O'Leary leads UCF to believe in itself
Only UH's Jones has completed a bigger turnaround
Heading into his second year as UCF coach, George O'Leary honestly believed his team had a shot at making a bowl game.
He might have been the only one.
But after an 0-11 record the previous year, O'Leary is looking to complete the second-biggest turnaround in NCAA history as UCF (8-4) takes on Nevada (8-3) in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Aloha Stadium.
Only Hawaii, in its first season under June Jones in '99, made a bigger turnaround, improving by 8 1/2 games, from 0-12 to 9-4.
"I think the turnaround was probably because of attitude," O'Leary said. "The first thing you notice about people is attitude. I thought this year we came out with a 'Coach me, coach' attitude, which is just what you want."
It was a turnaround for O'Leary for reasons other than seeing his players mature into winners.
UCF gave him his first head coaching job since 2001, when O'Leary resigned a week into his tenure as Notre Dame's coach after inaccuracies were found on his résumé.
Being around a struggling program was a new feeling for O'Leary, who had never won fewer than five games in his seven full seasons as coach at Georgia Tech. But amid the team's struggles, O'Leary saw things that allowed him to believe a complete turnaround wouldn't take as long as many people suspected.
"I saw a lot of young players that were just inexperienced and had a lack of maturity," O'Leary said. "It was not always pretty, but they played the game to the whistle and did the right things."
UCF's losing streak reached 17 games after dropping its first two of the season, but a 23-13 victory over Marshall in the conference opener began the team's incredible turnaround.
"I thought the Marshall game was the turning point of the season," O'Leary said. "Everything we did seemed to work and players started growing some confidence and each and every week after that they grew."
The Golden Knights won seven of their next eight games, including a nail-biting 31-29 victory over Houston at home. For senior defensive end Paul Carrington, who had played for three coaches in as many years, that was the game that cemented the player's beliefs in O'Leary.
"I remember going into the Houston game and (O'Leary) said if we win this game, we'll play for the conference championship," said Carrington, whose nine sacks were tops in the conference. "And we're all just like OK ...
"It ended up happening. He knew what he was talking about."
This is the first bowl game in school history, but the second time O'Leary will coach in Hawaii. He was the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech when the Yellow Jackets played in the 1991 Aloha Bowl, defeating Stanford 18-17.
"It was just a great visit and especially when you win that game, it makes it outstanding," O'Leary said. "If you're not going to play in the national championship, this is the place to be."
Christmas Eve reunion for McCarthy: UCF wide receivers coach D.J. McCarthy was a little more excited than most when he found out UCF's opponent for the Hawaii Bowl. Just two years ago, he held the same position at Nevada.
"It's like my new team playing my old team or my old team playing my new team," McCarthy said. "I probably recruited about 10 of those guys over there so it'll be fun, but probably more so for the players."
McCarthy coached the Nevada receivers from 2000-2003 before moving to UCF.