George O'Leary speaks to the media for the first time as the new interim director of athletics at UCF. Video by: Jarrod Heil, Central Florida Future
Before UCF's football program began in 1979, the university's inaugural full-time director of athletics served for three years. His name was Dr. John T. "Jack" O'Leary. And now we've come full circle, with another O'Leary at the helm.
With the departure of Todd Stansbury to Oregon State last week, UCF's director of athletics position had a vacancy. Head football coach George O'Leary was there to fill the void as he accepted the position as the interim director of athletics Tuesday.
"I'm a head football coach [and] athletic director, and I will make sure that both jobs are done extremely well. And If I feel I'm inefficient in any of those areas, I'll react to it," said O'Leary, who is of no relation to Jack. "I will make decisions based on what I think is best for the athletic department [and] the university.
"I would not have even looked at this job if I couldn't be fair to both situations."
O'Leary will not be the first person to hold the role of head football coach and control the university's entire athletics department, though. Gene McDowell was the Knights' football coach and director of athletics from his inception in 1985 to the NCAA Division I-era in 1997.
Going into his 12th season as UCF's football coach, O'Leary said this will be his 47th year of coaching and being in athletics. He said that "as a head football coach, I've pretty much seen everything."
On July 11, O'Leary will assume his new role, which will go through the end of 2015, while he continues to run the football program. He does not believe there will be any conflicts of interest, especially when it comes to winning football games and recruiting future talent.
"My responsibility is to win football games, and I won't short that duty … And I won't short my athletic director abilities," he said. "I see it as an opportunity, not a challenge. I think, basically, I'm looking forward to the opportunities."
Coaching is in the cards for O'Leary for the next three seasons as his contract, which is valued at more than $2 million per year, expires at the end of the 2017 season, as reported by CBS sports in 2014.
"I've always said that I'll get out of coaching when I feel I'm not efficient enough," O'Leary said. "I may make a decision later that it's something I'm really interested in, but right now I have a great interest in winning championships in all the sports and helping the administration as much as I can with the growth of the programs."
He is the most successful football coach that UCF has ever had, producing 16 NFL draft picks, back-to-back bowl appearances and, after going 0-11 during his first season at UCF, boasts an overall record of 81-60.
O'Leary applauds the contributions Stansbury made to the program and hopes he can add to the list.
"I think everything's in place. I think Todd [Stansbury] did a great job as far as making sure we have a destiny, somewhere to go as far as the programs are concerned," he said. I'm looking forward to sitting down and putting my teeth in a lot of the stuff that we have going on right now."
Education among athletes is one of those teeth-sinking areas of importance, and he will keep academics at the forefront.
"The reason I'm taking the challenge on is because of the welfare of the student-athletes," O'Leary said. "I'm a firm believer in academics, that they do that, they do well. Playing for championships athletically and that we grow socially, maturity wise, as far as before they leave school here."
Among all public NCAA Division I FBS schools in the country, UCF has the highest graduation success rate with 95 percent. It also ranks fifth among all FBS schools, falling short of Northwestern, Duke, Stanford and Notre Dame.
"George's leadership and knowledge of athletics — which includes programs beyond football — will keep UCF moving forward academically, competitively and in the community," UCF President John C. Hitt said in a press release. "His national connections will also help us continue building the Knights' reputation around the country."
Said O'Leary: "I think the growth of the school is major important, as far as I'm concerned. Not just locally but nationally, as far as keeping us competitive academically [and] athletically. What we need to be doing. What we should be doing."
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JHeil11 or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com