Every now and then I see an article about a coaching change and I just can’t figure it out. Yes, this is an article about the report that came out late Saturday night regarding George O’Leary; but before diving into that one, allow me to step back to last year and provide an example.
Last year, during the season, it was beginning to look as if both Texas and USC head coaching positions would become open. The “experts” at CBS penned an article in which they speculated about who would likely be hired to fill those positions if in fact they both became open. Dennis Dodd proffered that Texas would hire Kirby Smart and Bruce Feldman stated that USC would hire Pat Fitzgerald. There were more dominoes after that; but I just couldn’t get past those…and wondered openly if I was the naive one. Well, as we all now know, those two hires didn’t happen.
Fast forward to this past Saturday night, about 36 hours ago. I checked Twitter at about 9 p.m. CT and see all sorts of chatter stemming from a report that Bruce Feldman (who is now with Fox Sports) put out stating that UCF head coach George O’Leary was considering retiring…possibly as soon as following their week 1 game versus Penn State (in Ireland). For those that didn’t see the report, here it is in its entirety:
Sources: UCF’s O’Leary strongly considering stepping down in 2014
Bruce Feldman (Fox Sports) Aug 9, 2014 9:30p ET
George O'Leary is giving strong consideration to stepping down this season, multiple sources close to the program have told FOX Sports.
That move could happen as early as after the Knights' opening game against Penn State on Aug. 30 in Ireland, with his protege Brent Key getting to take over the program.
Asked for comment, UCF AD Todd Stansbury said through a spokesman that there have been no discussions of that nature at this point.
O'Leary, who turns 68 later this month, has been the head coach at UCF since being hired in 2004. The team went 0-11 in his debut season but responded by going 8-3 the following season. O'Leary has won Coach of the Year honors in three leagues -- the ACC (twice), Conference USA (three times) and the AAC (once). In 2013, O'Leary led the Knights to a 12-1 season and a BCS Bowl win in the Fiesta Bowl en route to a No. 10 ranking in the Coaches Poll.
The 36-year-old Key, who was promoted to assistant head coach of offense earlier this year in addition to his roles as offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, is in his 10th season at UCF. He was a former All-ACC offensive lineman for O'Leary at Georgia Tech. TheAlabama native was a team captain and started four seasons for the Yellow Jackets.
As FOX Sports noted last month, Key's stock has been on the rise in the coaching ranks and he has been an integral part of UCF's surge under O'Leary. Last season, the Knights’ offense averaged 35.2 ppg and his O-line did not allow a sack against, among others, Baylor, Penn State and Louisville -- all three teams that ranked in the nation's top 50 in sacks (the Cards were second).
Last winter, Key turned down a chance to become the head coach at UAB to remain at UCF, according to sources.
Feldman’s report really struck me as odd. Three questions immediately came to my mind.
- Why did Fox release this so late on an otherwise quiet and irrelevant Saturday night in early August? …And truly, why not wait to get O’Leary’s response?
- Why would O’Leary step down following game 1?
- Did Bruce Feldman just state as fact that Brent Key “turned down a chance to become the head coach at UAB” last winter?
Regarding my question #1, within an hour, the Orlando Sentinel reached O’Leary who immediately denied the report stating “I never spoke to anybody from Fox…I don’t have any idea what that’s about.”
Sunday morning I planned to reach out to UCF to ask about the report; but upon opening Twitter I noticed that CBS had already spoken with him. O’Leary went on the record quite strongly stating that he will coach every game this season and “intimating” to Jeremy Fowler that he plans to coach a good way through his contract (which runs through 2017).
Sunday, following practice, O’Leary came out even stronger against the report, “I’m not one to start something and not finish. I’m always going to finish…I have every intention of coaching 13 games this year and doing what I need to do to get this team to win.” If you watch the video of O'Leary speaking following practice you'll see that O'Leary also goes out of his way to say that not only is "who the next head coach will be" not his decision (he points out the AD and President will make that call) but he also seems to go out of his way to point out there are a "couple of guys" on staff that should be considered, not just Key.
Last night I reached out to Bruce to ask him about why they issued the report so late on a Saturday night in early August. Feldman chose not to go on the record.
Bruce has been doing this for a very long time. There is no doubt in my mind that he has George O’Leary’s phone number (or could get it with one call). I presume (and yeah, that might be my naivety again) that Bruce called O’Leary to get his response to this in advance. I have no idea why Fox Sports chose to release the report at the time that they did and without comment from O'Leary.
Regarding my question #2, “Why would O’Leary step down following game 1?”, I simply have no idea on this one and O’Leary seems to have made it crystal clear that he has no plans on doing this. Going back to my gut, I don’t think there is any way Bruce Feldman would have reported this without having excellent sourcing on it; so I’m just at a loss on this one.
Regarding my question #3, “Did Bruce Feldman just state as fact that Brent Key 'turned down a chance to become the head coach at UAB' last winter?”, well folks, that might just be the biggest head scratcher of them all in this report. Whereas the rest of the article is caveated with words like "considering", "could happen", etc...this appears to be a straight statement of fact. This one really had me thinking I was crazy because when Garrick McGee left UAB Bill Clark was the only person who was going to be offered that job. We reported it as such back then and I reached out to UAB athletic director Brian Mackin on this same subject yesterday as well. I sent Mackin a link to Feldman’s article stating that Key “turned down” the chance to become head coach at UAB last winter. Mackin responded directly that Brent Key “was never a candidate at any time” for the position.
So, here I am again wondering if I am the naive one. George O’Leary is about to turn 68. Does just about every 68 year old “consider” retiring? Yeah, I presume so. But, the timing of this article (including the statement that he might retire following their opener) just seems so odd to me.
Bruce Feldman is a very seasoned reporter. The fact that Feldman and Fox Sports published the article including a direct retort in it from UCF's AD leads me to believe that Feldman is holding more than we know in his back pocket on this one. Still, the timing of this one just really leaves me scratching my head. I guess, as with all things, time will tell.