From the long hours he still puts in each day, to his old-school approach to the game, the hard-earned lessons from childhood still ooze out of O'Leary, as thick as his New York accent.
Years later, O'Leary's parents would have the Atlanta-area newspapers mailed to their home, the postman lugging his heavy bags up to the former postmaster's home so they could read about their son's teams at Georgia Tech.
His father passed away in 1995, before George was ever a head coach, but his mother would be a source of strength through the most crucial points of his career until her death in 2004.
'George is always going to tell you the truth'
O'Leary is best known for the snippets fans get to see. The shouting, finger-pointing coach on the sideline or the snarky responses during postgame press conferences.
The brashness has become such a part of "O'Leary, the coach" that it has overtaken all other parts of his public image, perhaps fairly so. Within the white lines on the football field and inside his office, it's a large part of how O'Leary functions.
Friedgen, then at Maryland, and O'Leary, then at Syracuse, first crossed paths as rivals on the recruiting trail. Friedgen recommended O'Leary to his boss, Bobby Ross. Eventually, Friedgen moved with Ross to Georgia Tech to serve as the team's offensive coordinator. O'Leary was hired to run the Yellow Jackets' defense. For five years, Friedgen and O'Leary carpooled to work at Georgia Tech, departing every day at 5:30 a.m. and returning home again well after 11 p.m.
Friedgen said he learned from O'Leary, the way he coached, the way he approached the game, and, of course, the way he argued. O'Leary's temper was the same then as it has always been, borne not of a quest for perfection, but rather out of an expectation that you work hard enough to justify any result. Win or lose, you did all you could to prepare the right way.
"As long as winning is the ultimate goal for everyone, you're going to have arguments," O'Leary said, "I expect that."
Not all coaches function best under O'Leary's management. Friedgen and O'Leary were similar in their approach, "maybe because we're both New Yorkers," Friedgen said. Several coaches, some who have gone on to coach in the NFL and others to college head coaching jobs, said O'Leary's fiery, straight-forward attitude always made for a stronger meeting room and, ultimately, a better program.
"George is always going to tell you the truth," Friedgen said. "That's why we're so good. It's very honest. A lot of times we don't agree. I mean I've called him [a jerk] a million times. I love the [jerk]. That's the difference."
'It was like a funeral'
The basement of the O'Leary lake house served as an escape in December 2001, a place to hide away from everything swirling around outside the doors of his home.
In the days after his resignation from Notre Dame, O'Leary drove to Eatonton. He had to get away.
From Dec. 9 to Dec. 13, 2001, the Irish-Catholic boy from Long Island had held his dream job. But embellishments on his biography — inserted when he was a young coach leaving the high school level for Syracuse in 1980 — finally caught up with him. And when his brothers, Peter and Tom, flew down to Georgia unannounced in the days after the scandal broke, they found him there in the basement.
"Almost in a catatonic state," Peter said.
George O'Leary had not shaved or changed his clothes. He was not eating. The phone rang and rang, but calls went unreturned. Friends filed in to the lakeside home to try to see him.
"It was like a funeral," Sharon O'Leary said.
The tight circle George O'Leary had built around himself rallied to bring him back to life.
His brothers convinced him to return some calls, and Friedgen encouraged O'Leary over the phone that life would soon return to some form of normalcy. O'Leary's agent and good friend, Jack Reale, set up a television interview with ESPN and then, finally, the Reynolds brothers and other close friends pulled O'Leary away to join them on a boat trip down the East Coast.