Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Sunday, October 25, 2015

UCF Head Football Coach George O’Leary Retires

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 23:43


After going winless this season (the Knights are 0-8; 0-4 AAC), UCF’s head football coach George O’Leary has announced his retirement. The news was reported today, just one day after UCF’s horrific 59-10 loss to #21 Houston. The retirement is effective immediately. The Orlando Sentinel reports:

UCF football coach George O’Leary is retiring effective immediately, wrapping up a 12-year tenure during which he helped put the school’s football program on the national radar, three sources with knowledge of the decision told the Orlando Sentinel. Quarterbacks coach Danny Barrett is being named the Knights’ interim coach. UCF President John Hitt and vice president Grant Heston confirmed the news and told the Sentinel the school will complete its athletics director search by early December and the new A.D. will help select the next head football coach from outside the program. “[Current UCF offensive coordinator] Brent Key has a clause in his contract that he will be paid $700,000 if he is not the next head coach. We will honor that agreement and the $700,000 will be payable over 24 months,” Heston said.

O’Leary, 69, finishes his career as the Knights’ second winningest coach in program history behind Gene McDowell. O’Leary needed to win just six games to surpass McDowell in the record books, but his team, so far, has been unable to secure even one victory in his final season. “I have tremendous professional and personal respect for George and all he has done for UCF,” Hitt said in a statement announcing the coach’s retirement. “We’ve been successful in the classroom and on the field under his watch, and his achievements have helped build the bonds that unite Knights everywhere.

“This season has been difficult, and I support George’s decision to retire now so our program can begin planning for the future.” O’Leary said in a statement he long planned to retire at the end of this season. “2014 was a rewarding season which culminated in our second consecutive AAC championship and third conference championship in five seasons. 2015, however, has been a disappointment to me and many despite the hard work of our coaches and players,” O’Leary said in the statement. “Many of the players are young but gaining valuable playing experience due to injuries and graduation. I am sure this will benefit them next season.

“In an effort to allow UCF to accelerate its search for my successor and clarify the facts regarding my future plans, I am retiring effective immediately.” O’Leary compiled an 81-68 record at UCF and led the team to seven bowl games. He has won three postseason games at UCF, including his crowning achievement in 2013 – an upset of No. 5 Baylor to win the Fiesta Bowl. Overall, O’Leary has compiled a 133-101 record and 11 bowl appearances as a college football head coach dating back to when he took over Georgia Tech’s program in 1995.

He entered 2015 as the longest tenured coach in the American Athletic Conference and seventh in college football, with Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer still leading the pack. While UCF didn’t make players or coaches available for interviews Sunday, defensive lineman Demetris Anderson told the Orlando Sentinel he was, “pretty sad because Coach O’Leary, he helped me out during my high school years and my college career. He’s a really good coach and I’m kind of sad that he’s leaving, but I wish all is well for him.”

After experiencing immense highs at UCF during the past two seasons that included winning back-to-back conference titles, this year has been tumultuous. Aside from the team’s struggle to maintain its place among the top of the American conference, O’Leary resigned as the school’s interim athletics director earlier this month. “Right now, I want to coach football and, again, I looked at the AD thing and put my time into it, but it’s not something that basically I’m gonna have a real interest in and that’s why I made that decision,” O’Leary said when he resigned from the interim athletics director job. “And again, I’ll say it, it was my decision alone in making that, and I’m fulfilling the contract in doing that.”

Speculation about O’Leary’s retirement started to gain momentum last season when multiple reports emerged he would step down after the Knights’ game against Penn State game in Ireland. He denied those reports, but over time admitted that he struggled with the decision of when to step down, noting he loved to coach football and wasn’t very good at golf. He told the Orlando Sentinel he recently signed a contract extension through 2020, but he has declined to make the terms of the contract public. This became another sore point for UCF fans who wondered if O’Leary himself or the school promised in writing to make Key, a first-year offensive coordinator, the Knights’ next head coach.

Key, a former Georgia Tech offensive lineman, has served as an assistant to O’Leary for 17 seasons. While this year has been tough, O’Leary is widely respected by his peers in the American Athletic Conference. During the league’s spring meetings, UConn coach Bob Diaco praised the veteran coach and eventually manufactured to a rivalry between the schools as a sign of respect.

“There’s integrity, his players are class acts. They are put together, there’s discipline and detail in the games, they protect the football, they do some of the small things that create winning. “They’re not overly penalized,” Diaco said. “They just don’t play what would be considered losing football. … They’re tough, tough teams and they fight until the end. You know you’re gonna be in a four quarter slug-fest with his teams.” O’Leary has seen the school through two conference transitions from Conference USA to the Big East, which ultimately was renamed the American Athletic Conference, and was a key figure in helping the school build its first on-campus football stadium.

UCF lost a close 35-32 contest to then-No. 6 ranked Texas in its inaugural game at Bright House Networks Stadium in 2007. The writing seemed to be on the wall for O’Leary, who once joked during a press conference that it looked like he would leave the same way he came in – with a winless record. His winless 2004 squad rebounded to appear in the school’s first bowl game in 2005 and included two high-profile draft picks in receivers Brandon Marshall and Mike Sims-Walker.

UCF developed a reputation among NFL scouts for preparing college players for the NFL during O’Leary’s tenure, with successful athletes like Kemal Ishmael, Bruce Miller and Josh Robinson to name a few. One of O’Leary’s proudest accomplishments was the career of running back Kevin Smith. The consensus All-American tailback returned to UCF to complete his degree last year after his NFL career ended. Smith currently is an intern on the UCF football staff and has aspirations to coach one day.

Education was one of O’Leary’s chief points of emphasis, with players saying he’d always promise them the opportunity to get a college degree and was clear just how difficult it could be play in the NFL. UCF’s 90 percent graduation success rate in 2014 was third among public institutions and first in the state of Florida and in the American conference. It was also the eighth consecutive year the football program improved its GSR.

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