Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com
December 9, 2001
White: O'Leary on Short List From Start; O'Leary: 'I'm Here To Win a Lot'
By Joe Tybor
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) – They all talked about his passion and spirituality for the school, but the only reason an Irish Catholic from New York succeeded Bob Davie as Notre Dame coach Sunday was to win games: a lot of them.
Several high profile coaches may have said "No" to the Irish, but athletic director Kevin White insists says George O'Leary was on his short list from the start, and was the only candidate he introduced to a search committee to verify his choice to try to lead Notre Dame football back to the elite.
Like Davie, O'Leary is, at heart, a defensive coordinator; unlike Davie, he had a taste of a national championship when he was Bobby Ross's defensive guru when Georgia Tech won a share of the national title in the 1990 season.
One week after sacking Davie after the first year of a five-year contract, White turned to a man Davie, with a head coaching record remarkable similar to Davie's before the disaster that was this 5-6 season and, who at 55, is the oldest ever hired to be head coach at Notre Dame.
At an event that was more pep rally than news conference on the floor of the basketball court in the Joyce Center, White rattled off the reasons for O'Leary's selection.
"It's success. It's fit," White said. "It's passion for the place. It's an appreciation and an understanding for the place that you just see.
"And on top of that, he was dying to be here. This was a dream come true for this guy, and that means a lot to me."
White said Sunday he interviewed four candidates for the job since hitting the road last Monday. He didn't get around to talking to O'Leary until Thursday night and the deal was wrapped up Saturday night. By that time, White had already introduced O'Leary to the Rev. Monk Malloy, university president, and other members of the search committee.
White said don't attach any importance to the fact that he talked to other candidates before talking to O'Leary. He said O'Leary was on his short list from the start.
The others White is believed to have spoken to are Tyrone Willingham of Stanford, Mike Belotti of Oregon and Jon Gruden of Oakland. Both Gruden, by far the fan's favorite, and Belotti, withdrew from consideration. Willingham's agent told ESPN that they were expecting another, formal interview between Willingham and White, but it never occurred.
White wouldn't officially disclose the names of the other interviewees. When White headed from the West Coast to the Southeast, he found his man in O'Leary who finished 52-33 (.612) in seven-plus seasons with Georgia Tech. White and O'Leary agreed on a six-year deal, with reports of total compensation of nearly $2 million per year.
"Notre Dame is the only job I would ever leave Georgia Tech for," O'Leary said. "It's the pinnacle of all coaching jobs. In fact, I believe there are two great coaching jobs in all of sports. One being the manager of the New York Yankees and the other being the head football coach at Notre Dame."
Davie started this year with a .625 winning percentage. Like Davie, O'Leary had a season that failed to meet expectations. Davie was 5-6; and O'Leary 7-5. His Yellow Jackets were highly rated, No. 12 by Sporting News, in pre-season polls.
There's one other notable comparison: O'Leary's graduation rate for his first class as head coach was 30 percent, compared to Davie's 100 percent.
White said the "first and foremost" criterion in his new coach was looking "for a proven winner. Someone who could come in and restore our program to national championship caliber."
O'Leary posted 6-5 and 5-6 records his first two full seasons at Georgia Tech. His last five seasons were 7-5, 10-2, 8-4, 9-3, 7-5. Lest you've forgotten, Davie's records at Notre Dame were 7-6, 9-3, 5-7, 9-3 and 5-6.
O'Leary has gone to five straight bowls (of course, beating Davie in the 1999 Gator Bowl); but never, like Davie, to a BCS bowl.
Ironically, the debut schedule of O'Leary's will feature Maryland in the opener at the Kickoff Classic, a matchup between O'Leary and his onetime offensive guru Ralph Friedgen, who took the Terrapins to a 10-1 season this year in his inaugural as head coach.
"If Notre Dame really wanted a Fighting Irishman, they got one," Friedgen said in a brief statement circulated by the Notre Dame Athletic Department.
The Irish also will travel to Florida State next season, and O'Leary is 0-8 against the Seminoles.
Still, O'Leary said all the right things at an orchestrated event, which occurred on the floor of the basketball arena with perhaps a thousand students and spectators in the stands. The football team sat on chairs on the floor, a pep band played and pom-pon girls waved their stuff as Father Malloy, White and O'Leary took turns speaking at a podium on a modest stage set up in the middle of the floor.
Many in the crowd wore T-shirts, hurriedly printed Sunday morning that read: "By George, It's O'Leary" with a shamrock where the apostrophe would be in O'Leary.
O'Leary wore a dark suit, white shirt and black and gold tie.
If Notre Dame fans have any doubts O'Leary will lead the Irish to the Promised Land, White didn't voice any of them.
"I believe we have found the man who is ideally suited to become a part of Notre Dame, to energize our football program, and to lead us, as someone once said, ‘Onward to victory,'" White said. "I really believe that."
Even though O'Leary and White took questions, this wasn't really a news conference; and O'Leary did say the right things to try to rally the Irish faithful, who had grown weary with Davie.
At one point, a small group of students chanted, "We love you, George." To which O'Leary replied: "I hope you feel that way at mid-season."
"I came to Notre Dame to win games," O'Leary said, "and a lot of them. That's what it's all about. I'm here to get you back to where you need to be as far as national championships."
If you're Bob Davie, you have to be wondering about some of this. Davie was announced as the head coach in the Monogram Room upstairs from the basketball arena, not at a mini pep rally; and while O'Leary said his purpose is to win "a lot," he paid his due to where Davie has the program.
"This program is basically inches away from being where they need to be," O'Leary said. "There's very little difference between winning and losing. It may be one play; it may be one call.
"I'm here because I believe we can win and we can win big and make no guesses out of Saturday afternoons."
O'Leary said his first priority is to hire a coaching staff, then to firm up the 12 verbal commitments the Irish have from recruits and complete recruiting. He was to return to Atlanta Sunday evening and will fly back to Notre Dame on Wednesday, at which time he intends to meet individually with the current assistants and with each of the players.
O'Leary was noncommittal on whether he would retain any of Davie's assistants or which ones he would bring with him from Georgia Tech.
He was asked his time line, when fans might expect significant improvement. "When does spring football sta