as well as in the pros, going 3-10 with the New York Jets before quitting with one game left in the 1976 season. He may be better equipped to deal with pressure from the notorious Fighting Irish fans, who were vocal in their displeasure with Faust.

"I attended one game here," he said. "I noticed the fans were unarmed."

University President Kenneth Keller made a last-ditch effort to keep Holtz at Minnesota, but Holtz informed him of his decision yesterday morning and recommended defensive coordinator John Guteknust as his successor.

The last time the Minnesota position was available, Maryland's Bobby Ross was mentioned as a candidate. Ross said Tuesday he withdrew his name and never interviewed. Ross, now on a one-year contract, said he'll decide about his own future when Maryland's season is over.