UCF Coach O'Leary: My side of the Ereck Plancher story

As a college football coach, I must be tough and disciplined to be successful. Of course, that doesn't always make me the most popular person in the locker room. Few head coaches are.

But that's OK, because football is like a family. Cynics might disagree, but it's true. Players and coaches care for one another. Even when I'm tough, players know I want the best for them, both in football and in life.

That's what made March 18 so painful. On that day, we lost a member of our football family when Ereck Plancher died.

Nothing in my 40 years of coaching experience prepared me for the emotions of that day. As a father, I grieved for Ereck and his family, and I went to Ereck's hometown to personally speak with his parents. Later, our entire football program attended his funeral.

After Ereck's death, I spoke with our university officials leading an internal review of what happened. I also spoke with the media, including the Orlando Sentinel. As a head coach, it's part of the job to be asked tough questions. I have no problem with that, and I repeatedly answered questions from the Sentinel and other media. Those answers have never changed.

In fact, I spoke with the Sentinel again in an exclusive hour-long interview with Sports Editor Lynn Hoppes two weeks after Ereck died. I answered every question and had assistant coaches, trainers and other staff present to provide more details about what happened.

I spoke about the March 18 workout, which was customary and common for a Division I college football team. As I told the Sentinel, it was not a "mat drill" workout. Unfortunately, this in-depth meeting is rarely mentioned in the paper and it is omitted from the "Timeline of Ereck Plancher Case" published July 18.

I believe many of the Sentinel's stories have been biased and sensationalized, based entirely on anonymous sources, and questionable when judged against the Sentinel's "Editorial Code of Ethics" on its Web site. Part of the code reads that "efforts to reach news sources should allow them reasonable time to respond, even if it means delaying."

This did not occur when the Sentinel contacted UCF for a story [in which Ereck's father stated he had not yet received payment for his son's funeral as promised by UCF] about 9 p.m. on April 11. The story was misleading, and we said so. But the Sentinel denied a request to delay the story to allow us time to produce records. The paper published the story the next morning, then took nearly two weeks to set the record straight.

In addition, three months before the medical examiner's report was complete, the Sentinel quoted experts speculating in an April 13 article that the cause of Ereck's death was heart-related and questioning the physicals UCF gives student-athletes. The medical examiner's report proved this guesswork to be grossly inappropriate.

This is not a complete account of how I believe the Sentinel has been biased, nor is this condemning all of its coverage. The paper wrote many thoughtful stories about how Ereck touched so many lives, and a July 19 article explained the sickle-cell trait well.

However, 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.

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. But just as the Sentinel has written that I need to review what I did to get us to this point, I ask the paper to do the same.

In the end, our focus should be on Ereck's legacy. He was a tremendous student and a promising football player who was loved by family and friends.

As our team prepares for a new season, we are doing so without a member of our football family. But believe me, though he won't be on the field, Ereck will be with us.

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