George O'Leary: Broken rules isolated

Updated: November 11, 2011, 7:59 AM ET
Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A day after Central Florida's football and basketball programs were hit with allegations of rampant recruiting violations by the NCAA, the coaches of those teams maintained the problems are isolated and not systemic, and that they are primed to move forward.

UCF football coach George O'Leary and men's basketball coach Donnie Jones spoke for the first time Thursday since UCF athletic director Keith Tribble and a football assistant, top recruiter David Kelly, resigned after the NCAA cited both for unethical conduct for violations including involvement with runners for sports agents and cash payments and gifts to recruits.

Jones was suspended by UCF's president John Hitt for three conference games and given a reprimand. O'Leary was not cited for wrongdoing in the NCAA's report.

O'Leary said he has talked to the team about Hitt's announcement Wednesday and that the focus now is moving forward.

In this situation it's one guy that caused all these people problems. One guy and not wholesale doing what you're not supposed to do. So I don't think it's a major problem or leak or anything in the program.

-- UCF football coach George O'Leary

"Anytime the NCAA comes in you better have all your T's and I's dotted and crossed," O'Leary said. "They come in usually for a reason...I think the university did what they had to do and I think basically (you) have to move on from this point.

"...I addressed it that basically people have responsibilities as far as players or coaches and it's pretty well spelled out that direction. We're held accountable for our actions, too."

The school received an inquiry letter in August regarding the latest violations involved the relationship Ken Caldwell, a recruiter for a professional sports agency and associate Brandon Bender.

The NCAA said that Caldwell and Bender "assisted the institution in the recruitment of six men's basketball players and five football perspective student-athletes" through inducements including cash payments. It also said that Tribble, Caldwell and Jeff Lagos, a "known representative of the institution's athletics interests, attempted to arrange employment" for people involved.

The Knights' football team is 4-5 and will try to win for the first time on the road Saturday when they travel to 8-1 Southern Mississippi (No. 22 BCS, No. 25 AP). Thursday was the team's last full practice before heading to Hattiesburg.

Jones' basketball team also practiced Thursday and will open their regular season Saturday afternoon against St. Thomas (Fla.).

Players were not made available to the media after either practice session.

Citing the pending NCAA legislation, Jones declined to answer any specific questions on the case, but said he is running a clean program.

"It's just hard," Jones said. "One because you don't get to coach your team for three games and that's always very tough emotionally. But I've got great respect for Dr. Hitt and this great university and I respect the penalty, and I also accept the mistakes we made.

"I think we're just going to improve and get better and represent this school in a first-class manner."

Basketball players A.J. Rompza and Jeff Jordan, both seniors, sat out the Knights exhibition win over West Virginia Tech last week because of what officials said were separate and unrelated NCAA eligibility matters.

Senior P.J. Gaynor and juniors Marcus Jordan and Josh Crittle were also benched for undisclosed violations of team rules. The Jordans are sons of NBA legend Michael Jordan.

Jones said as of Thursday, Jeff Jordan is eligible, but the others remain out. He called Gaynor, Marcus Jordan and Crittle's suspensions "an in-house matter." But he also encouraged there not to be an overall rush to judgment.

"These are allegations," Jones said. "And we still have time. We have 90 days to respond to that and we will have an attorney as well who will respond to those...We talked about things within our team and within our family."

UCF is currently on NCAA probation until February of 2012 for football staff members placing impermissible calls to perspective recruits between 2007 and 2009. It's the reason why UCF has been labeled a repeat offender of NCAA rules and must undergo a hearing in April in front of the Committee on Infractions.

Despite that, O'Leary deflected the notion there is a systemic issue to correct.

"I think they're incidents," he said. "The guy with the phones is no longer here. I would have fired him if I had known about it beforehand. But it's a one-time incident in each situation. In this situation it's one guy that caused all these people problems. One guy and not wholesale doing what you're not supposed to do. So I don't think it's a major problem or leak or anything in the program.

"I think it's basically that you have to be smart in who you deal with and basically understand that there's ramifications when you do."

Al Harms, who is serving as interim AD said the 90-day period of before UCF's response to the NCAA will be used to also look at how the athletic department does business.

"We've got some homework to do and we will study that and study that thoroughly and part of that will be making absolutely sure that we have programs and policies and people in place to make sure that we don't ever have this problem again.

The report referenced a total of 11 either current or potential recruits to UCF's football and basketball programs that were involved in the violations, though all the names were redacted. But Hitt said Wednesday that Rompza was the only one who has ever actually played for a UCF team.

Saturday will be the football's team's first game without Kelly, who had been at UCF with O'Leary since 2006 and was a popular assistant among players. He is credited most with helping UCF make recruiting inroads into the Miami area. Kelly was the assistant that directly recruited current quarterback Jeff Godfrey.

O'Leary said he doesn't plan to make any major interim staff changes to replace Kelly. The coach said the receiving corps will be taken under the wing of offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe, while he will conduct and oversee all team meetings for the receivers.

O'Leary said he is thinking about the families of both Kelly and Tribble.

"It's sad when any coach has to resign," O'Leary said. "I think some things you have no control over. I think good people usually end up on their feet and I think that's what will occur. But right now it's a tough time for both Keith and Dave and I wish them well. And I think when the dust all settles, hopefully everything ends fine for them and their families."


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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