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At revitalized UCF, O'Leary understands Tressel's problems

by | CBSSports.com
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The college football world is littered with reclamation projects.

Junior college players transfer after getting the boot, coaches go from running a program to being a coordinator and some players spend hours upon hours going through workouts in hopes of recovering from an injury.

George O'Leary and Central Florida ended their 2010 season with a Liberty Bowl victory over Georgia. (US Presswire)  
George O'Leary and Central Florida ended their 2010 season with a Liberty Bowl victory over Georgia. (US Presswire)  
In the middle of Florida sits one of college football's biggest recovery stories.

"This building wasn't even here 10 years ago," Central Florida coach George O'Leary said. "We built all of this from pretty much nothing. The [fieldhouse] was literally a swamp when I got here."

The fact O'Leary was even speaking as a head coach would have been surprising to most 10 years ago. After being hired by Notre Dame following a successful run at Georgia Tech, O'Leary was subsequently let go before coaching a game after it was discovered he lied on his résumé. He went to the NFL before eventually being given another shot to be a head coach at UCF.

While O'Leary isn't in the headlines for his mistakes anymore, Jim Tressel is. The Ohio State coach was found to have lied to NCAA investigators, failing to report his players receiving improper benefits. After making a mistake of his own with major ramifications, O'Leary is quick to empathize.

"I think Jimmy has a great track record," O'Leary said. "The coaches that are constantly in trouble, and I don't want to bring up names, I don't have any empathy for those guys. I've worked with Jim at Syracuse. I always thought he was a guy who knew the rules and obeyed the rules.

"Coaches make mistakes, I for one can attest to that. He came out and owned up to it and did what he had to get done there."

Tressel, who asked for -- and received -- a five-game suspension to match that of five of his players suspended by the NCAA, had a generally clean reputation before being embroiled in this controversy. The NCAA has already receive its fair share of criticism from fans and the media for their initial handling of the Ohio State case, and the inconsistencies of the organization seem to irk O'Leary as much as a recruit signing with a rival.

"I think the whole thing goes back to, you can make all the rules you want but you've got to enforce them," O'Leary said. "And enforce them fairly to everybody, not just pick and choose how you want to deal with certain schools and treat others another way. You're always going to have trouble. The key to all of that NCAA stuff is consistency. That's what I see lacking, consistency in dealing with the situations. Don't punish one school one way and the other school sort of goes away."

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The NCAA manual, currently over 400 pages long, and the preponderance of obscure rules are two issues in particular that leave the 64-year-old coach shaking his head.

"If a phone rings and the wrong guy picks it up, it's illegal because he's not supposed to be talking to a recruit. It's stuff like that which just doesn't make common sense," O'Leary said. "And there's a lot of common-sense stuff that I don't think you need a rule for. If the phone rings in the recruiting lounge and the recruiting coordinator, who may not be a full-time coach, is up there talking to people, how does he know who's on the phone? The kid could be on campus but he can't call him back and give him directions. That just doesn't make much sense."

O'Leary, who brought in the highest-ranked recruiting class in school history each of the past two years, is also beginning to see issues beyond the coaching staff's control with many of the players coming out of high school.

"You have more and more problems because there's so many more people are getting involved," he said. "I blame the parents. I don't blame college football, I think the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. That's why every coach I know of that's worth his soul has been in the home of the recruits so he can see the support system and what he's about.

"I think it happens much more in basketball with the AAUs and stuff like that, but it's starting to happen more in football with all these combines and everything else going on. Whether the kid has a runner or adviser, that's where I think the parents need to step in."

O'Leary doesn't have too much time to speak out against the issues plaguing college football with spring practice for the Knights starting up, but he has shown that one can overcome the mistakes of the past.

We'll see if Jim Tressel can be so lucky.

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