UCF Head Coach George O’Leary Announces Retirement After 48 Years

By  //  October 25, 2015

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Following 48 years of coaching at the high school, college and NFL levels, UCF head coach George O’Leary announced his retirement from football on Sunday, Oct. 25.

ORLANDO, FLORIDA – (UCFKnights.com) – Following 48 years of coaching at the high school, college and NFL levels, UCF head coach George O’Leary announced his retirement from football on Sunday, Oct. 25.

Current UCF quarterbacks coach Danny Barrett, who is in his fifth year with the Knights, will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the 2015 season. Barrett previously worked as a head coach for the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders from 2000-06. He was a standout quarterback at the University of Cincinnati, which will be the Knights’ next opponent as they travel to Ohio to face the Bearcats Saturday at noon.

George O'Leary
George O’Leary

“In recent weeks there has been much speculation about the head coaching position at UCF and my future plans. Hopefully this statement clarifies the facts.

“After the 2013 championship season and Fiesta Bowl win I expressed my intention to retire at that time. After significant discussion with the UCF administration, I reconsidered and agreed to coach two additional seasons, 2014 and 2015. The administration has always been aware of my plan to retire after 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. 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.

“I appreciate the opportunity afforded me by John Hitt and Steve Orsini to come to UCF to build a program and the fine facilities we now have here. I am especially proud of our four conference championships and two additional championship appearances in the last 10 years along with seven bowl appearances and 31 wins in the three previous seasons.

“I again want to thank my coaches, players and loyal supporters for their efforts on this journey from the MAC to the AAC. Godspeed and go Knights.”

Born in 1946 in Central Islip, N.Y., O’Leary joined UCF for the 2004 season. He helped guide UCF to four conference division titles, four conference championships, seven bowl games and seven seasons of at least eight victories in 12 campaigns with the Knights.

O’Leary was the longest tenured coach in the American Athletic Conference, and the eighth-longest among FBS coaches at their current schools.

O’Leary wasted little time entering the coaching world after his college days at New Hampshire, joining the staff at Central Islip High School on Long Island in 1968 as an assistant head coach. He ultimately became the head coach in 1975 and 1976, and finished his high school days at Liverpool from 1977-79. Overall, O’Leary posted a 37-8-1 head coaching record during that stretch, including a 10-0 mark in 1979.

George O’Leary celebrates Fiesta Bowl victory in 2013. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily)

Up next was a shot in the college ranks. O’Leary powered his way up the chain, working with the Syracuse defensive line from 1980-86 while also serving as assistant head coach the final two years. Although the state of New York was his home, O’Leary headed south in what would really start setting him apart in the coaching world.

At Georgia Tech in 1987, O’Leary accepted the position of defensive coordinator with responsibilities focusing on the defensive line. His work with the Yellow Jackets from 1987-91 did not go unnoticed.

When their head coach Bobby Ross was hired to lead the San Diego Chargers in 1992, Ross brought O’Leary along and not surprisingly put him in charge of the “war daddies” up front.

In 1993, the Chargers captured the AFC West title with an 11-5 record. O’Leary headed back to Georgia Tech in 1994, setting up his role as the Yellow Jackets’ permanent head coach from 1995-01 (he was the interim head coach for the final three games of 1994).

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Georgia Tech boasted five seasons of at least .500 or better under O’Leary, claiming the 1998 Atlantic Coast Conference championship in the process. That helped him be selected as the league’s coach of the year and an Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year finalist. The Yellow Jackets reached bowl games in O’Leary’s final five seasons.

In 2002, O’Leary returned to the NFL as the Minnesota Vikings assistant head coach and defensive line coach, then was their defensive coordinator in 2003.

That set the stage for a moment that would change the city of Orlando and the entire UCF community forever.

On Dec. 8, 2003, UCF announced the hiring of O’Leary, who would finish his duties with the Vikings that season before starting in Orlando. That start served as a major turning point, as he changed the culture of UCF football, highlighted by putting a huge emphasis on graduating student-athletes.

Although year one produced an 0-11 record in UCF’s final season in the Mid-American Conference, O’Leary began seeing results in 2005. On Sept. 24, UCF put an end to its losing streak with a 23-13 win over Marshall, causing fans at the Florida Citrus Bowl to rush the field and tear down the goal post in the south end zone. The Knights went on to win eight of their next nine contests en route to the Conference USA East Division title and the program’s first bowl game (Sheraton Hawaii Bowl).

The winning continued, as did the makeover of UCF football.

In 2007, Bright House Networks Stadium was born, giving the Knights their first on-campus football stadium. Backed by Consensus All-America running back Kevin Smith, UCF not only celebrated its new facility, it celebrated on the field by claiming the C-USA title and a spot in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Following another postseason appearance with the 2009 St. Petersburg Bowl, UCF’s 2010 campaign solidified the Knights on the national map. UCF delivered another C-USA championship with its second berth in the Liberty Bowl, where the Black and Gold stunned Georgia for their first bowl victory and an 11-3 overall record. That season witnessed UCF earn its first national ranking, and it finished No. 20/21 in the country in the final polls.

Closing out its time in C-USA, UCF claimed its fourth division title in 2012 and captured the Beef `O’ Brady’s Bowl trophy for a 10-4 season. That gave way to a season to remember in 2013.

In the inaugural year of the American Athletic Conference, the Black and Gold provided heart-pounding moments all season long. Included were their first wins over Big Ten and Big 12 teams, first top-15 and top-10 rankings, first 12-win season and first two victories over top-10 programs.

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UCF had another conference title in hand thanks to an 8-0 league record in 2013. Ten years to the date of his hiring with the Black and Gold, O’Leary and his Knights officially received a bid to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. They were the youngest program to ever grab a spot in a Bowl Championship Series game, and they made a statement by topping Baylor, 52-42.

One year later, UCF traveled to its third straight bowl game and claimed back-to-back conference championships in 2014. The Knights amassed a 9-4 record with a 7-1 mark in The American to earn an invitation to the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl. Earlier in the campaign, O’Leary and the Knights traveled to Ireland to battle Penn State, where he received a Certificate of Irish Heritage from Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke and Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna at a huge pep rally in downtown Dublin.


O’Leary may have produced countless memories on the gridiron, but his student-athletes generated their own in the classroom. UCF’s Academic Progress Rate was 929 when O’Leary took over.

That immediately changed, jumping to 973 the following year. Since 2007-08, UCF’s APR has never dropped below 971 in a single season, while its 994 in 2012-13 tied for the fifth-highest in the country. UCF’s multi-year APR (last four reporting periods) stands at 977, which puts it 18th among FBS schools, 10th among all FBS public schools and No. 1 in the state and the league.

In terms of Graduation Success Rate, the Knights stand at 90 percent. That ranks 10th in the country, and third among all Division I public institutions. The 2014 campaign marked the eighth straight year UCF improved its GSR.

For those Knights entering the professional ranks, O’Leary has seen 18 former players currently with NFL clubs. That list is highlighted by the highest NFL pick in UCF history as Blake Bortles was the third selection overall in the 2014 draft by Jacksonville. A total of 16 UCF players under O’Leary have heard their names called in the NFL Draft.

O’Leary finished with a 133-101 career head coaching record in 19 seasons, and was 81-68 in 12 seasons at UCF.

O’Leary and his wife, Sharon, have two daughters, Chris and Trish, and two sons, Tim and Marty.

The O’Leary File
Born: Aug. 17, 1946
Hometown: Central Islip, N.Y.
College: New Hampshire, 1969

Coaching Experience
Head coach — UCF, 2004-14
Defensive coordinator — Minnesota Vikings, 2003
Assistant head coach/defensive line — Minnesota Vikings, 2002
Head coach — Georgia Tech, 1995-01
Interim head coach/defensive coordinator/defensive line — Georgia Tech, 1994
Defensive line — San Diego Chargers, 1992-93
Defensive coordinator/defensive line — Georgia Tech, 1987-91
Assistant head coach/defensive line — Syracuse, 1985-86
Defensive line — Syracuse, 1980-84
Head coach — Liverpool (N.Y.) High School, 1977-79
Head coach — Central Islip (N.Y.) High School, 1975-76
Assistant head coach — Central Islip (N.Y.) High School, 1968-74
Head Coaching Record
1994 — Georgia Tech — 0-3*
1995 — Georgia Tech — 6-5
1996 — Georgia Tech — 5-6
1997 — Georgia Tech — 7-5
1998 — Georgia Tech — 10-2
1999 — Georgia Tech — 8-4
2000 — Georgia Tech — 9-3
2001 — Georgia Tech — 7-5**
2004 — UCF — 0-11
2005 — UCF — 8-5
2006 — UCF — 4-8
2007 — UCF — 10-4
2008 — UCF — 4-8
2009 — UCF — 8-5
2010 — UCF — 11-3
2011 — UCF — 5-7
2012 — UCF — 10-4
2013 — UCF — 12-1
2014 — UCF — 9-4
2015 — UCF — 0-8
UCF Total — 81-68
Overall Total — 133-101
*-Interim head coach
**-Did not coach bowl game

2013 – American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year
2013 – Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year finalist
2010 – Conference USA Coach of the Year
2007 – Conference USA Coach of the Year
2007 – Atlanta Touchdown Club Conference USA Coach of the Year
2005 – Conference USA Coach of the Year
2005 – CBSSports.com National Coach of the Year
2005 – SportsIllustrated.com National Coach of the Year
2005 – Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year finalist
2005 – Paul “Bear” Bryant National Coach of the Year finalist
2000 – Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year
2000 – Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year
1998 – Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year
1998 – AFCA Region I Coach of the Year
1998 – Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year finalist