Monday, December 17, 2001

O'Leary, Borsellino, Basu And More

Face it, folks. For some people, lying is part of living.

It happens everywhere. Even in sports.

We learned that sad fact again the other day when George O’Leary caused some of the glitter to fall off the Golden Dome at Notre Dame.

Ol’ George told enough tall stories over the years to get himself dumped after five days as football coach of the Fighting Irish.

Not five seasons. Not five games. Five days.

It’s the biggest embarrassment in the history of Notre Dame football. Nothing Bob Davie did, nothing Gerry Faust did, not even the the phony flopping on the field by Frank Leahy’s “Fainting Irish’’ to stop the clock in a 14-14 tie with Iowa in 1953 can match what O’Leary did to the school.

Things are so bad that Hollywood should maybe think of doing a remake of that movie where Knute Rockne tells his team to “win one for the Gipper.’’ Instead, the producers should have Rockne say, “Hurry, somebody go earn a football letter and a master’s degree for poor old O’Leary. The guy is killing us!’’

O’Leary, 55, is the guy who was sent out the door at South Bend after it was discovered he had phony academic and athletic credentials. It’s doubtful he’ll ever get another job in football.

So far, Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White still has a job. But he has certainly lost a considerable amount of respect for not doing a background check on O’Leary. He’d better hire the right guy for the football job the next time around or he may be the next ex-Notre Dame employee who’s looking for work.

“I dropped the ball on this one,’’ he now says, taking all the blame for the O’Leary fiasco.

But White certainly isn’t the first to do shabby job of hiring. He’s not the first athletic director to not do a background check on a coach.

Consider Gene Smith, the former Iowa State athletic director who now is at Arizona State. He hired Kerry Miller to coach the Cyclones’ volleyball team without doing a background check. Like O’Leary, it turned out Miller lied about both her academic and athletic achievements. She didn’t have a college degree and didn’t have the competitive background she claimed in her resume.

In 1999, Miller was charged with falsifying her resume. Smith survived, then went on to what he considered a better job at Arizona State, and is still held in high regard nationally in collegiate athletics.

It’s not always academic degrees and athletic prowess that generate lies among people in sports.

Military achievements, real or not, are big things with some guys.

Remember Tim Johnson, the former Iowa Cubs manager? I don’t know when he began making up stories about his military background, but he was fired as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1999 after telling his players lies about his combat days in Vietnam.

Dennis Dodd, who works for CBS, mentioned that former Kansas City Chiefs Coach Frank Gansz allowed exploits as a fighter pilot to be in his biography.

“Gansz never got closer than
a cargo plane and certainly never saw combat,’’ Dodd wrote.

More lies? Sometimes it starts at a young age. We all remember how Danny Almonte, the Little Leaguer from the Bronx, said he was 12 years of age so he could participate in the Little League World Series. Danny seemed big for his age. No wonder. He was 14.

I’d like to think that Almonte had some help in that farce. Somehow I get the feeling that an adult had a role in it, too.

Older baseball players than Almonte lie, too. Dodd outlined how Seattle Mariners outfielder Al Martin “told reporters this past season he played defensive back at Southern California. It never happened.’’

Because of what happened to O’Leary, it’s likely that a number of scared coaches and players are changing inaccuracies in their biographies right now. But you know and I know that the problems will continue.

The proper background checks won’t be done and coaches will get hired who don’t deserve to be hired.

It’s part of being human.


Rob Borsellino and Rekha Basu, his wife, have decided they like writing columns in Des Moines better than they like writing them in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. So they’re coming back to work for the morning paper here.

Some friends of mine--veterans of the news business in Des Moines--say the return of Borsellino and Basu will likely cause present Register columnists Marc Hansen, John Carlson and Shirley Ragsdale to wonder about their future roles at the paper.

Those folks, who observed the internal workings of newspapers for years and years, are wondering if this is the case: The publisher and the editors aren’t all that thrilled with the column-writing that’s been going on, so they’re bringing in heavyweights Borsellino and Basu to do it right.

Obviously, Borsellino and Basu are being brought back to be “stars.’’ Newsroom sources say they will each be paid $80,000. Compared to the salaries of some football and basketball coaches I know, that’s mere pocket money. But in the newspaper business—especially in the tight-fisted Gannett chain—it’s not bad.

However, don’t include me among those who think columnists Hansen and Carlson aren’t doing their jobs well. Both are intelligent, both write very well. I worked alongside Hansen for a long time in my previous writing life, and I will match his way with words and his journalistic style with anyone—and that certainly includes Borsellino and Basu.

Newsroom gossip had it that Borsellino and Basu had tried to get back to the Register a couple of previous times since their move to Florida. One rumor was that Borsellino even showed interest in becoming the editor, a job that’s been vacant at the paper for a number of years. Yes, years.

But nothing worked. So, finally, sources say, friends of Borsellino and Basu used their “influence’’ with publisher Mary Stier to help get the pair back to town.

“Rob and Rekha connected in a special way to Iowans,’’ Stier gushed in the paper the other day. “Their voices and insights have been greatly missed by Register readers since their departure last January. I am delighted they are returning to the Register and to Iowa. Welcome home, Rob and Rekha.’’


Stier must have been overcome after reading Borsellino’s profile in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The profile, obviously written shortly after Borsellino and Basu arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, says Borsellino’s previous columns were “considered one of the 10 best things about living in Des Moines.’’

I don’t know who got that list of 10 things together, but whatever the profile says must be true.

I believe all profiles. I even believed that George O’Leary played football for three years at New Hampshire and that he earned a master’s degree in education from New York University.

Hey, listen, I’m trying to take the high road on this—for a day or two anyway. Borsellino and Basu have their strengths. But so do Hansen, Carlson and Ragsdale. Maybe all of these columnists--new and old--will make the paper better.

Everyone knows, with circulation plummeting by the day, it needs all the help it can get.


Some recent developments are very good for collegiate basketball in the state of Iowa.

I’m speaking of Northern Iowa’s victory over Iowa and Drake’s victory over Iowa State.

You can’t beat the Little Guy-Beats-Big Guy thing. Missouri Valley Conference over the Big Ten and Big 12—what more can fans of the underdog ask for?

“I think our league is good,’’ Drake Coach Kurt Kanaskie said after his team rolled past Iowa State, 72-58, last week. “Sometimes it’s under-estimated or under-appreciated, but I think we have an excellent league.’’

Saturday’s game drew a boisterous crowd of 6,910 at the Knapp Center. That meant all but 92 seats were sold.

Kanaskie was impressed.

We were really jacked up,’’ he said. “I’ve never seen our student body like it was (in this game). That makes a huge difference.’’

Drake’s victory came 11 days after Northern Iowa jolted Iowa, 78-76. Considering that the Hawkeyes have since beaten Iowa State by 25 points, Drake by 42 and Missouri by 18, I’d like to suggest that Northern Iowa Coach Greg McDermott be given a special award at Iowa’s postseason banquet.

It was the victory engineered by McDermott that served as a big-time wake-up call for Iowa. Now no team is playing better than the Hawkeyes. If they can continue with the intensity they’ve displayed in the past three games, they’re my choice to win the Big Ten title.

Iowa State Coach Larry Eustachy, whose team is struggling with a 5-6 record, was gracious after the loss at Drake.

“We’re not to the point where we can come down here (and win),’’ he said. “Our Elite Eight team couldn’t do it. I thought we played the best Drake team (Saturday) that I’ve seen so far….It was a nice win for Drake.’’

The Elite Eight team Eustachy was referring to was his group two years ago that finished with a 32-5 record—with one of the losses early in the season at Drake.
One other thing I’d like to say about the major-college basketball competition in the state.

I think it’s wonderful that Iowa and Iowa State agree to play games at Drake and Northern Iowa.

In not all states does such cooperation take place.

The games in Des Moines and Cedar Falls give fans a chance to see teams they would not normally see, except on television. I hope the policy never ends.


Given the choice, most college football coaches prefer that their teams are slight underdogs rather than slight favorites in big games.

Being underdogs makes for strong motivation for the players.

That being the case, Iowa State and Iowa would appear to have their bowl opponents right where they want them.

Alabama is favored by about a touchdown to beat Iowa State in the Independence Bowl, and Texas Tech is a one-point favorite over Iowa in the Alamo Bowl.

Vol. 1, No. 11
Dec. 17, 2001