FOOTBALL: O'Leary will charm his way into fans' hearts
Assistant Sports Editor
I admit it, when I heard Notre Dame hired George O'Leary, I didn't know anything about him. I didn't even know he was the head coach at Georgia Tech. I had to read his bio in the Tech media guide. In my defense, we don't get to see the Yellow Jackets on TV much here in South Bend.
So I went to Sun-day's press conference with much trepidation and my arms crossed tightly. I didn't know what to expect. O'Leary isn't a nationally recognized name in coaching, at least in the way then names Gruden or Stoops are known.
I kept asking myself, "George O'Leary — who is this guy?"
He's charismatic. He's genuine. He's funny.
I'll say it right now, if O'Leary can charm the Irish players like he charmed me at Sunday's press conference, we'll win 10 games next year. If they buy into O'Leary's I'm-your-favorite-uncle personality and New York Irishman straight talk, we're BCS bound.
I mean, the first two things he said at the press conference were jokes, delivered like he was standing in front of his bathroom mirror. It was a cool confidence that seemed to say, "Hey, I'm going to win you a lot of football games, and make you excited again."
Maybe he charmed me because I'm used to Bob Davie's more-technical, less-inspirational speeches. Maybe I liked him because he answered the questions people asked him directly, with flashes of a deadpan humor that made me smile, even though I'm not supposed to even grin because I'm an "impartial" member of the media.
I've heard Davie talk for three years, and never felt like I knew exactly what kind of football coach he was. I heard O'Leary for three minutes and I knew that this guy is tough coach, but with a disarming demeanor that will win his players' hearts.
O'Leary's confidence and comfort on Sunday was unbelievable, considering the atmosphere he just came to at Notre Dame. It was like swimming with piranha in the Amazon and acting like they're your little brother's guppies.
There were a lot of people and students who were angry it wasn't Jon Gruden standing behind the podium. Not many schools bring the band to an introductory press conference, or print up shirts to mark the occasion. This is high-pressure stuff.
He cut to the chase. O'Leary talked a lot about winning, saying several times that he "came to Notre Dame to win a lot of football games." He defused talk about Notre Dame's academic standards, speaking about his experience at Georgia Tech with tighter admissions criteria.
Someone asked O'Leary when the Irish faithful could expect to see improvement. He asked when spring practice starts.
He was genuine.
A reporter asked him who would lead the Irish recruiting effort, and he said he would. "I'm my own recruiting coordinator," said O'Leary. "I know how to pick up the phone."
The best part of O'Leary's comment was that I believed him. I could picture him picking up the phone, and charming some recruit with his dry humor and his direct style.
Sunday, O'Leary made the Irish football fan in me excited for next season, just a few weeks after my attitude towards the football program could best be described as horribly sarcastically bitter.
Sunday, I bought into George O'Leary, with all my Irish football heart. Let's hope he's everything he seems to be, and more.
Contact Jeff Baltruzak at email@example.com. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.
All Sports Stories for Monday, December 10, 2001