|Wednesday, December 12
Updated: December 14, 1:40 PM ET
O'Leary brings some baggage to South Bend
By Adrian Wojnarowski
Special to ESPN.com
Editor's note: ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski wrote this story on Wednesday -- three days after O'Leary was hired and two days before he offered his resignation.
His crime was missing a block, Dustin Vaitekunas tells you over the telephone. He let the defensive lineman past him, let him reach Georgia Tech's quarterback, and that tough, old Irishman, George O'Leary, had to teach him a lesson.
They want an educator for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, right? Well, they found one. O'Leary taught Vaitekunas a lesson. This was late September a year ago, late in the football life of a 6-foot-7, 315 pound lineman. Here, let Vaitekunas tell the story Notre Dame officials never bothered to call and hear for themselves.
"We were running our gassers at the end of practice, the conditioning drill," Vaitekunas says. "I remember the players all turning to me. I couldn't hear him. He was talking to the team. They kept yelling, 'Dustin, go up there, go up there. The coach is asking for you.' I just remember asking, 'What do I do?' 'Just stand there,' they said."
Four players started running for Vaitekunas, full speed, with a running start to gather momentum for the hit. They didn't just hit him, they obliterated him.
"(O'Leary) tried to say those two guys pulled up," Vaitekunas says. "Two guys hit me. I mean, you can't get four guys to hit one person at the same time."
He stayed down for 15 minutes. Doctors rushed to his side. Physical and emotional problems trailed him. His mother considered filing assault charges against O'Leary but let it go. Vaitekunas never returned to the football field. O'Leary stripped his love of the game, his dignity. And no, he will never play football again. He gave back his football scholarship, left Tech and now pays his way to Cleveland State University.
This isn't ancient history, but just one year old. Notre Dame president Rev. Edward Malloy is a regular on various blue-ribbon committees to fix college sports. He should start with Notre Dame, where the legacy of Lou Holtz does little to portray the picture of a pristine program. Rev. Malloy insists he probed O'Leary carefully on this issue and was satisfied enough with the coach's explanation to call him "a person of integrity."
"They never called me," Vaitekunas says. "But I wouldn't expect they would."
This is Notre Dame's new football coach? There's a rule that college and high school coaches are told to follow, just so they don't go over the line with "teaching" these kids lessons: Never do anything to a player that you wouldn't want done to your own kid.
"The bad thing about that is I think (O'Leary) would do it to his own son," Vaitekunas says.
Notre Dame should be better than George O'Leary. They should be better than his 33 percent graduation rate for players entering his program in 1994, a rate far below the 69 percent for Tech's general student population.
Notre Dame should be better than his 7-5 record and Seattle Bowl season, especially when Tech was expected to be a national championship contender.
Notre Dame should be better than O'Leary, who has a hard time walking into your living room and telling you he's going to watch over your kid, when Dustin Vaitekunas has dropped out of school, quit football and goes to classes at Cleveland State without ever an apology from that self-proclaimed tough Irishman George O'Leary.
"That was the only thing that bothered me in this whole situation: He was never held accountable for anything," Vaitekunas said. "That's the big issue I had with the whole thing. Nobody told him that this can't go on, that this isn't how you run a program.
"The coaches just want to keep their jobs. They're willing to do almost anything, but they don't realize what they're doing sometimes. Students are just students. I don't think he would've apologized, because in our society that's an admission of guilt."
Across the past 20 months of athletic director Kevin White's stewardship, Notre Dame has never been a bigger joke. The Fighting Irish couldn't lure Jon Gruden, Bob Stoops, Mike Bellotti or Tyrone Willingham. O'Leary wasn't near the top of the wish list, never mind the top choice. And anyway, how could White tell his administration he needed well over $2 million a season to hire a coach from the NFL when it was his bad judgment that gave Bob Davie a five-year extension that cost the school millions in Davie's buyout? Now, they hire George O'Leary. Now, they get the nation to shrug, move on and wonder how Notre Dame football could turn into something so secondary on the national landscape.
This was the year people believe O'Leary was exposed without his offensive coordinator, Ralph Freidgen, who happens to the be the national coach of the year for Maryland. A past offensive lineman with inside knowledge of the program sure believes it.
"Look at Maryland this year, and look what happened to Georgia Tech," Vaitekunas says. "That's all I have to say."
Well, he had a little more to say, but Irish officials never bothered to call and hear him out. It's a shame. Before Notre Dame declared its new coach "a person of integrity," they should've talked to Dustin Vaitekunas and indulged him on the view of George O'Leary's football program when you're laying on your back, out cold, wondering about the next lesson this great educator will teach his student-athletes.
Notre Dame was supposed to be better than this. They just seem like everyone else now.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a sports columnist for The Record (Northern N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.