Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Spears and 'resume-gate'

This series, produced early in the summer before Grambling coach Melvin Spears' initial season as interim, quickly became known as "resume-gate":

Grambling coach faces review
Judson asks Spears to prove master's degree
July 9, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - New Grambling State University President Horace Judson isn't finished evaluating the athletics program.

On Thursday, he gave interim football coach Melvin Spears seven days to prove the validity of a master's degree on his resume.

That request comes after University of Louisiana System officials informed Judson that they could not confirm the credential - listed on media materials as an administrative leadership degree from Northern Arizona University.

"Mr. Spears indicated to me that he has been working with officials at Northern Arizona University for the past six months to clear up this matter," Judson said. "I have given Mr. Spears one week to produce documentation which verifies that he in fact has earned a master's degree."

Repeated calls to Spears' cell phone on Thursday night were unanswered.

Were Spears to step down, he would be the second member of the athletic staff to do so in the first days of Judson's new administration at Grambling State. Spears' supervisor, athletics director Al Dennis III, was fired on the first day Judson was in office - a move that angered some students and supporters.

Not GSU alum James "Shack" Harris, who said he has full faith in the school's new leader.

"All of us Grambling people are in full support of Dr. Judson and know that he's a Grambling person now," said Harris, a Monroe native who is now vice president of player personnel for the Jacksonville Jaguars. "We are all better off working together, whatever he decides. All of us are going to be willing to do that with him. I think everybody should go into this with a positive frame of mind. We all need to rally around and support the president, not get into corners and criticize. He's one of us now."

Former coach Doug Williams hired Spears, a first cousin, to run the offense at Grambling State in 1997. His explosive units helped GSU to three consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference titles in 2000-02, and Spears earned Division I-AA Offensive Coordinator of the Year honors in 2002 from American Football Monthly magazine.

Spears took over as interim when Williams left Grambling for a job with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers in February.

Williams said he never checked Spears' resume and doesn't know if Spears earned the degree or not.

"I take a guy at face value," Williams said. "The most important thing was I trusted him with the offense. (Current offensive coordinator) Sammy (White) still has work to do on his degree. But I knew he could get it done on the field. I've never asked for verification of anyone's resume."

A transcription specialist with Northern Arizona University confirmed Thursday that Spears went to the school but failed to graduate.

"Mr. Spears attended classes in the master's degree program from January of 1994 until August of 1997 - but did not receive a degree, according to our records," NAU transcription specialist Jackie Riley said.

Spears, who holds a bachelor of science degree from Alcorn State University, also lists an Arizona teacher's certificate, but Carmen Chavez, spokeswoman with that state's Department of Education, said he only earned a substitute teaching certificate.

A native of Clinton, Spears began his coaching career in 1992 as the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Casa Grande Union High School in Casa Grande, Ariz. Spears also served as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Morgan State University in 1995-96.

The decision to promote Spears to interim coach came after an emotional vote of confidence from the GSU players, who presented a petition to former acting president Neari Warner. That group was led by senior quarterback Bruce Eugene, who told Warner: "He has everything to do with our success. He's had a hand in everything we do. Who else would be better for the job? Why mess up what's going on around here?"

News about the resume flap quickly spread through GSU's fan base.

"On the one hand, I feel bad for Grambling - because this will bring the wrong kind of attention," said Donavan Simmons, a 1997 graduate who played as a red shirt freshman for former coach Eddie Robinson. "But if there is even the hint of falsification, then that has to be looked into."

Judson confirmed that Spears was going to Arizona to try to clear up the matter.

"While a master's degree is not a requirement to coach here at Grambling State University," Judson said, "it is essential that all information submitted on official employment applications be accurate and certifiable. It is vital that we maintain in every respect the integrity of this institution."

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Spears to clear air on degree issue
July 15, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Interim Grambling State University football coach Melvin Spears says he will return today with documentation that clears up questions about his credentials.

Spears has been in Arizona since Saturday, seeking answers for an official inquiry into the validity of a degree listed on his resume from Northern Arizona University. NAU found no record of him receiving it.

Spears has called a 1 p.m. news conference today on campus - just ahead of a seven-day deadline that President Horace Judson gave him to verify the credential. Spears said Wednesday that he would have no comment until that time.

"While a master's degree is not a requirement to coach here ..., it is essential that all information submitted on official employment applications be accurate and certifiable," Judson said last week. "It is vital that we maintain ... the integrity of this institution."

The chairman of NAU's department of research, foundations and leadership confirmed to The News-Star on Friday that Spears finished his master's coursework in administrative leadership - but not the final paperwork needed to get a diploma.

"Really, it's a question of having a degree posted - not having completed the degree requirements," Dr. William Wright said. "Melvin has done that."

Spears said that the paperwork has now been completed.

Former GSU coach Doug Williams hired Spears as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator in 1997. His master's degree has been included on his published resume since then.

The credential inquiry began with an anonymous tip to the University of Louisiana System board offices.

"The system office was tipped off that he did not have a valid master's degree," said Mike Woods, chairman of the ULM board - who has said all along that he thought the issue turned on missing paperwork, not deception. "We are giving him the benefit of the doubt by giving him the chance to verify the degree."

A native of Clinton, Spears began his coaching career in 1992 as the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Casa Grande Union High School in Casa Grande, Ariz. He also worked at Motorola.

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Spears on job, diploma in hand
July 16, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Interim Grambling State University coach Melvin Spears returned to the school on Thursday with an updated transcript - putting an end to a week of questions about his credentials.

"The issue has been resolved," said GSU president Horace Judson. "This is behind him now, and we can go forward."

Spears had a degree listed on his resume from Northern Arizona University, but last week NAU found no record of it. A dean later confirmed to The News-Star that Spears had completed the coursework but never filled out the final paperwork needed to receive his degree.

Spears traveled to Arizona over the weekend to complete the necessary forms, then met with Judson on Thursday morning. A master's of education in educational leadership is now listed as having been conferred to Spears on May 7, 2004.

"I appreciate the president for letting me go out and get this straight," Spears said. "His message to me was to take it as a lesson learned - to make sure I dot every 'i' and cross every 't.' "

Spears said a family illness and the sudden opportunity to coach alongside Doug Williams at GSU contributed to his failure to finish the paperwork needed to get his degree.

"I knew I was finished," Spears said of his coursework. "I thought whether I filled out this information or not, they would still send me a diploma."

Spears canceled a 1 p.m. news conference, instead meeting with the team at the Robinson Support Facility.

"I'm glad to be back home," Spears told the players. "We always stress the educational process, and nothing is going to change. I take full responsibility for not completing that piece of paper. That's my fault.

"But that business is behind us now. ... Come Aug. 8th (the beginning of practice), we're going to tee it up - and I'm going to be your coach. "

Williams hired Spears as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator in 1997. Spears' master's degree has been included on his resume and on media publications since then.

Spears took over as interim coach when Williams left for the NFL's Tampa Bay franchise in February.

The inquiry began with an anonymous fax to the offices of the University of Louisiana System board, which oversees GSU.

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Spears has one season
GSU will open up football coach search after '04
July 17, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Questions about interim Grambling State coach Melvin Spears' resume have been resolved.

But questions about his contract? Not so much.

"There remains the issue of filling the position on a permanent basis," said GSU president Horace Judson.

Judson confirms that he will keep Spears on through the end of the season, but will then begin a far-reaching search for a permanent head coach. He's quick to add that Spears would be a top consideration in that process.

"I've shared with Coach Spears that I will open the search at the end of the season," Judson said. "I expect him to be a candidate when that occurs. From what I've seen, he's done a good job with the program. From all indications, he's got a good football team. He's just got to forget about all this and get out there and coach football."

Spears has just returned from verifying a master's degree from Northern Arizona that came into question after an anonymous tip to the University of Louisiana System board of supervisors.

Spears had completed the necessary coursework but never filled out minor paperwork needed to actually receive the degree and update his transcript.

"He gave me a vote of confidence with respect to our team," Spears said, but added he had not spoken to Judson about his contract. "I know I'm going to be here through the season, and that's what matters to me right now. He told me to do my job - and make sure that we uphold the standards Grambling has set."

Not that Judson had all that much opportunity to make a change, anyway.

Grambling State, with the support of the University of Louisiana System, put off naming a permanent replacement in February for sixth-year coach Doug Williams - who had taken a job with the NFL's Tampa Bay franchise.

"The interim stage is a courtesy given the next president so that he can interview and evaluate everybody," said ULS president Sally Clausen.

But that delay in naming a new coach - done while acting GSU president Neari Warner was still in office - was in effect a commitment to the status quo.

Spears' original contact was reportedly through June 30, a day before Judson officially took over on July 1. There was no way that the university would begin looking for a new coach at that late date.

That is, short of a scandal - which nearly happened when questions about Spears' credentials popped up.

"We'll go through the football season, then we'll open it up," Judson said. "I expect Coach Spears to be a very strong candidate. I talked to him and said I realized that he might like it a lot better if I just made the decision to appoint him. But he's got an advantage. He's here. He knows the program. He's got a full season to show what he can do."

Spears and his assistants seem to have a firm grasp on what's at stake.

"Thank you, God, for letting us come together," GSU defensive line coach Luther Palmer said, as he led a prayer before Spears spoke to the team about the resume flap. "Please help us do great things."

There are whispers of dominance, even of an undefeated season, amongst the players on Thursday.

"We can do this," said senior quarterback Bruce Eugene. "We just need to get started."

Even under such adversity, the team has a sense that it can return to play on the level of those Southwestern Athletic Conference championship teams of 2000-02.

"I'm just glad to be back home," Spears said. "I'm ready to put our guys up against their guys and find out where the chips lay over 12 weeks."

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Focus now on football
GSU is hopeful distractions this off-season done
July 18, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Interim Grambling State coach Melvin Spears' message was upbeat. But the audience seemed edgy, ready to get past a week of confusion over Spears' future with the team.

"We're going to remain positive," Spears told the players. "We're just going to keep preparing for 2004."

After finishing some minor paperwork, Spears returned on Thursday with a master's degree - putting an end to questions about the validity of his credentials. An inquiry into his resume was prompted by an anonymous fax to the University of Louisiana System, which oversees Grambling State.

The players, confident in their coach, just wanted to get back to worry-free routine.

"It's good to have everything back to normal," said former Bastrop standout Marcus Yanez, a weakside linebacker at GSU. "The staff is pretty stable now and we can concentrate on getting ready to go 13-0."

As Spears traveled to Flagstaff, Ariz., where Northern Arizona University is located, to clear up the matter, the situation became talked-out.

"I'm looking forward to playing," said senior quarterback Bruce Eugene. "This has been a long off-season, with all of this drama going on. I'm ready to do anything besides talk about all this."

The team was united in its belief that the situation would be resolved once Spears returned.

"We knew he had a master's and we continued to work and concentrate and get ready for the season," Eugene said. "Now that that's out of the way, we can move on and get ready for Alcorn State."

GSU opens its season against ASU, where Spears played quarterback and receiver in the early 1980s.

"We were confident that everything would work out," said GSU offensive line coach Carl Roberts. "This is the time of year, in mid-July, when football should be in the air. In three weeks, those kids will be back practicing again. That will be a relief."

Despite the departure of its former head coach, the release of both a defensive coordinator and an athletics director, then a resume flap with its interim coach, Grambling State's approach to this summer has been steady and rigorous.

"One day, one game, one week at a time," said former player Vyron Brown, the Tigers' running backs coach. "That's all it is."

Spears said having the entire team involved with the voluntary off-season program helped the players stick together through a tough situation.

"We've had an opportunity to have our whole football team in for summer school, so that helped them get through this," Spears said. "They still saw each other every day in our strength and conditioning program. They understand the kind of commitment it's going to take. I don't think anything from the outside can disrupt that."

Mark Hall - another former player who now serves as GSU's strength and conditioning coach - has continued to lead the team through daily workouts.

"Guys are working real, real hard," said Hall, a two-time All-Southwestern Athletic Conference defensive end for GSU. "I played here in 2000 and I don't think cats have ever worked this hard: We had 78 kids here for voluntary workouts this summer. We've had people jump up 50 pounds with their bench press."

That attention to detail bodes well for the season, said Eugene, a Walter Payton Award finalist in both his sophomore and junior years.

"Even with the drama, we still continued to work," he said. "We still continued to better ourselves and get ready for the season. When this first came down, all it did was make us work harder - knowing that so many people, even people on our own campus, were out to get us. We have the mindset that there's nothing else but those of us here on the team."

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