UCF head football coach George O’Leary has already started the process of improving on the 2011 season, interviewing prospective defensive coordinators, evaluating old and new schemes and instructing the players for next year.
While O’Leary stressed that there is plenty of work to be done this offseason after UCF slipped to 5-7, he is already anxious for spring practice to get here. The Knights hope to once again clean up in recruiting and then have several positional battles, namely at the quarterback spot between Jeff Godfrey and Blake Bortles.
O’Leary sat down with UCFAthletics.com for a question-and-answer session that will be broken into two parts today and Friday. Here is the first part of the session with UCF’s veteran head coach:
QUESTION: UCF lost six games by seven points or less. How do you evaluate the way the team played this year?
COACH O’LEARY: “This season broke down to a matter of six games, and in most of them it just came down to that last possession of either putting the ball in the end zone or getting a stop. We just didn’t get it done. It was six games decided by 31 points.
“Most disappointing were the amount of mistakes made, especially with a lot more awareness mistakes made by young players. Some of the penalties that were committed and some plays that just weren’t very smart hurt us. We went from a team that has been first or second in the conference in least amount of penalties to eighth. But still we have the least amount of penalties called against our opponents. We’ve been 12th for three years in a row.
“But overall, I was proud of how the football team came to practice every day and worked and played hard every game. When I talked to the team before we went out for games it was always about playing hard. Did we do that? Yes, but we didn’t always play smart all of the time. We hung together in offense, defense and the kicking game, but we just didn’t play smart enough. That hurt us in a number of games. Football is a game of momentum and we could never keep it all season.”
QUESTION: You said a couple of weeks ago that those first two losses to FIU and BYU caused the team to lose some confidence. What effect do you think they had on the rest of the season?
COACH O’LEARY: “I thought those games caused us to lose sight of what our goals were. The mistakes we made were so critical when they occurred and made the difference between winning and losing games. Young players have a tough time overcoming that. A football season is a long journey, but I just feel like the mistakes we made in those games with the fumbled punts and turnovers cost us in those games. And in some ways, we never got over that.”
QUESTION: You’ve already made some changes with your coaching staff. Some of the defensive numbers were good, but what was it about that side of the ball that prompted you to make the moves that you did?
COACH O’LEARY: “As a head coach you have to make some decisions that aren’t popular and are tough decisions, but you have to look at the overall team and the direction that we need to go to be successful. The decisions made are based on evaluations that I made with what went on this season.”
QUESTION: How long do you think the process will take to find a new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach?
COACH O’LEARY: “It’s amazing how many people are calling who want to work and there are some really good candidates. I’m in the process right now of interviewing four defensive coordinators who are at other schools. I’ll sit down after the process and make a decision on that (defensive coordinator) position. And from there I’ll go through and decide what we need in terms of linebacker and secondary coaches.”
QUESTION: You obviously will have a lot of talent back at the skill positions next season. How encouraged are you about that with them being a year older and wiser next season?
COACH O’LEARY: “I’m encouraged because our kids will be one year older and will have more maturity, but we’ve got a lot of work to do in the weight room and overall growing up. We have to understand what the word `responsibility’ means and then following through on being a student-athlete. We’ve got a lot of work to get done in the winter, but we have a lot of willing bodies on this team that want to get it done.”
QUESTION: With the quarterback position, you like competition and feel that it brings out the best in kids. How do you see that spot playing out with Jeff Godfrey and Blake Bortles?
COACH O’LEARY: “I wish we had the same competition at all of the positions that we have at quarterback. I said after every game that it’s Jeff’s team and the purpose of any quarterback is to be productive and move the football team. Again, Blake Bortles got some opportunities and he made the most of those opportunities from a production standpoint.
“The problem at most major colleges is when you have two quarterbacks at pretty much the same class, one wins the job and the other reads the writing on the wall and all of a sudden is looking to leave.”
QUESTION: Does it concern you that you could potentially lose Godfrey or Bortles via transfer when a starting quarterback is determined?
COACH O’LEARY: “No, it doesn’t. The name of the game is competition and you have to be able to compete for a job every day because that’s what makes you better. If the kids don’t want to compete then something has to give and I understand that and we’ll go from there.”
QUESTION: You stuck with Godfrey all season as your starter. What’s the level of your faith in a quarterback who led you to 11 wins and a bowl victory in 2010 and had this past season filled with highs and lows?
COACH O’LEARY: “No question, I believe in Jeff. He started all 12 games. But again, when you get on the field the purpose of the position is to move the football team and limit the mistakes made. Blake went in each game because I wanted to make sure if he had to finish a game that he didn’t have experience. But as we played Blake more and more, he was very productive with the opportunities that he got. So again, it was a good split with the two guys who played this year. The offseason has to play out and the offseason is where you make your football team. It’ll be a big spring for everybody, including the quarterbacks. We’ll see where the talent is and where the competition will be.”