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O’Leary gives his take on player’s death

July 29, 2008

It appears that the beef between UCF head coach George O’Leary and the Orlando Sentinel is on its way to being resolved but not before O’Leary wrote a lengthy op-ed piece detailing his side of the Erick Plancher story. Plancher died during off-season drills in March, sparking a war of words between the paper and UCF’s administration (including O’Leary, AD Keith Tribble, and president John Hitt).

In the piece, O’Leary blasts the paper, which is the only daily newspaper that covers UCF home and away game, writing: “I believe it is beneath the Sentinel to sensationalize this tragedy as it has. All of this has led me to discontinue conversations with the paper for the time being.”

O’Leary and UCF have repeatedly accused the paper of printing errors in the days that followed Plancher’s death but have declined to elaborate on what those errors were. Newspapers, you see, are in the habit of admitting their mistakes but can only do so when told what those errors are.

As a result of this beef, O’Leary refused to talk to Sentinel reporters at Conference USA media day and refused to answer questions from other reporters when a Sentinel reporter was present.

Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi correctly pointed out, in a column last week about the snub :

“He will come to realize that boycotting the Orlando Sentinel, the only media outlet that covers his UCF team at every home and away game, is just not a smart move.”

Bianchi went on to write:

“The thing is, this is a lose-lose situation for everybody. For the Sentinel. For O’Leary. And for UCF’s players, fans and sponsors. It’s certainly understandable that O’Leary is upset about the Sentinel’s aggressive investigative coverage in the wake of the tragic death of UCF freshman football player Ereck Plancher. Nobody in sports likes to be scrutinized and second-guessed.”

This was a story I followed pretty closely from start to finish as my girlfriend is a student at UCF and I follow the program casually. What I think happened, and this is pure speculation, is that the paper pressed the athletic department for details on Plancher’s death and the department did a poor job of handling the story. Whether they want to admit it or not, my guess is that the paper gave the paper misleading information, information that would later prove to be false, and then tried to make the paper out to be the bad guy because if it weren’t for those pesky reporters, they wouldn’t have given out bad — inevitably false — information. Had they been truthful from the very beginning about the circumstances leading up to Plancher’s death, and not been so concerned with avoiding any liability they might incur from his untimely passing, UCF could have avoided going to the mattresses with the only metropolitan daily in the region that cares about what happens on that campus.

It appears, however, that O’Leary, a man with no shortage of credibility issues (SEE: HIS THREE-HOUR TENURE AT NOTRE DAME) is beginning to understand what a boycott of the Sentinel could mean for his program and is beginning to see the light.

“When fall practice begins, I expect to reach an understanding with the Sentinel so we can work together again. It is in both of our interests for that to happen,” O’Leary wrote in the piece.

Maybe he isn’t as stupid as he’s been acting.

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