WSU baseball coach padded credentials
Seattle Times staff reporters
Position: Head baseball coach, Washington State University
Background: Marbut was hired by WSU as an assistant coach in 2003 to help turn around a Cougar team that had finished last in the Pac-10 for five years. He previously coached the Edmonds Community College Tritons to a first-place finish in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges in 2002 and to division championships in 2000 and 2001.
Education: Portland State University, bachelor's degree, 1997; Edmonds Community College, associate degree, 1995
PULLMAN — Depending on where you look, Washington State University head baseball coach Donnie Marbut claims to have a master's degree, a teaching certificate or both.
In reality, he has neither.
He's lauded in official team biographies as a university baseball MVP, most inspirational player and all-conference infielder.
None of that is true either.
And there are other issues in Marbut's past that raise questions, a Seattle Times investigation has found.
At Edmonds Community College, where Marbut coached until 2003, he used the school's facilities for his own gain, and witnesses say he took cash from groups that used the college fields. In another instance, he submitted a phony invoice to get Edmonds to pay for protein powder for players — a purchase the college had warned him was improper.
Marbut denied any financial improprieties. Of the false academic and athletic claims, he said some were errors by others, some he didn't notice and others were his own honest mistakes.
"I never was one to read a bio. ... I never thought I was important. Now any time anybody quotes me or says anything about me or writes anything about me, I'll do a better job of watching it," he said.
Marbut, who led Edmonds Community College to a league championship before joining the struggling Cougars as an assistant coach in 2003, has inflated his academic and athletic accomplishments for years.
The Times found he has listed the false academic claims on handwritten job applications and on typed résumés, and he's allowed the misleading athletic accomplishments to be repeated for years in team media guides and on the Cougar Web site.
Officials at Edmonds Community College said that, despite a recent state audit criticizing athletic-department finances under Marbut, they didn't know about the phony invoice, improper payments or false academic claims.
"During Donnie's tenure, none of this came up. If it had, we would have dealt with it harshly," said Edmonds Community College President Jack Oharah.
Falsified résumés have gained prominence recently because of scandals involving diploma mills. The Washington Legislature this year passed a law making it a crime to lie on a resume.
Exaggerated academic credentials have led to the firing or resignation of some prominent coaches in recent years.
George O'Leary resigned as Notre Dame's head football coach five days after accepting the job in 2001, when it was revealed that he never earned the master's degree he claimed on his résumé and had overstated his career as a college football player.
Yet in Pullman, administrators say Marbut's $77,000-a-year job is safe.
"A couple of these things are errors in judgment by a person who has a lot of potential but who was young and ambitious and didn't really think things through," said Marcia Saneholtz, WSU's senior associate athletic director. "He will continue to be our baseball coach."
The bylaws of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) say a coach "shall act with honesty and sportsmanship at all times."
However, it's up to individual schools to determine whether a coach knowingly falsified a résumé, NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said.
Jim Thompson, executive director of the Positive Coaching Alliance in Palo Alto, Calif., said youth sports should teach positive life lessons and character traits.
"A coach who lies on a résumé sets a bad example for kids. ... It's symbolic. Can you trust that person to do the right thing?"
When Marbut became WSU's head baseball coach in May 2004, he was given a mandate to rebuild a baseball program that had dominated its division a decade earlier, but had finished last in the Pac-10 the previous five years.
Although the team finished last again in 2005 with a 21-37 record, Marbut managed to recruit a dozen top prospects for this year's team. This year, the Cougars are off to their best start since 1994, with an 18-6 record and conference play starting Saturday.
Last September, the state released its audit of the Edmonds Community College athletic program, covering the years Marbut was a coach and athletic director. The audit faulted the athletic department for poor recordkeeping and financial oversight. And it concluded that Marbut had profited by using college facilities to run a private baseball camp, a violation of state law.
The office forwarded Marbut's name to the State Executive Ethics Board for investigation in December. The board has not yet decided whether to review the case, said director Susan Harris.
After the audit, The Times obtained Marbut's personnel files from Edmonds and WSU. Those and other documents revealed the numerous false claims about his achievements.
Nine different records wrongly state that Marbut earned a teaching certificate, a master's degree or a graduate degree from St. Martin's College in Lacey, Thurston County.
In five of the records, the errors appear on forms or résumés that he himself filled out or created. Three are handwritten job applications he submitted at Edmonds Community College, in June and September 1999 and November 2001. One is a résumé he submitted to WSU in 2003. And one is a biographical data sheet he filled out for the university's Human Resources Department.
Marbut, 32, acknowledged that he never earned a teaching certificate or any other graduate degree. He points out that his coaching jobs have required only a bachelor's degree, which he does have.
Records from St. Martin's show that Marbut enrolled in the teaching program in 1998 and completed two semesters but left before finishing his student teaching in 1999.
Marbut said his résumé should have said teaching certification program instead of teaching certification.
"That was misleading," he said. "It's fixed now, and I'm glad it's fixed."
Marbut said he told his bosses at both Edmonds and WSU that he didn't have the teaching certificate.
He said his WSU boss, assistant athletic director Saneholtz, told him it wasn't a problem.
Saneholtz said she did not recall that conversation.
At Edmonds, Marbut said, his supervisor, associate dean Nicola Smith, knew he didn't have the teaching certificate but told him to write it down anyway when he applied to be athletic director.
Smith responded: "I would not be in a position to tell someone to falsify a job application."
The misrepresentations don't end with Marbut's academic accomplishments.
WSU and Edmonds team biographies assert Marbut was chosen most valuable player on the Portland State baseball team in 1996 and most inspirational in 1997. Both bios also claim Marbut was named an all-Pac-10 North division infielder in 1996.
Two of those awards, the MVP and infielder honors, actually belong to a man Marbut hired last year to be his volunteer assistant coach: Matt Dorey, who played second base for PSU in 1996. The most inspirational player in '97 was third-baseman Darren Case, according to PSU records.
Dorey was surprised to learn that Marbut had claimed his honors.
"I've never paid close attention to [Marbut's] biography," he said. "He's a really good guy. But it is pretty interesting that this is out there."
Marbut blamed the WSU errors on the college Sports Information Office.
WSU Sports Information Director Rod Commons said mistakes in media guides do occur, but he couldn't explain how the Marbut errors happened or why they weren't fixed.
Ilsa Gramer, a former graduate student who was responsible for sports information for the WSU baseball program, said coaches must sign off on the media guide before it goes to the publisher. Marbut's biography appeared for two years without being corrected, Gramer said.
Marbut had no explanation for the Edmonds inaccuracies.
Other incidents raise questions about Marbut's judgment.
In the fall of 2002, as the Edmonds Community College team began offseason workouts, Marbut sold some players a protein supplement, according to former players Tyler Johnson and C.J. Freeman.
Johnson said Marbut divided the bulk protein powder into 3-pound containers and sold them for $25 each.
Marbut tried to bill the college $225 for shipping the supplement, but the school's senior vice president for finance rejected the purchase. The administrator, Robert Botley, told Marbut that protein powder was not a legitimate expense under state purchasing guidelines and that ordering personal items through the college would violate state ethics laws.
Three months later, Marbut signed another purchase order asking the college to pay $1,548.50 to Next Generation Proteins, the supplier of the supplement. An accompanying invoice said the order was for "sports bags," and the college paid the bill.
But the president of Next Generation, Jeff Kerlegan, said he had never seen that invoice and that the company has never sold sports bags of any sort.
Marbut insisted he'd never seen the invoice. He acknowledged purchasing protein powder once but said he was warned it was illegal to distribute it to players and didn't do it again.
Marbut's handling of money while he was at Edmonds also has drawn scrutiny.
On at least two occasions, he rented the college baseball fields to private groups and accepted cash or a personal check made out to him — both improper ways of accepting payment, school officials say. In both of these cases, the school has no record of payment for use of the fields.
Paying in cash
In the first case, two men who helped organize a private baseball tournament over the Memorial Day weekend in 2000 say they saw Marbut accept cash from the tournament sponsor.
One of the organizers, Larry Norgaard, recalled that the sponsor, Bill Beckett, was angry about having to round up cash on a holiday weekend. The other organizer, Ken Santi, who is a business partner of Beckett's, said, "I know Bill had to pay cash for the field."
Beckett recalled the tournament but not the method of payment. "It was something like $800 or $1,200," he said. "It may have been made in cash. I just don't recall."
Marbut denies the transaction took place.
"It did not happen," he said. "That wasn't the process [the college] wanted. They wanted people to write checks."
In the second case, Marbut accepted a $250 personal check for field rental. A notation on the check describes it as payment for two games played by a youth baseball team at the college.
Marbut said the payment was actually for individual instruction. But college officials say that either way, Marbut should have paid the college for use of its facilities.
While WSU administrators stand by Marbut, they acknowledge the coach's past has followed him to Pullman.
As the state ethics board considers taking up Marbut's case, Saneholtz, the assistant athletic director, said the controversy may impact WSU's ability to recruit players.
"We are concerned about all the hearsay and innuendo that has been generated in the baseball community that could be unfairly damaging to our baseball program," she said.
Coach Donnie Marbut: Resumes and other records that exaggerate his credentials (all are PDFs).
Washington State Cougar media guide, 2005: Contains false athletic achievements and refers to a non-existent teaching certificate.
WSU course catalog, 2005: Shows a master's degree from St. Martin's College in Lacy. Marbut never earned the degree.
WSU athletic department Web site: A biography of Marbut contains his false athletic and academic claims. One copy was pulled from the Web site after Times reporters began asking questions; another copy remained on the site as of Wednesday, March 22.
Biographical data sheet: Marbut filled out this form for WSU's Human Resources Department after he was hired in August 2003. He falsely claimed a "certificate" from St. Martin's.
Resume submitted to WSU: Marbut claimed a "teaching certification" from St. Martin's when he applied to the WSU in 2003.
Edmonds Community College job applications: On two applications, Marbut claimed a teaching certificate he now admits he never earned.
Phony purchase order: Marbut submitted this Edmonds Community College invoice for "sports bags" from a California company that sells only protein powder. Players say Marbut sold them the supplement.
Personal check for field rental: The Seattle A's baseball club gave Marbut a check and noted the payment was for renting the Edmonds Community College baseball fields. Marbut says the money actually covered private instruction he provided two players. Edmonds officials say Marbut should have paid the school for the use of its facilities either way.
Times researcher David Turim contributed to this report.
Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or email@example.com
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Information in this article, originally published March 23, 2006, was corrected March 28, 2006. The Washington Legislature this year passed a law making it a crime to lie on a resume. A previous version of this story reported that the legislation died in the Senate.
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