A look inside the mind of a football lifer
Published: Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 19:09
To players, he is a disciplinarian, father, coach, role model and doctor. To fans, he's a hard-nosed signal caller, and he's to blame when the Knights lose.
But to himself and his family, George O'Leary is a man of faith, a teacher who tries to make the best of his players year in and year out, and a mentor who puts academics and future over football. He wants to teach his players how to prioritize and live a full life after football.
The Central Florida Future sat down with UCF Knights head coach George O'Leary and met the man behind the playbook.
Central Florida Future: How do you feel about this year's team?
George O'Leary: There's a bunch of kids back, whether they started or had a special team role, this is by far the most seniors I've had back on the field offensively or defensively. You're only as good from a chemistry standpoint as your senior class.
C.F.F.: How was the preseason?
O'Leary: This was a very strong preseason. I felt the team came, worked hard and really picked up on the things I asked them to. If I could really make a statement about this team it would be, "You can have a bad play, but you can't have a bad day." We've helped ourselves by returning so many players because it allows fewer true freshmen on the traveling squad.
C.F.F.: Is there a family feel to this year's squad?
O'Leary: Yeah ... I feel that it's genuine. Whether it is in the dining hall or wherever, I don't see too many cliques. I see a team that just likes to hang out with each other on and off the field. Sure there are problems wherever you go, but I stress the importance that even if you don't like the guy, you have to respect him. You get respect on the football field by your work habits, I look at it as you're never going to like everyone, but you have to respect his work ethic on the field.
C.F.F.: How do you keep the players focused on other aspects of life besides football?
O'Leary: Well, they are called student-athletes. Student comes first, and I stress that. I feel like the team takes what the coach feels is important and makes that important to them, and I understand that thoroughly. I get it that most players won't play beyond college and therefore need to work hard in the classroom. They better have their degree and be able to use their degree in many aspects. I feel like you look at these guys as freshmen, and now I feel like that over the years they have matured in the aspects other than football. I always tell the kids there are four areas of your life: Your Faith and Family, Academics, Football and the last one which tends to get them in trouble, and that's their social lives. That always needs to remain number four if you want to be successful and there are times priorities will change, but if you come into (UCF) going to church than you continue to do so. During preseason, I've had church services on Sundays and we had four different kids speak up and recite verses of the Bible. That's what brings a team together, they can relate to each other. There is one mindset on this team: Respect your teammates and win the conference championship.
C.F.F.: How do you personally balance those four aspects of your life.
O'Leary: Well I mean it's tough. Obviously faith is important to me, being Irish-Catholic. But ... as the head coach, you're always dealing with football. But the thing I love about college football is that you can wear nine different hats. I'm the disciplinarian, psychologist, doctor, judge, mentor, parent; I mean so many different things at different times. My door is always open to the players and they know that I will tell them what I feel is best for the team all the time, likewise I tell their parents when I meet them before I sign your child you should know this is a family scholarship. It doesn't mean your siblings will come to UCF, but it means that I will call you and tell you what your child is or isn't doing and my phone is always open.
C.F.F.: How do you feel about this year's schedule?
O'Leary: We play one game at a time. The only other thing I will say about this schedule, it's the best schedule from a when and who standpoint. The fact that you can play your non-conference schedule in September and move on the Conference play without having to worry about a non-conference game throwing you off. You have to win the non-conference games first to catch some attention and build some momentum going into conference play. Even though we have a lot of home games that will help us, you still need to go out and win two-of-three if not all the phases of the ball (offense, defense, special teams) each week to be successful and try to put yourself in a position to win.
The biggest thing about this conference is that every team has skill players at skill positions so you have to be ready to compete and bring the "A" game every week to win.
C.F.F.: Any surprises from camp?
O'Leary: From a freshmen standpoint, the McCrays, along with Clayton Geathers. Obviously Jeff Godfrey, but he was here in January and I don't consider him a freshman. Those are the guys that will be in the depth chart.
C.F.F.: What is the QB situation?
O'Leary: Jeff has the extraordinary ability to turn a bad play into a good play. Rob is ahead of him as far as checks and everything else, but Jeff has to be a factor in every game. Rob is throwing a better ball than he has and his poise is there now, but Jeff can just make someone miss and make a big play. Both have looked good in practice. I don't anoint the QB in practice. You have to win it in the game. Practice is great, but the game is another monster. You have the crowd and lights and other factors so that will decide who wins the job.