Bruce Feldman reported on Saturday that George will step down after the Ireland game. There is no question that the man is one of the most polarizing figures in all of college football, and the announcement has given UCF fans a moment to question what his legacy will be.
He turned around one of the youngest and worst programs in the country when he came to UCF in 2004 and has built the program into one of the strongest non-power-five teams in the country. Even when he does leave he has left the blueprint to success for his successor. He should beloved for his on field success right? Well that's where things get complicated.
George O'Leary and the University of Central Florida are linked at the hip. You cannot mention the Knights football team without mentioning George O Leary and vice versa. He is the face of UCF, for good and bad. There is no denying that he has built the University of Central Florida program. He coached the team to its first conference title in 2007, it's first bowl win in 2010, and it's first BCS win last year.
He has earned the right to be considered a great program builder. UCF has to compete with the likes of FSU, UM, and UF for recruits, not to mention teams like Louisville and Georgia who have built pipelines in Florida. The Knights have often been left out of the race for the top prized recruits.
Yet slowly but surely George has managed to make the Knights into a program that can compete against the big time schools, as evidenced by the wins over Georgia in 2010 and the Fiesta Bowl earlier this year. He has found recruits that have fallen through the cracks and his system helped turn them into key contributors. One can not deny that the University of Central Florida would not be as successful without coach O'Leary. I mean think about that for a second: UCF won the Fiesta Bowl. It seemed improbable several years ago, but thanks to George this statement came true. It is his crowning achievement.
Nobody is perfect; we all have made mistakes, as has O'Leary, and it has affected his legacy. Everyone knows about the incident with his resume at Notre Dame. He has also been very confrontational with the media and fan base. In fact, he has told UCF fans that their support of the team has sucked. He even begged Florida and Florida State fans to become "Gator/Seminole- Knights." A direct insult to the UCF fans that has harmed his relationship with the fans.
Of course the biggest blemish on O'Leary's legacy is what happened in 2008. Freshman wide receiver Erek Plancher collapsed under the heat of the Florida sun during a practice. According to witnesses, O'Leary berated Plancher throughout practice and wouldn't allow him to even take a break. Plancher eventually died on that huge field. If that wren't bad enough, it was later learned that the team was fully aware of Plancher's diagnosed sickle-cell anemia. The media pounced, calling for O'Leary's job, but he somehow managed to survive that. Still to this day, media members will point to this incident as the biggest indictment of O'Leary, no matter his success.
So George O'Leary's legacy is not black and white. You can't put it in a neat box and say this is George. He will go down as the best coach in UCF history and every UCF fan needs to thank him if he does retire this year. But we can not forget his imperfections when talking about the coach and his legacy.