The 10th head football coach in Georgia Tech history, George O'Leary steered the Rambling Wreck's storied program back to national prominence in his seven-year tenure on the Flats, including the school's most successful five-year run in half a century. With the Yellow Jackets earning a trip to the 2001 Seattle Bowl, O'Leary guided Georgia Tech to five straight bowl berths from 1997-01. That accomplishment is a first for the program since the halcyon days of Bobby Dodd, whose Rambling Wreck played in six straight bowls from 1951-56. O'Leary was honored with the 2000 Bobby Dodd Award as national coach of the year while twice being recognized as the Atlantic Coast Conference's top coach in 1998 and 2000. In his last four seasons at Tech, O'Leary's Yellow Jackets won better than 70 percent of their games, posting a 34-14 record, including nine victories over nationally-ranked opponents.
Tech's accomplishments in O'Leary's tenure include six winning seasons in seven years, five straight Top 25 finishes, a share of the 1998 ACC title, 12 wins over ranked teams and three straight wins over arch-rival Georgia (1998-99-00) for the first time since the early 1960s. Under O'Leary's direction, the program boasted five all-America players, including three consensus first-team selections, the 1999 Heisman Trophy runner-up, one academic all-America and 41 all-conference honorees. In his seven-plus seasons at the helm, O'Leary had an overall head coaching record of 52-33 (.612). His 52 victories rank fourth among all Tech head coaches, bettered only by the Hall of Fame trio of John Heisman, William Alexander and Bobby Dodd, while O'Leary's winning percentage is surpassed only by Heisman and Dodd. O'Leary's record includes losses in 1994 when he coached the last three games of Bill Lewis' final season, giving him a 52-30 mark (.634) for his seven full seasons. O'Leary compiled a 36-22 record in Atlantic Coast Conference play, more ACC victories than any previous Tech head coach. O'Leary's 2001 squad achieved the school's fifth straight winning season with a 7-5 mark. But with two heartbreaking overtime losses and a third defeat in the final seconds, the Jackets literally came within moments of a 10-win season. O'Leary did perhaps his best coaching job in 2000, and after leading the Jackets to a season that exceeded all expectations, he was honored with the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award. He also earned his second ACC Coach of the Year honor.
In what most had expected to be a rebuilding year following the graduation of Heisman Trophy runner-up Joe Hamilton, O'Leary steered the Rambling Wreck to a 9-3 mark in 2000, a second-place finish in the ACC at 6-2, and a berth in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. O'Leary's 1999 squad, which finished with an 8-4 record and played in the Toyota Gator Bowl, featured the nation's most prolific offense, led by the record-setting Hamilton. The Jackets led the nation in total offense, averaging a school-record 509.0 yards per game, and ranked second in scoring with 40.7 points per contest. Tech was one of only two teams in the nation to average at least 200 yards rushing and passing.
O'Leary reestablished Georgia Tech's place among the national elite in 1998, when he earned his first ACC Coach of the Year Award. After leading the Rambling Wreck to its second-most successful season in more than four decades, O'Leary was also selected the GTE Region I Coach of the Year by his peers in the American Football Coaches Association and was named one of 10 finalists for the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year Award by the Football Writers Association of America. Tech's 10-2 record in 1998 was its second-best since 1956, while its No. 9 final national ranking has been bettered only once since 1966. Tech tied Florida State for the ACC title, posting a 7-1 conference mark, while recording wins over four nationally-ranked teams, including Tech's first victory over arch-rival Georgia since 1990.
What makes all of these accomplishments even more impressive is the fact that O'Leary achieved them just four short years removed from the disaster of 1994, when the Jackets managed only a 1-10 record. In his first full season in 1995, O'Leary orchestrated a dramatic turnaround as he led Tech to a 6-5 record that included two one-point losses. Following a 5-6 mark in 1996 highlighted by a victory over 11th-ranked Virginia the Jackets returned to postseason play in 1997 with a 7-5 record and a victory over West Virginia in the Carquest Bowl. Long regarded as one of the premier defensive coaches in college football, O'Leary was named Georgia Tech's 10th head football coach on Nov. 28, 1994, by then Director of Athletics Dr. Homer Rice, three weeks after he had been elevated from the Rambling Wreck's defensive coordinator and defensive line coach to the interim head football coach. A veteran of 34 years in coaching at the professional, collegiate and high school levels, O'Leary returned to Georgia Tech in January of 1994 for his second tour of duty as defensive coordinator and defensive line coach after a two-year stint with the San Diego Chargers of the NFL.
O'Leary previously guided the Rambling Wreck defense for five seasons from 1987-91 under Bobby Ross before moving with Ross to the professional ranks in 1992. While tutoring the Chargers' defensive line, O'Leary helped the team to an 11-5 record in 1992 for its first playoff appearance in 10 years and its first American Football Conference Western Division title since 1981. During his first Tech tenure, O'Leary fashioned a defense that was the backbone of teams that posted a 24-9-1 record in his final three seasons, including two bowl victories, the first Atlantic Coast Conference title in school history and the 1990 national championship.
O'Leary's defenses at Tech produced three all-Americas in free safety Ken Swilling, outside linebacker Marco Coleman, and defensive tackle Coleman Rudolph, as well as 14 all-Atlantic Coast Conference honorees. Coleman was a first-round draft pick who was named to the 2001 Pro Bowl. O'Leary originally joined the Tech staff in January of 1987 after seven years (1980-86) as defensive line coach at Syracuse University, where he was elevated to assistant head coach under Dick MacPherson his final two seasons. At Syracuse, O'Leary coached five players who went on to the NFL, including Tim Green, the top selection of the Atlanta Falcons, Mike Charles, an all-America chosen in the first round by the Miami Dolphins, and Blaise Winter, a second-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts who later played for O'Leary with the Chargers. O'Leary arrived at Syracuse in 1980, his first collegiate position after 12 years in the high school ranks. He coached one season under Frank Maloney before MacPherson took over the head coaching reigns in 1981.
Before entering the collegiate ranks, O'Leary enjoyed an ultra-successful stint on the high school level in New York, winning nearly 82 percent of his games (37-8-1 record) in five years as the head coach at Central Islip High (1975-76) and Liverpool High (1977-79). O'Leary began his coaching career in 1968 as an assistant at his alma mater, Central Islip, on Long Island. He earned his first head coaching position at Central Islip in 1975 and posted a two-year record of 16-1-1 while earning Coach-of-the-Year honors in 1976. The following year he moved to Liverpool High in upstate New York, where he fashioned a 21-7 mark in three years, including a 10-0 campaign in 1979. He was named Coach of the Year in two of his three seasons at Liverpool. A native of Central Islip, N.Y., O'Leary is a 1968 graduate of the University of New Hampshire with a bachelor's degree in physical education. O'Leary and his wife, the former Sharon Littlefield, have two daughters, Chris and Trish, and two sons, Tim, who played for the Rambling Wreck in 1990-91, and Marty, a member of the Tech football team from 1997-01.