No Questions This Time The Notre Dame resume scandal behind him, George O'Leary has taken charge at Central Florida

April 25, 2004

There is a reason why Central Florida coach George O'Leary
doesn't venture up the new 30-foot observation tower between his
practice fields, and it has nothing to do with the mild heart
attack on New Year's Eve that slowed him for all of a week. "I've
liked going from drill to drill, hearing everything that's being
said and seeing every little thing that's going on," said the
57-year-old coach, catching a rare quiet moment in his office
after a morning practice this spring. "It feels good to be in the
mix."

Those words are also a subtle reminder of how far O'Leary has
come since December 2001, when he was the most-talked-about
outcast in sports. The facts, exhausted by newspaper accounts and
late-night talk-show hosts, were these: After 33 years of
coaching at the high school, college and NFL levels, O'Leary
landed his dream job as head coach of Notre Dame, only to lose it
five days later after a reporter stumbled upon some
inconsistencies in his resume. When pressed, O'Leary admitted he
had lied about being a football letterman at New Hampshire and
about earning a master's degree at NYU, and he resigned.

What followed was the darkest period in O'Leary's life (SI, April
8, 2002). "I became like the sort of person I despise, moaning
and groaning and feeling sorry for myself," he says. "But there's
only so long you can sit around feeling that way. The best thing
I could do was get back to work."

His opportunity came one month after his resignation, when
Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Tice, who had played for O'Leary at
Central Islip (N.Y.) High in the '70s, hired his old coach to
oversee his defensive line. While elevating the Vikings' rushing
defense from 30th in the NFL to 10th, O'Leary reestablished his
coaching credentials and his reputation for inspiring toughness
in his players. Still, he itched to be back in charge. "I was
used to making decisions, not suggestions," says O'Leary, who had
led Georgia Tech to five bowl appearances between 1994 and 2001.
When Central Florida called him about its coaching vacancy last
December, "the decision was easy," said O'Leary. "[Orlando] is a
place where high school football is very good and from where you
can recruit very easily. I felt it was a sleeping giant."

If that's true, it was also in desperate need of a wake-up call.
Under former coach Mike Kruczek, the Golden Knights finished 3-9
last season, their worst record since 1984. In addition, eight
players had been suspended for various infractions and 16 of the
team's 62 scholarship players were on academic probation. "It was
hard at first," says O'Leary, who also faces the challenge of
moving from the Mid-American Conference to Conference USA in
2005. "I was used to guys who did what they needed to all the
time."

To instill his trademark toughness in a squad heavy on skill
players, he focused his recruiting on hard-nosed interior linemen
who could contribute immediately. To establish order O'Leary
moved the team's mandatory study-hall sessions from a mid-campus
facility to a meeting room near his office. He also banished two
walk-ons who showed up a few minutes late to one of his first
spring practices. "The message is, you gotta [perform], and if
you don't, I'll get rid of you," says senior tailback Alex
Haynes.

Given the coach's history, do his new charges ever question those
exacting standards? O'Leary says he hasn't felt the need to
address the resume incident to anyone at Central Florida because,
quite simply, no one has asked about it. "We all know that he's
owned up to his mistake, took it like a man and more than paid
the price for it," says defensive coordinator Lance Thompson, who
left LSU after the Sugar Bowl in January to rejoin O'Leary, for
whom he worked as a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech. Players
echo that sentiment and even suggest that O'Leary's ability to
overcome his missteps makes him a perfect fit for the Golden
Knights. "What happened to Coach is in the past--just like what
happened to our team last year," says senior safety Atari Bigby.
"He's moved on, we've moved on, and hopefully we're all going to
start winning like we're supposed to."

COLOR PHOTO: GARY BOGDON STIFF CHALLENGE Tailback Dontavius Wilcox and the Golden Knights are already benefiting from O'Leary's tough tactics. COLOR PHOTO: DUANE BURLESON/AP [See caption above]

Coaching Cradle

In 1993, George O'Leary's last year as the defensive line coach
of the San Diego Chargers, he worked alongside some impressive
figures. Here's a select who's who from that Chargers staff.

RESPONSIBILITY THEN NOW

Sylvester Croom Running backs Head coach, Mississippi State

Ralph Friedgen Tight ends Head coach, Maryland

John Fox Secondary Head coach, Carolina Panthers

Bobby Ross Head coach Head coach, Army

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)