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Inside the NFL | Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

O'Leary Builds NFL Resume

October 11, 2003|Sam Farmer

With each passing week, George O'Leary is improving his resume.

Legitimately this time.

You remember O'Leary. He's the coach who resigned five days after being hired by Notre Dame in 2001, after it was discovered he'd lied about his academic and athletic careers. Two years later, in his first season as defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, he is not only rehabilitating a struggling defense but his own reputation.

Two of the main reasons the Vikings are 5-0: They are hanging onto the ball on offense and jarring it loose on defense. They have forced a league-high 15 turnovers and are tied with Seattle for No. 1 in turnover differential at plus 10. The Vikings are coming off a season in which their defense ranked 30th in points given up, 27.6, and they had a minus-18 turnover differential, second-worst to St. Louis' minus 19.

The detail-oriented O'Leary, who moved up from defensive line coach to replace the fired Willie Shaw, has made Viking defenders more accountable this season. He's organized and has shown a real knack for pinpointing problems.

"The difference between last year and this year is, now we know what's wrong," defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "Now, all 11 guys on defense know where the breakdown was. It's about accountability.... [Last season] was frustrating. When you don't know where the problem is, you can't pinpoint it."

The pinpointing of discrepancies on O'Leary's resume made national news. He had lied about having a master's degree from New York University and having earned three football letters at the University of New Hampshire.

He might have been drummed out of football after the Notre Dame embarrassment, but O'Leary caught a lucky break when Mike Tice was named coach of the Vikings before last season. O'Leary had coached Tice at Central Islip High in New York, and his player never forgot about him.

"When that happened at Notre Dame, I found out who my true friends were," O'Leary told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "A lot of people in the coaching profession I thought would call never did. Maybe they just didn't want to bring up the situation. Mike called with a job, an opportunity."

When Viking owner Red McCombs promoted Tice to replace Dennis Green, McCombs told the first-time head coach to take his time selecting a staff.

Recalled McCombs:

"He said, 'I already know the first guy I want to hire and he is a friend. He's my high school coach.' I said, 'God, Mike. For God sakes! That's the last thing you want to do. Every one of us is in love with our high school coach! Forget it!' And he said, 'Well, it's not as if he can't coach; Notre Dame hired him.' And I said, 'Are you talking about O'Leary?' I had no idea. I was delighted."

The way McCombs sees it, Notre Dame made a mistake in showing O'Leary the door.

"I would have rapped his knuckles a little bit and said, 'You shouldn't have done that,' and gone on with it," he said.

Hovan, who played at Boston College, also thinks Notre Dame acted too hastily, but "it's their loss. I couldn't care less about that program. I never liked them in the first place."

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Before Monday's epic comeback at Tampa Bay, Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, receiver Marvin Harrison and running back Ricky Williams were standing in the mouth of the visitors' tunnel waiting to be introduced. Buccaneer fans screamed insults at them, reminding Manning he was 0-3 against Florida when playing at Tennessee.

"We were the last three guys to be introduced," Manning said. "And they were on Ricky Williams about not being able to 'hold Edgerrin [James'] jock' I think the term was. And me, it was you name it. They were calling me every name in the book. I was just like, call my name out and get me out of this tunnel."

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Colt safety Mike Doss, a rookie from Ohio State, had some fun with teammates this week when he passed out 2004 calendars commemorating the Buckeyes' 2002 national championship season. He tucked them into the lockers of James and Reggie Wayne, both of whom played at Miami, and was shooed away by rookie linebacker Cato June of Michigan.

"Never will I take anything that's scarlet and gray," June told the Indianapolis Star. "I refuse to take a calendar from an Ohio State guy. We don't take gifts at Michigan."

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Pittsburgh's Tommy Maddox returns to Denver on Sunday to face the team that made him a first-round pick after his sophomore season at UCLA.

"A lot of people ask me if I regret it," Maddox said of leaving school early. "I don't regret anything.... But I would do it differently.

"I try to tell people all the time to enjoy those days in college. You don't know exactly what you have until it's gone, so to speak. I think playing college football is a great thrill and should be enjoyed. But it's hard. When you're 20 years old, in college, we all set goals to get to the NFL, want to play in the NFL. So it's very enticing sometimes."

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