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What’s Next for UCF with George O’Leary Retiring?

Doug James/Icon Sportswire

As I’m sure you’ve seen by now, UCF head coach George O’Leary is retiring, just two weeks after stepping down as the interim athletic director to focus on his duties with the football team.

This is a story with so many different layers, and it’s hard to dig through them all.

As far as his job with the team on the field, it’s impossible to argue O’Leary’s record and impact on the program at UCF. He compiled an 81-67 record overall while going 3-4 in bowl games, including a Fiesta Bowl win in 2013 that put the AAC on the map nationally. The Knights also won two Conference USA and two American Athletic Conference titles under O’Leary.

And with the announcement of his retirement, his time at UCF will be notably book-ended with zero wins in his first and last seasons as head coach.

O’Leary should be given credit for what he built in Orlando. In an area surrounded by programs of national notoriety, he found a way to gather and harvest talent, and produce a winning program that has proven capable of contending with teams of the Power Five.

As conference realignment propelled to the forefront of the college football landscape, he was able to guide UCF through moves to two different conferences  and position the school as a leading candidate for potential Power Five expansion.

UCF has played a huge role in the AAC’s speedy ascension from a fledgling conference to the top of the Group of Five. That fact certainly wasn’t lost on American commissioner Mike Aresco, as he released this statement following the news of O’Leary’s retirement:

“The American Athletic Conference will always owe a debt of gratitude to George O’Leary, who helped our conference gain immediate credibility with UCF’s Fiesta Bowl championship in our first year. George has enjoyed a wonderful career and established himself as one of the best coaches in college football – one who created unprecedented success on and off the field at UCF. His commitment to academic excellence was every bit as impressive as his numerous conference and bowl championships. We all wish him success in his retirement.”

While O’Leary was successful on the field and recruiting trail, his reign over UCF’s football program can also be defined by its darkest moment: the death of Ereck Plancher in 2008.

For those unaware, Plancher was a freshman wide receiver who collapsed during an off-season workout and passed away shortly after being rushed to the hospital. His parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit, and in 2011 were awarded $10 million as a jury ruled the UCF Athletics Association was negligent in his death.

With the welfare of student-athletes at the top of the list for a college football head coach, the death of Plancher is an unquestionable black mark on the legacy of O’Leary, something Matt Zemek of the Student Section wrote about Monday.

Additionally, news has also come out that O’Leary’s retirement was planned to occur at the end of this season, as his contract was amended shortly after UCF’s Fiesta Bowl win in January of 2014. The changes were not previously released, but were given to the USA Today and outlined by Steve Berkowitz Monday. The most interesting piece of information to come out is that O’Leary will be retained as a “special liaison” and paid $200,000 or more a year.

With that news, many will question O’Leary’s reasons for leaving, especially as the team is 0-7. Whatever his reasons may be, one thing that can be said for O’Leary is that he hasn’t left the cupboards bare. There is talent on the roster and the youth movement the Knights have gone through this season should benefit whoever takes the job.

Speaking of which, who is going to take the job?

It had long been speculated that offensive coordinator Brent Key was being groomed for the job, but it was actually quarterbacks coach Danny Barrett who got the nod as the interim head coach.

It remains to be seen if Barrett’s time as the interim head coach will be considered an audition for the job or not, and it may ultimately be in the school’s best interest to make a hire to separate it from the O’Leary era, whether he is sticking around the program in some capacity or not.

Regardless of who ends up as UCF’s next head coach, it’s obvious the team and school is eager to move on from a dreadful 2015.

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