The O’Brien-O’Leary Connection

Story posted September 13, 2013 in CommRadio, Sports by Connor DeKranis

Fans anticipating an out-of-country getaway still have to wait a year, but Saturday’s matchup may provide a glimpse of what to expect next September 1st. This week, the Nittany Lions (2-0) will be facing off against the Black Knights of the University of Central Florida (2-0). The two teams have met twice before, with Penn State coming out on top both times; the most recent being a 37-13 win in 2004.

Not only will Saturday be the first white out game of the season, but yet again, all eyes will be on State’s true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. One of the more talked about stories in recent days has been the almost 20-year relationship between UCF coach George O’Leary and Penn State’s own Bill O’Brien.

Back in the mid-90s, when O’Brien was a young man, fresh out of graduate school, George O’Leary approached him about undertaking an assistant coaching job at Georgia Tech (where O’Leary was the head coach). There were many other ‘would-be’ head coaches also serving on O’Leary’s staff with O’Brien, such as Doug Marrone and Ralph Friedgan. In his time at Georgia Tech, O’Brien developed a very close relationship with O’Leary, who basically took him under his wing.

During O’Brien’s weekly press conference this past Tuesday, he explained how grateful he is towards O’Leary for having taught him, “about tough physical football, great organization...” However, the friendship between coaches didn’t go without issues.

During the winter of 2001, O’Leary accepted a job to lead Notre Dame’s football program. His plan included bringing O’Brien along for the ride as the team’s newest offensive coordinator. Coincidentally, O’Leary was fired as the head coach job before recording his first decision, due to falsities within his résumé. His termination ultimately prevented O’Brien from undertaking his promised offensive coordinator job with the Fighting Irish.

O’Brien decided to stay with Georgia Tech for one more year before leaving for Maryland, to coach the program’s running backs.

Throughout the course of the 2000s, O’Brien and O’Leary would mend their relationship. The now 67-year-old O’Leary is still in contact with O’Brien.

“After I became the head coach at Penn State,” O’Brien explained, “I called him a few times, just on different subjects, like practice and different things he did, how he set up his schedule and his travel at Georgia Tech and Central Florida. He's been very helpful to me.”

O’Brien is grateful for all of the lessons he learned under O’Leary at Georgia Tech, and attributes those lessons to helping mold him into the coach he is today. Still, he won’t be happy without a win on Saturday.

Connor DeKranis is a freshman majoring in communications. To contact him, email