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Gary Smith
April 08, 2002
As George O'Leary climbed the coaching ladder to his dream job at Notre Dame, a dirty secret was lurking in his résumé. But did he pay too high a price for a few lies?
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April 08, 2002

Lying In Wait

As George O'Leary climbed the coaching ladder to his dream job at Notre Dame, a dirty secret was lurking in his résumé. But did he pay too high a price for a few lies?

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Funny, the lie didn't really stick in the altar boy's throat. It didn't torture Mrs. O'Leary's son. Hell, how had Dad, virtually blind in his left eye, passed the physical to become a paratrooper? By memorizing the eye chart! By pulling a fast one to get his foot in the door. And if Dad hadn't hit a tree on his last training jump and the doctor who examined him hadn't discovered his disability, he probably would've been killed in Italy like so many of his training partners and that deception would've been hailed in his eulogy as proof of his courage and patriotism.

In truth, the subject of George's past rarely arose. "He was such an awe-inspiring coach, it seemed like he was born that way," says Tim Green, an All-America defensive lineman who played under George in high school and college, then became a lawyer, writer and TV commentator. "People were terrified of him. One time at practice someone said ouch. George said, 'Ouch? Who the hell just said ouch? My goddam wife doesn't say ouch! My goddam little girl doesn't say ouch! Everybody hit the ground! One hundred up-downs!' Sure, some walked away from him bruised, but we all walked away from him better. To have great rewards you must have great effort. George showed me how. He gave me the blueprint."

He inherited a 1-9 squad at Liverpool. He began to change what the players saw when they looked in the mirror. He would yank their face masks and head-slap them with his clipboard when they lost focus. He would station a kid in the center of a ring of players, a circle of fire, and call out names so they'd charge and drill the boy from all angles, one by one. He sent them out of the team bus with the Notre Dame fight song ringing in their ears, full of belief in themselves. They went 3-6 his first year, then went 8-1 and won their conference title.

At a summer camp based in a suffocating converted barn 100 miles from Liverpool, George instituted dawn wake-ups and bunk inspections and three-a-day practices and late-night team meetings. It worked because George demanded even more of himself than of the boys, and because he'd crack them up, in the midst of their misery, with a well-timed one-liner. It worked because George cared so much, because he asked how your mom and dad were doing and if there was anything else he could do to help you get that scholarship, and because come Saturday in autumn, you kicked the crap out of anyone who had the audacity to think he belonged on the same grass as you, after all you'd been through. In George's third year his team went 10-0, surrendered just 33 points all season and was ranked No. 2 in the state as George, for the second straight year, was named Onondaga County coach of the year.

His wife received a phone call. It was their daughter's kindergarten teacher, worried because the family portrait that little Trish had been asked to draw included her mother and three siblings—but no father. Was there trouble at home? No. Sharon tried to explain: The marriage was fine, and Trish did see her dad now and then, but usually when he was on the sideline, and usually all she saw was the back of his head.

George received a letter. "You are the kind of person with whom it is a pleasure to be associated—both professionally and personally^' wrote Liverpool High executive principal David Kidd. "Your dedication, ethics and loyalty are recognized by everyone."


1979-94 Asst. Coach, Syracuse Defensive Coordinator, Georgia Tech
Asst. Coach, San Diego Chargers

It wasn't enough.

George's ballpoint hovered over four blank lines. The heading above them, on the Syracuse University personal information form, read Athletic background (sports played in high school, college, professional; letters won, honors, championships etc. Please be specific).

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