Former OHS Coach Ken Baker thrilled for good friend George O’Leary
By Rick Pedone
Almost as happy about UCF’s historic 52-42 Fiesta Bowl victory over No. 6 ranked Baylor Wednesday as Knights Coach George O’Leary is Ken Baker, the former Osceola High head coach and O’Leary’s longtime friend.
Baker was at Glendale, Ariz., for the New Year’s Day bowl game and witnessed along with thousands more Knights fans UCF’s greatest victory of the 34-year-old program’s history.
“They had a heckuva plan. It might not seem like they played that well on defense when you see (that Baylor scored) 42 points on the scoreboard, but they did a great job,” Baker said. “George spent a lot more time on the defense this year knowing that our defensive front was a little weak, and he came up with a great plan. You give a good coach like George a month to prepare, and he’s going to put some tweaks in there that paid off.”
Baker, who led the Kowboys to the 1982 state championship game before stepping down in 1985, coached with O’Leary at Syracuse in the 1970s. Baker was the linebackers coach and O’Leary coached the defensive line under former Syracuse coach Frank Maloney.
After Baker came to Kissimmee, O’Leary became the defensive coordinator at Syracuse under Dick MacPherson, but the two men have stayed in close touch over the past three decades as O’Leary eventually took the head coaching job at Georgia Tech before coming to UCF.
“I talked to him (Thursday) morning for a bit. He was saying that he thought for us to win, he was thinking the (total) score had to be in the 60s and 70s. I don’t think 94 was in the plan, but it worked out,” Baker said.
The Knights, behind junior quarterback Blake Bortles, maintained the lead throughout the game, although the high-scoring Bears, who set a Big 12 Conference record for total points scored this season, tied the score at 28 in the second half.
“We were able to keep that lead in the 14-point range most of the way, and that helped,” Baker said. “(Baylor) has that offense where they are at the line calling their plays, and they get them off every 17 to 18 seconds. It’s a lot of pressure, and that’s usually how they break teams down. But, I thought our defense played a great game. You could see our linemen getting twisted a lot when they were trying to get in there. There was a lot of holding that wasn’t called.”
Baker said that he talks with O’Leary regularly during the season, although the two don’t discuss game planning.
“I wouldn’t be able to do that because I’m not seeing what he sees every week,” Baker said. “What they do is similar in some ways to what we did at Syracuse, but things have changed so much. We used to stay with our base zone most of the time at Syracuse and make a few changes here and there, but nothing like they are doing now.”
Baker said he thought that the Knights, 12-1, were capable of winning the Fiesta Bowl because of how well they played in games against nationally-ranked Louisville and South Carolina.
“The South Carolina game showed that they were capable of going toe-to-toe against a real strong, physical team,” Baker said. “(Gamecocks Coach Steve) Spurrier was able to make a few adjustments in the second half of that game. He saw that his guys were bigger and stronger than we were, so he just lined up and ran it down our throats. But, we were able to play with them.”
Baker, a Kissimmee real estate executive, said that O’Leary was thrilled to see his team win a BCS bowl game.
“He was saying how proud he was of his kids, for the way they played so hard all year. He sounded as excited as I’ve ever heard him before,” Baker said.
“It was a huge win for our program, huge.”