Sunday, December 16, 2001

SULLIVAN: O'Leary fails true-or-false test

Irish candidate should have known honesty is best policy

By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        George O'Leary should have seen this coming. He should have known that the higher he climbed on college football's career ladder, the closer each of his steps would be scrutinized.

        It might be possible to perpetrate a fraud at Podunk U. — even at Georgia Tech — but to take the football job at Notre Dame is to lay your life beneath a microscopic lens. O'Leary was either dumb enough to believe his old lies could remain undetected beneath the glare of the golden dome or that they wouldn't matter once he started to win.

        If he hadn't resigned for embarrassing his new employers, O'Leary should have been sacked for miscalculating the magnitude of the job and the institution's sensitivity to its image.

        “It's like being up for a cabinet-level post,” Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski said of being first lord of Fighting Irish football. “You've got to know that's part of it.”

        Bobinski played baseball at Notre Dame, graduated magna cum laude in 1979 and is as baffled by O'Leary's lies as he is offended by them. Anyone with hiring responsibilities understands that resumes are subject to embellishment, exaggeration and fabrication. But you would think, as Bobinski does, that O'Leary should have made a point of covering his tracks once he cracked the big time. You would think George O'Leary would have made his biographical sketch fully factual before it could cost him the biggest job he will ever be offered.

        “My advice is to be truthful,” Cincinnati career counselor Memory Ryan said. “They're going to be sorry if they don't, because it's going to catch up to them someday. And the consequences go beyond losing your job. What about the next one?”

        Human beings are notorious for taking the short view of a long-term situation. A recent survey cited by the legal Web site found 9 percent of job applicants falsely claimed they had a college degree, identified false employers or invented jobs that didn't exist; 4 percent listed incorrect job titles, and 11 percent misrepresented the reason for leaving a former job.

        Two years ago, Toronto Blue Jays manager Tim Johnson was fired for impersonating a Vietnam veteran. Five years ago, Naval Chief of Operations Mike Boorda killed himself when Newsweek scheduled an interview to inquire about whether he had earned some of the combat decorations he wore.

        Seven days ago, George O'Leary accepted “the only job I would ever leave Georgia Tech for.” Now, he is a pariah, and the place he so prized a symbol of slipshod practices. In claiming varsity letters he never won and a Masters degree he never earned, O'Leary has made himself and Notre Dame national punchlines.

        Next time some sanctimonious Irish fan trots out one of those “Catholics vs. Convicts” T-shirts, their opponents can retaliate with genuine, imitation New Hampshire letter jackets.

        When Notre Dame fired Bob Davie, one year after extending his contract, it effectively renounced its reputation for honorable dealings that had been enhanced by the administration's remarkable patience with Gerry Faust. While it is understandable that Notre Dame did not verify all of O'Leary's claims of academic and athletic achievement from the 1960s, some of the things it did know about him — improper loans, controversial methods — should have raised caution flags about his character.

        Notre Dame officials attributed their hiring rush to recruiting concerns. Now, they're getting their due for a lack of due diligence. New Jersey prep quarterback Christian Olsen, who had verbally committed to Notre Dame, is among those players now wavering pending the appointment of a new coach.

        “I think the reality is that things slip through,” Xavier's Bobinski said. “Every search we do is different, but we call people that aren't listed (as references) to see if there are factors or issues that wouldn't otherwise come to light.”

        Xavier has not always been so thorough. Athletic board member Tom O'Brien Sr., whose son is the head football coach at Boston College and a popular name on the Notre Dame rumor mill, recalls being mortified when discrepancies were discovered in the record of Musketeers basketball coach Dick Campbell (1971-73).

        “I think it's fairly common,” O'Brien said. “In some of these cases, they get an overzealous SID (sports information director) and they put things down that aren't true.”

        George O'Leary's distortions were entirely his own doing. Ultimately, they were his undoing.


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