Dec. 9, 2001
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – By TOM COYNE AP Sports Writer
George O’Leary long dreamed about two jobs: New York Yankees manager and Notre Dame football coach.
He got the one with the team that had a losing record this season and hasn’t won a championship in 13 years.
O’Leary was introduced Sunday as Notre Dame’s new head coach and is certain he can restore the team to its past glory.
“I’m here to get you back to where you need to be as far as the national championships,” said O’Leary, who is leaving Georgia Tech after seven seasons. “I think this program is basically inches away from where it needs to be.”
He was 52-33 at Georgia Tech, helping it earn five straight bowl invitations for the first time since the 1950s.
His original contract at Georgia Tech had a “Notre Dame clause,” which allowed him to go to the Irish without a buyout. That part was removed last year when he signed a six-year, rollover deal worth nearly $1.1 million annually. Notre Dame would be responsible for a $1.5 million buyout.
O’Leary was the ACC coach of the year in 1998 and 2000, and he received the Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year Award in 2000. His team went 7-5 this season.
He vowed to uphold Notre Dame’s traditions and academic standards while rebuilding the football program.
“My job is twofold – to graduate our athletes and to win a lot of football games,” the gruff, no-nonsense coach said. “I’m coming to Notre Dame to win games, and win a lot of them.”
Asked how long significant improvement would take, O’Leary responded with a question: “When does spring football start?”
O’Leary replaces Bob Davie, fired a week ago. The Irish lost six or more games three times under Davie, whose 35-25 record gave him the third-worst winning percentage in Irish history.
The Irish haven’t finished in the Top 10 since 1993 and last won a national title in 1988, under Lou Holtz.
University president Rev. Edward Malloy met O’Leary in Atlanta on Saturday, when a six-year deal was finalized.
O’Leary’s name hadn’t been mentioned prominently in speculation about who would get the job with the Irish.
The popular choice around South Bend was Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden, but he withdrew his name Thursday. The agent for Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham said Notre Dame asked Stanford for permission to talk to Willingham. Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said Friday that he met with Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White but was not interested.
Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and the San Francisco 49ers’ Steve Mariucci also said last week they didn’t want the job.
White interviewed three others, but wouldn’t say who. He said the fact that he didn’t contact O’Leary until Thursday was not a sign O’Leary wasn’t one of his top choices.
“We were going to talk to a small group of people before we made any decision. It just happened to fall that way,” White said.
The university was tightlipped about the search. Even when people were handing out T-shirts that read, “By George, It’s O’Leary” on Sunday, university officials declined to confirm he had been hired.
On Sunday morning, O’Leary summoned his coaches and players at Georgia Tech to a meeting at the school’s athletic building and told them of his decision.
“Anyone who’s a college coach, their goal is to become the Notre Dame coach,” quarterback George Godsey said. “This job is something a lot of people covet.”
Georgia Tech plays Stanford on Dec. 27 in the inaugural Seattle Bowl. Assistant head coach Mac McWhorter will serve as interim head coach for the bowl game but is not considered a candidate to get the job on a permanent basis.
O’Leary was Georgia Tech’s defensive coordinator under Bobby Ross and left in 1991, when Ross became coach of the San Diego Chargers. O’Leary coached the Chargers’ defensive line in 1992-93.
He came back to Georgia Tech as defensive coordinator in 1994, and became interim coach when Bill Lewis was fired with three games left in the season.
After going 11-11 in his first two full seasons, O’Leary guided the Yellow Jackets to one of the most successful runs in school history.
O’Leary began his coaching career at high schools in New York before moving to Syracuse as defensive line coach in 1980. He was there until moving to Tech in 1987.