SOUTH BEND, Ind. - George O'Leary, introduced as Notre Dame's head football coach amid much pomp and pageantry at a pep rally-news conference Sunday, resigned late Thursday night because of what he called "a selfish and thoughtless act many years ago."
The former Georgia Tech coach who had just signed a six-year contract admitted yesterday that he had falsified his academic and athletic credentials for decades.
O'Leary, 55, claimed to have a master's degree in education and to have played college football for three years, but background checks showed those statements were not true.
"Many years ago, as a young married father, I sought to pursue my dream as a football coach," he said in a statement. "In seeking employment I prepared a resume that contained inaccuracies regarding my completion of course work for a master's degree and also my level of participation in football at my alma mater. These misstatements were never stricken from my resume or biographical sketch in later years.
"Due to a selfish and thoughtless act many years ago, I have personally embarrassed Notre Dame, its alumni and fans. The integrity and credibility of Notre Dame is impeccable and with that in mind, I will resign my position as head football coach."
O'Leary was taking over for Bob Davie, fired after a 5-6 season put him at 35-25, the third-worst winning percentage in Irish history.
News of the resignation stunned the campus of the nation's most prominent Roman Catholic university, whose history of football success has helped it become one of the nation's premier schools.
"It makes us look very silly that we have suffered through Bob Davie, found a coach that wasn't necessarily at the top of our priority list, and then this coach resigns over dishonesty," said Todd Engstrom, a chemistry junior from Spokane, Wash.
Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White said O'Leary's admission made it impossible for him to continue as Notre Dame's coach.
"I understand that these inaccuracies represent a very human failing; nonetheless, they constitute a breach of trust that makes it impossible for us to go forward with our relationship," White said in a statement.
At Sunday's announcement, White had praised O'Leary for his "commitment to excellence, for our education both on the field and in terms of our high academic standards."
But at Georgia Tech, O'Leary graduated just 33 percent of the players who came in 1994. Under Davie, the Irish enjoyed a 100 percent graduation rate during that same period.
Casey Robin, an offensive guard for the Irish who completed his eligibility this fall, said he agreed with O'Leary's decision to resign.
"He was talking about loyalty and even honesty, and obviously he didn't live up to that expectation," Robin said. "The team needs some honesty and loyalty from a coach."
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen defended the honesty of his friend and former colleague.
"During my association with George O'Leary - which has been over the course of the last 15 years - I would characterize his integrity as unquestionable," Friedgen said. "He is one of the most honest people I have ever met and the friend who I would trust more than any other in my life. He may have made a mistake early on in his career, but that is certainly not the way that he leads his life."
The search for a new coach will begin immediately, White said, raising the possibility he might again focus on Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden.
A biography released by Notre Dame on Sunday when it announced his hiring said O'Leary received a master's degree from New York University in 1972. John Beckman, assistant vice president for public affairs at NYU, said O'Leary was a student there but did not receive a master's.
O'Leary also never earned a letter playing football at New Hampshire even though his biography says he earned three. The school said he never played in a game. Before arriving at New Hampshire, he attended the University of Dubuque for two years and played on the '64 team, school officials said.
O'Leary went to New Hampshire for two years. He said he was on the team in 1967 and 1968, but was unable to play his first year because of mononucleosis, and did not play his second year because of a knee injury.
"I can't understand how you could go all those years and not catch or correct it," former Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian said. "That bio has been in the Georgia Tech guide for a number of years. Every year, you read your own bio and you can correct any mistakes."
Roger Valdiserri, who retired in 1995 as an associate athletic director after 38 years at Notre Dame, said: "We hired Gerry Faust [in 1981] and we didn't check resumes, and Dan Devine [in 1975] because they had been involved in sports and football. It's very unusual to check it."
Avani Patel is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.