O’Leary builds up the UCF program and then hits bottom
It was O’Leary who made the push for an on-campus stadium, which would open in 2007. During this time he pushed for UCF to move up in conferences, and they would have made the Big East had it not been for USF’s blocking of their joining (a move that ultimately killed the conference). As it was, he got them to C-USA then the AAC. He emphasized academic success, consistently moving the team GPA to above a 3.0.
More importantly to UCF fans, O’Leary won at UCF. Four conference championships, plus another two championship game appearances were unheard of for UCF. That’s before you consider his win over Baylor in the 2013-14 Fiesta Bowl.
All of this speaks to his legacy at UCF, where he is still seen as the ultimate program builder and one of the key architects of the program as it is today. That, of course, is true too. if it wasn’t for O’Leary, then UCF wouldn’t be on its way to the Big 12.
Still, it wasn’t all positive at UCF. Shaquem and Shaquill Griffin are twin brothers who played at UCF, originally under O’Leary before Scott Frost took over. Both were all-conference talents who would go on to play in the NFL, and Shaquem famously won the AAC Defensive Player of the Year with only one hand.
The twins both wear dreadlocks, which O’Leary banned under an antiquated dress code. He demanded it be cut, which the Griffin brothers took personally, as other players had longer hair but weren’t asked to. The brothers found it degrading, and it has been implied that there were racial motivations to the decision.
A week later, O’Leary would resign amid a second winless season.
Then there was the death of Ereck Plancher, which was inexcusable. Plancher had an unknown sickle-cell health concern. During a harsh training day in the Florida sun, Plancher was struggling. O’Leary saw this and used it as an opportunity to berate him. He wouldn’t let anyone help him. He pushed him further. Then, Plancher collapsed and died about an hour later. O’Leary and the school would be found responsible in court.
That was before the 2008 season. O’Leary would coach at UCF until 2015, and due to his program building and on-field success, private funds built him a statue outside of The Bounce House. At Notre Dame, O’Leary is a bad joke. At UCF, he is one of the most complicated figures in school history.