New Ideas on Checking Bios

By Staff

Athletic Management, 14.3, April/May 2002,

The once seemingly simple task of distributing coaches' biographies to the media has taken on new import this year. In light of some high-profile coaches losing their jobs because of inaccuracies in their bios, even the smallest discrepancies are now being called into question.

While the most noticeable incident occurred at Notre Dame, where George O'Leary resigned five days after being named the school's head football coach when false information was discovered in his biography, less-prestigious coaches' bios are also being examined. O'Leary's previous school, Georgia Tech, dealt with a similar episode when the biographies it released announcing the hiring of two assistant football coaches contained untruths. (One coach was let go by Georgia Tech while the other was retained since he had tried to fix the mistake.)

Following the O'Leary incident, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigated the bios of the major sport coaches at Atlanta-area schools. It found inaccuracies with a bio for an assistant basketball coach at the University of Georgia and made the news public.

As a result of these incidents, many schools are formulating plans to double check bios before they are distributed. They are also putting more pressure on coaches to verify their information.

Georgia Tech now follows a detailed procedure whenever a coaching hire is announced. According to Associate Sports Information Director Mike Stamus, the process starts with the school's human resources office, which will contact the coach and conduct an institutional background check, confirming employment history, academic credentials, and any criminal record.

At the same time, the sports information office will receive a resume from the coach and a biography from his or her previous school, and confirm any additional information the human resources office does not check, such as athletic participation. The sports information office will also have the coach verify information found in previous biographies it has obtained.

A draft release will be written and presented to the coach, who must sign off on it. After the institutional background check has been completed and cross-checked with the information obtained by the sports information office, the announcement will be released.

"It has always been accepted practice among sports information directors to trade information and use it," Stamus says. "And that's where we got in trouble."

Another policy change at Georgia Tech is to limit the content of its hiring announcements to basic facts with less elaboration than before. "Frankly, they are going to be pretty basic," Stamus says. "They're going to include what schools they were at previously, what positions they held, how their teams performed when they were there, what their degrees are, and maybe some personal information, such as age and that sort of thing. But that's going to be it."

Georgia Tech is also double-checking biographies for all its current coaches, but Pete Moore, President of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA), cautions that the ultimate responsibility for the truth lies with the coaches being profiled. "Once biographical information is written, say in a media guide, it's pretty standard that for each year and new media guide, the coach is given the opportunity to look over that information before it's published," he says. "So if there was a mistake in there, they would see it and be able to point it out.

"When something has been published in error for multiple years, that's the fault of the coach," Moore continues. "I just do not see it as the SID's role to fact check some of these things that are pertinent when hiring a person, but not after they've already been hired."

Stamus agrees that it's important to put the burden of truth on the coach, but points out the source of an inaccuracy will matter little once it's discovered by those outside the school. "It's embarrassing for all of us, no matter whose responsibility it is, when that kind of information gets out," he says. "It's embarrassing for the person we're hiring, and it's also embarrassing for the school that's hiring him or her. After the George O'Leary thing happened in December, we felt some heat as well since we had published that information for a long time.

"Our job is to put out accurate information," Stamus continues, "and when we don't, we catch heat from both sides—the school and the media—and that's not a position you want to be in."