2015 is going to go down as a year to forget for the UCF Knights.
It seemed clear that this program would take a step back from its recent run of success, but I am confident in saying that I don’t think anyone predicted an 0-6 start with it looking less and less likely that a win will come. Especially after losing the newly-minted “Civil Conflict” to UConn, 40-13, at home in front of the smallest crowd at Bright House Networks Stadium since 2011.
Roster turnover, injuries and even player dismissals have all contributed to this, but when you talk about UCF football there is one constant: George O’Leary.
O’Leary has been the head coach of the Knights since 2004, and he has built this program into a perennial power in non-Power Five football. He has seen this team through three conferences (MAC, C-USA and American), and taken them from a low of 0-11 in 2004 to a high of 12-1 and a Fiesta Bowl win in 2013. In all, seven of his previous 11 seasons resulted in a winning record, and he has gone 3-4 in bowl games. After six games, a winning season is already off the table.
O’Leary’s Knights rank near or at the bottom of the country in a variety of statistical categories, including 125th in scoring offense, 128th in rushing offense, 127th in total offense, 127th in turnover margin, 121st in third down conversions and 112th in time of possession.
0-6 makes a lot of sense now, doesn’t it?
With two new coordinators and a young team, those numbers aren’t entirely surprising. However, what is surprising are home losses to Florida International and Furman. Even a down year for a program like UCF shouldn’t allow for that.
At this point I believe it is fair to ask: did O’Leary bite off more than he could chew?
In June, O’leary was named the interim athletic director Todd Stansbury accepted a position with Oregon State. That move sparked plenty of rumors that O’Leary was considering stepping down as football coach and moving into the AD office in the near future.
Those rumors were put to rest Monday, as the opposite happened. O’Leary stepped down as the interim athletic director to focus on football.
“Right now, I want to coach football and, again, I looked at the AD thing and put my time into it, but it’s not something that basically I’m gonna have a real interest in and that’s why I made that decision,” O’Leary said.
UCF’s chief financial officer Brad Stricklin will take over the AD job, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. He has been with the school since 2006.
The Knights have played the most first-time starters in the country (26), and that challenge combined with the remaining schedule (at Temple, vs Houston, at Cincinnati, at Tulsa, vs ECU and vs USF) may mean another win-less season for O’Leary.
“You know what the challenge is… [it’s] what we’re used to,” O’Leary said. “We’re used to 30 wins in the last three years and all [of a] sudden it’s like a culture shock the other way. You’re losing and so you’re trying to change that type of thing. Same with our fan base. You know, they’re basically spoiled a little bit as far as some things, and we’re going through some growing pains right now, which is what it amounts to, but the kids, you just got to everyday, go on the field and get one step better.”
I don’t believe O’Leary’s job as head coach is in question, but it is clear that dividing his time between football and athletic director responsibilities was a colossal mistake given the attention his team needed in a time of immense transition.