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Outside the Lines:
Good Name Gone Bad


Here's the transcript from Show 90 of weekly Outside The Lines - Good Name Gone Bad

SUN., DEC. 16, 2001
Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Guests: Guests - Tim Johnson, former manager Toronto Blue Jays; Kiki Vandeweghe, General Manager, Denver Nuggets; Doug Moe, former coach, Denver Nuggets; Bill Johnson, columnist, Rocky Mountain News; Bill Curry, former coach, Georgia Tech and Alabama.

Announcer - December 16, 2001.

Bob Ley, host - For coaches, the pressure to win and to get ahead in their profession can spark a life altering mistake.

Unidentified Male - I came to Notre Dame to win games and win a lot of them.

Ley - Anger in the heat of a loss.

Dan Issel, Denver Nuggets - I'm sorry for the embarrassment that it's caused the team, my family...

Ley - Duplicity in the pursuit of a job.

Unidentified Male - Based on the discrepancies that were in his records, we accepted his resignation with great regret.

Ley - Their reputations damaged, George O'Leary is unemployed. Dan Issel, holding on to his job for now.

Unidentified Male - He should step up and just resign.

Ley - Today on Outside The Lines, rebuilding a reputation when coaches lose the battle with themselves.

Ley - It has not been a good week to be a head coach. For George O'Leary and Dan Issel, the damage self-inflicted, well beyond a losing streak or a rash of injuries.

Ahead this morning, we will examine Issel's situation in Denver and the club's decision to suspend but not fire him.

First, though, George O'Leary's five day tenure at Notre Dame. It was an ironic intersection of a school that wears its values on its sleeve, and a coach who engaged in the not uncommon practice of inflating his resume.

His good name gone bad, O'Leary has not spoken publicly since his lightening-quick resignation from what he called his dream job, but in a statement, his written statement acknowledging many years ago preparing a resume that contained inaccuracies regarding the completion of course work for a Master's degree and the level of his participation in football at his alma mater. The statements never stricken from his resume or autobiography in later years.

O'Leary regretted that he did not call these facts to the attention of the university during the search, but it still is an open question as to who is more embarrassed, O'Leary or Notre Dame.

If anyone can relate to the position George O'Leary is in and what he faces in the months and years ahead, it is Tim Johnson. He is the former manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, who ran the club during the 1998 season and was fired the following spring, several months after it was revealed he had falsely claimed to have had combat experience in Vietnam as well as a high school All-America basketball career.

Tim Johnson now manages baseball very successfully in the Mexican league, and he joins us live by telephone from the Mexican city of Guasave.

Good morning, Tim.

Tim Johnson, baseball manager - Good morning, Bob.

Ley - When you first heard on Friday about George O'Leary's circumstance, what was your first reaction?

Johnson - The first reaction is that it completely changes your life. And, you know, there's so many things that happen in this world. The loneliness that this man, George, is going to have, the guilt, the hatred for yourself because of what you've done for your family. You feel that you've let your family down.

So, there's, you know, it's a lot of things that go through this time of embarrassment and, you know, it's really tough.

Ley - What did you learn about yourself through your ordeal in the last several years?

Johnson - Well, you learn a lot about yourself and you cope with a lot of things. You know, there's so many thoughts that go through your mind for many, many days, many months, many years. You know, your family is so important to you and you feel that you've let them down. There's sleepless nights. There's going in corners of a house or a garage and crying and, you know, the word out here "por que" which means "why." You know, why'd you do this? Why?

And, it's really tough. I feel for this guy. I know he made a mistake. I made a mistake. And many other people have. But now is the time you've got to -- you know, this time is probably the toughest time, the next few weeks, the months, and then you have to go through a process of getting back again.

Ley - Anybody out in the public eye is in a job that involves security, insecurity, it's certainly an ego. And yet to get there, you need this incredible drive. When you think about the motivation, the idea and the reasoning for doing something, inflating a resume, where is that line in the mind between the insecurity of, my gosh, I could be gone in five minutes, I've got to get ahead?

Johnson - Well, you know, in my case it was different. You know, I was -- mine was a motivation thing, talking to a player trying to do something and it got to a couple of coaches, and they went to the media and it exploded. And that's what happened.

George and myself, mine was done in 1967 or '68, so I know how that happens to. And, you know, you just, you don't really think at that time.

Ley - Well, there you are in Mexico, coaching in the Mexican league. I believe you've taken your club to the final round just about every time that you've been able to do so. How long do you think you're going to have to pay penance and how long is George O'Leary going to have to pay some public penance?

Johnson - Well, you know, you don't know how long it takes, or you do what you have to do. The game of baseball is my life. I'm very respected as a baseball person in the game of baseball, and now it really depends on corporate America in the baseball end of it. Is there a second chance for people? You know, there's a lot of things that happen to a lot of people, you know. You talk about the drugs, the people, you know, abusing wives and selling drugs and different other things. So, you know, you hope that you also get a second chance someday down the line. So, you know, you just hope that it happens.

Until then, you keep going. I think the strength that George needs is his family. You really find out how strengthful your family is. They're so important to you. And the few friends that you do end up keeping, you know. A lot of friends fade away, believe me. You don't hear from them for -- a lot of great friends of mine, I haven't heard from since it happened, and you just have the few on that hand, and so you've got to keep them.

Ley - Tim, thanks a great deal. And good luck. Happy holiday season, and we wish you the best of luck. Tim Johnson.

Johnson - OK. Thanks, Bob.

Ley - When we continue, another coaching reputation, another good name gone bad - Dan Issel of the Denver Nuggets, suspended for a confrontation that turned ugly and racial.

Next up, I will be speaking with a man who coached the Denver Nuggets for a decade and a Denver journalist who believes Issel should be fired.

Ley - Deep in the darkening heart of an injury plagued and losing season, Dan Issel had just lost another game at the buzzer.

Bobby Bowman, fan confronted by Dan Issel - I said hey (expletive deleted), you suck. He looked at me, he started blowing me kisses, going, hey, go get another beer, this and that, and I said, oh, shut up. And the next thing you know, he said, you're nothing but a Mexican, you know, you piece of (expletive deleted). Piece of Mexican (expletive deleted).

Mike Evans, Nuggets interim head coach - For that to come out, he was just tormented, he was upset and pressured, and people sometimes say cruel things to people when they're upset, especially if they feel like they're being attacked.

Ley - Still, the ugly and angry moment called for action by the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets considered the $25,000 league fine against Nets coach John Calipari in 1997 for calling a beat writer a, quote, "Mexican idiot."

Issel was suspended four games by the club, a suspension that will cost him $112,000.

Issel - I apologize to the fan. I apologize to the Denver Nuggets' organization. I apologize to the City of Denver for that uncaring and un-Christian-like comment.

Ley - The Nuggets condemned Issel's comment, but defended their decision not to fire him.

Kiki Vandeweghe, Nuggets general manager - Do you forget about 25 years of service over five seconds? I don't think so.

Ley - The calls for the coaches job began.

Unidentified Male - When you're dealing in the private sector, and when you make comments the way that he did, I think that if that had happened to me, I would be subject to dismissal.

Unidentified Male - He should step up and just resign, and it would be a better thing for sports and for people in general.

Ley - Friday, at a meeting called by the Nuggets, Issel apologized to Latino community leaders. A state senator who originally wanted Issel fired was struck by the coaches attitude.

State Senator Rob Hernandez, Colorado - He apologized profusely. He asked for forgiveness. And personally, I'm willing to forgive Coach Issel for that remark. I think that says quite a bit about a man who is willing to come forward and face the music, and he did.

Ley - At that same meeting, Issel was asked to make a public apology specifically to the Mexican community. The Nuggets say that's going to happen this coming week.

For now, the calls for Issel's job on this matter at least are receding.

Joining us this morning, a man who is synonymous with the Denver Nuggets franchise, Doug Moe. He coached this team for ten years. He is synonymous with them, as we said, and the NBA coach of the year for the '87-'88 season. He's also coached the Spurs and the 76ers in a glamorous NBA career. He is joining us this morning from San Antonio.

Bill Johnson is a columnist for "The Rocky Mountain News." He was a Pulitzer finalist in 1993. He is in Lafayette, Colorado.

Doug, you were saying just several days ago you thought this would cost Issel his job. Why hasn't it?

Doug Moe, former Nuggets coach - I didn't say that. I said I thought it could, and it all depended on what would happen with the Hispanic community in Denver. And, obviously, they got together and it didn't cost him his job...

Ley - Bill?

Moe - ... which I think is a good thing.

Ley - Bill, you disagree, obviously. What do you think about the way the team has handled this? There has been the day after press conference, then there was a meeting at the Nuggets behest on Friday. There is apparently going to be a further apology to the Mexican community coming up this week.

Bill Johnson, Journalist - I think it's unforgivable. As I wrote in my column on Friday, if he had said that, if I had been the fan, what would he have said to me? And if he had said, you know, you black piece of expletive, would Dan Issel still have his job? I don't think so.

I don't think when you're a public person, a very public person in a very public setting, you get to say such things. And it should be unforgivable. And when I watched it, I couldn't imagine that the coach would keep his job. And I think the $112,000 fine is severe. Yet, if a principal had said the same thing, a mayor, city councilman, or a CEO, he would have lost his job, and I don't understand the rationale why the coach of the Denver Nuggets should be any different.

Ley - Well, Doug, you've lived and worked in the public eye for many years. Is there a higher standard for someone who has a head coaching job in a city the size of Denver?

Moe - You know what, I don't know. I just -- I mean, it was an incredibly stupid statement. He did a dumb thing. I think the fan is incredibly stupid to start with, so I don't know why you should fire a guy just for saying -- we all do stupid things, say stupid things, during our lifetime. I mean, this was serious, but I mean, we can't jump on everyone every time they say something. Or if they say one thing wrong in their entire life that doesn't fit with someone else, you know, I don't think you just go out and fire them. But, I'm just on the sidelines.

I'm just sitting back watching and I think it's good for Dan to go through this. It will help him mature as a person and, you know, when I get his age, you know, I'll probably end up shooting myself.

Ley - Well, it sounds like...

Johnson - Bob, it's totally inappropriate. It's totally -- it's just wrong to attack a man's ethnicity. That's the cheapest thing in the world to do. And Doug just said it again. And what I've been receiving, you know, the mail and phone calls I've received, and I've received a lot of it over the past couple of days, is blaming the fan. The man had a right to tell Dan Issel exactly what he said, and the team does. But then to turn around and to look up and not see an angry fan, but to see a Mexican, a black fan. And people say, well, Bill, if he'd been white, would you have said the same thing? I said, Dan Issel wouldn't have said it if he were white.

If you've never been subjected to that type of racist comment, you will never understand. And most people won't. But yet they blame the fan. They said, oh, he was drunk, you know, and the...

Ley - Well, there has been a coarsening of our society, wouldn't you agree, Doug, in the last 10, 15 years? I mean, you played in the ABA, you played in the NBA, you coached in both leagues. What you've had to listen to in the latter part of the career, did it become more coarse?

Moe - Well, you know what, you shouldn't -- to me the real stupid thing that Dan did was stopping and even acknowledging what the fan said. You never, ever, ever, no matter what they say -- and a fan has the right, I think, to say whatever he wants.

Ley - Whatever he wants?

Moe - Whatever he wants. I don't care. You should tune him out, get out of there, you never respond to a fan. And -- because once you do, what happened was, he -- now he responds, now it's a confrontation, now he has to say something to hurt that fan. He said something that's supposed hurt him. So, therefore, when you do that, you pull out all the stops and you say something that you think may hurt him. And you just get in a fight, and you say stupid things.

Johnson - And it's not acceptable for him. If it had been me and he called me a nigger, would that be OK?

Moe - Well, he didn't, though. You see, your stretching things to say -- you're saying that if he said that, then he'd call me an African or whatever. But he didn't. This is one case where he just...

Johnson - To me, it's just as horrible...

Moe - And I'm not defending Dan, because I think what he said was absolutely, totally ridiculous, and he should have been disciplined, but I don't think he should have been fired. And, you know, the fact that they settled it -- it happened with a Mexican and the Mexican community settled it with Dan, so what else is to do? Just keep persecuting him?

Johnson - Well, there's different levels, the different words you can and cannot say. I think that there is a very clear line that no public figure should ever step across. And it's amazing to me that I have to defend this position.

Ley - Well, Bill, yours seems to be, at this point at least, a lonely voice. What do you make, though, of the bell curve here, if you will, of public opinion? The media calls for his resignation, and the Nuggets got out there proactively and the Latin community, the Mexican community, seems to be instep with what the Nuggets are trying to do, or at least listening. There is a dialogue. There aren't many people, at least publicly, taking the position that you've taken, now.

Johnson - I know. I feel...

Ley - Are you lonely?

Johnson - I'm sorry?

Ley - Are you feeling a little bit lonely out there on the ledge?

Johnson - I feel fairly lonely about it, and I don't -- again, I don't...

Johnson - I am trying to figure out why. I am trying to figure out why there isn't the outrage that I feel. And again, giving Dan Issel a pass, and again, blaming it on the fan. People have called me racist for saying I think he should be fired. That, to me, just does not make sense. And again, is there a line. Can you just say -- other words that you can say. Are there slurs that you can make that will not cost you your job? Very clearly, there are.

Ley - Well, gentlemen, thank you. We'll leave it at that. It's been a discussion about the third rail of American life and that certainly is race. But, we appreciate you both for being with us. Doug Moe, thank you very much. Bill Johnson. Happy holidays to both of you gentlemen.

Next, with the Issel and O'Leary controversies having fire, we will consider the implications for the coaching profession with a guy who has played for Lombardi and coached in the shadow of the Bear.

Ley - With George O'Leary having tendered his resignation and Dan Issel under fire, the questions about the coaching profession are many, and we welcome in Bill Curry, who in his NFL career played for Vince Lombardi. He coached his alma mater, Georgia Tech, where George O'Leary coached. And he also coached, excuse me, in the shadow of Bear Bryant in Alabama. He's an ESPN football college analyst.

Bill, I'm going to read some words, and they should be familiar. They are yours on yesterday. "When one of us college football coaches slips, either by losing too many games or doing something reprehensible, judgment is swift and merciless. Metaphorically, it is a public execution. If you doubt my words, watch the sneers and listen to the jeers when one of us goes down. Imagine yourself the object of such."

Is that what is happening to George O'Leary?

Bill Curry, ESPN - That's what is happening. And it's emblematic of our whole culture. And what he did was inexcusable. Let me say that at the very beginning. And we are held to a higher standard. That was a question in the previous conversation, and we should be, because we are role models, whether we like it or not.

And the young people that we're responsible for do look to us in a different way. But we also believe in being nonjudgmental, and we don't always live out those beliefs in our culture. We have to decide about what happens to someone when they lose too many games, meaning firing or hiring. We have to decide what happens when one of us does something wrong. But once the punishment is leavened, and it is always severe, then I think people should be allowed to go on with their lives. And the way the media can be today, sometimes that just doesn't happen.

Ley - And you have to decide what to do with a coach in the person of Dan Issel who has given 25 years of his life to the Nuggets organization as an executive, as a player, as a coach, but said a very ugly and hurtful thing.

Curry - Yeah, he did, and you just can't do that. And Doug Moe is right, when you're leaving the sidelines and the fans -- I don't agree with Doug that they should be allowed to say anything they want to, just for the purchase of those tickets, because I think they should have some sort of standards about ethnic and racial slurs, but also slurs about a coach and his family and the players, those things, maybe we get thin-skinned when we get tired and we're losing games, but we still have to keep our mouths shut. And what Dan did is going to cost him for a long time, and he knows that.

But, you know, we got wives and children and family that are in those stands, and sometimes that can just really grate on -- maybe you think about your wife and you pop off before you realize it. That doesn't make it OK, but there should not be just absolutely the kind of public executions that people, some people, seem to enjoy.

Ley - Kiki Vandeweghe made the point, and here's a guy who is now technically Dan's boss, played with him, played for him as well, said he is one of the most competitive guys I've ever know, that fire. And of course, if you've ever watched Issel coach, he can lose it with referees. He obviously lost it the other night. As a former player at a high level, then moving to the sidelines to coach, I mean, you can control the action when you can run the football or make the basket, and now you're not in control, on the sidelines, and that competitive fire is still burning.

Curry - Yeah, and when -- I was a pitcher when I was a kid, and my first little league manager had a phrase, and it was rabbit-ears. And he used to say, now, Curry, if you get rabbit-eared, you're coming out of the game, because baseball is infamous for the jeers and the taunts and that sort of thing. And you just have to be able to handle that. If you start responding, then they've got you. And they have won. And those fans that can get a response from one of us have won the battle already. And if we make a fatal error, and again, I'm just suggesting that people should be allowed to go on with their lives and should not be totally destroyed because of one error.

In Dan's case, he happens to be a friend of mine. And when you give 25 years and you make one mistake, then I think the decision making process should be handled very carefully, and I think that's what is happening. I'm not suggesting -- because I haven't been the object of racial and ethnic slurs, and I don't know how that feels. And I am the first to confess that. But I think that we live in a society that is based on giving people a second chance.

Ley - Bill, in 10 seconds, where will George O'Leary end up in football? Can he stay in college?

Curry - I think he'll have a very difficult time because of the academic credential thing, but I don't know that. And somebody else will have to make those kinds of decisions. I just hope that it turns out OK and I'm sorry that all this happened.

Ley - Well, Bill Curry, thank you. And by the way, we understand yesterday was your 39th wedding anniversary. Belated congratulations and Merry Christmas.

Curry - Yeah. I think Caroline Curry may keep me around.

Ley - All right. She's the MVP.

A reminder that all our Sunday morning programs are on-line at Type the keyword OTLWEEKLY to access our library of streaming video and transcripts and we welcome your e-mail to our address,

Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Ley - Huge game tonight, Pittsburgh and the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens on ESPN at 8:30 Eastern after "NFL Primetime" at 7:30 Eastern. I'll be back with Robin in 30 minutes. We've got highlights of the Raiders, the Holyfield-Ruiz fight, and Hank's picks on "This Week in the NFL."

John Saunders now for Dick Schaap and "The Sports Reporters" at the ESPN Zone in Times Square.

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ESPN's Bob Ley breaks down a week in which it was tough to be a head coach.

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