Winless UCF begins post-O’Leary coaching era with optimism
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) It’s hard to walk anywhere near UCF’s football complex without seeing its ”Charge On” motto emblazoned on a sign, post or wall.
A day after the George O’Leary coaching era of Knights football came to an abrupt end with his sudden retirement, moving forward is exactly what those left in the wake for the 0-8 Knights are now tasked with doing.
Senior running back Cedric Thompson said he and his teammates had already started to hear media reports of O’Leary’s decision to retire prior to their meeting with him Sunday evening. The news still came as a shock.
”It’s obvious if things were going the way we wanted them to go, the things that transpired over these last 24 hours wouldn’t have transpired,” Thompson said. ”It’s tough because a lot of the losses and the things we went through were on us as a team.”
If there’s any reason to be optimistic, it’s that Interim coach Danny Barrett – the man now charged with leading that effort – has been here before.
In 2009 Barrett was assistant coach at Buffalo when Turner Gill left to take over the top job at Kansas.
But aside from trying to get the Knights their first victory of the season, Barrett’s interim debut for UCF Saturday will come with the added melancholy of facing Cincinnati – his alma mater. It will be the first time he’s been there for a game since he left there.
”We have some young players on our ball team that have never witnessed anything like this, let alone be a part of it,” Barrett said. ”You have to let them know that this is a part of the business that no one appreciates, but what are you going to do from this day forward? We gotta stick together. We gotta stay together and find a way to win a ballgame.”
Since O’Leary’s retirement announcement school officials have acknowledged that Knights longtime assistant and first-year offensive coordinator Brent Key has a clause in his contract to pay him $700,000 should he not succeed O’Leary as head coach.
UCF President John Hitt said in a statement Sunday that he expects the new head coach will come from outside of the UCF program. That payment to Key will be made over the next two years.
Barrett, who was the only assistant under O’Leary with any previous head coaching experience, said he was unaware that there was any kind of coach-in-waiting scenario at UCF, but doesn’t expect there to be any awkwardness between him and Key.
Thompson said Barrett has a reputation of being organized and carries a lot of respect around the team which should bode well for him as he takes over.
”It’s just more of the same, only he has more of a voice over the team,” Thompson said. ”He’s just letting us know how things are gonna be. Not many things are gonna change…It’s not like he’s taking over and completely shifting things around. He’s still staying consistent with the foundation that’s been laid here.”
Asked if he thinks that O’Leary’s retirement could be a good thing for the program going forward, he said that remains unclear at this point.
”That’s a difficult thing to say, because we don’t know if it’s gonna help or gonna hurt,” Thompson said. ”Nobody can sit here and say `this is the answer.’ We don’t know that. So our plan as a team is not to think about the news, and not think about what’s going on. We’ve got four games to play, as a family, as brothers and want to finish the season strong.”
Despite a tough year, Barrett said there is still reason to be optimistic about UCF’s future.
”This program is gonna bounce back. This program is gonna thrive again,” he said. ”Hopefully it starts this week.”
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