Notre Dame names O'Leary new coach

Monday, December 10, 2001

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- George O'Leary was introduced Sunday as the new coach at Notre Dame, promising to make the storied football program one of the nation's best again.

The former Georgia Tech coach replaces Bob Davie, who was 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.

O'Leary, who led Georgia Tech to five straight bowl games, said he considered the Notre Dame job one of the two best in sports. The other is manager of the New York Yankees.

"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. That's what it is all about."

The 55-year-old O'Leary was introduced to a cheering crowd of several hundred people in the Joyce Center one week after Davie was fired in the same building. Hundreds of T-shirts that said "By George, It's O'Leary" were handed out to fans as the school's pep band played the Notre Dame fight song.

The Irish, who haven't finished in the Top 10 since 1993 and last won a national championship in 1988, hope that O'Leary can get Notre Dame quickly back among college football's elite programs.

Meets standards

Athletic director Kevin White said O'Leary met the standards he set in his search for a new coach -- a proven winner who could return the Irish to prominence.

"He knows what championship football is about," White said.

Notre Dame president Edward Malloy met O'Leary on Saturday in Atlanta, and the six-year deal was finalized that night. No financial terms were disclosed.

There was a lot of speculation about who would get the job, but O'Leary's name was not prominently mentioned.

The popular choice around South Bend was Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden, but he pulled his name out of consideration on Thursday. The agent for Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham said Notre Dame had asked Stanford for permission to talk to Willingham. Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said Friday that he met with White but was not interested.

Others who said during the past week they were not interested included Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Steve Mariucci of the San Francisco 49ers.

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. O'Leary was 52-33 in seven seasons.

"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 will play 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's 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 new six-year, rollover contract 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. He received the Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year Award in 2000.

O'Leary was the Georgia Tech defensive coordinator under Bobby Ross and left Atlanta in 1991 when Ross became coach of the San Diego Chargers. He 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. They earned five straight bowl invitations for the first time since the 1950s and beat rival Georgia three years in a row, a feat unparalleled since the early 1960s.

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