ORLANDO, Fla. - University of Central Florida head football coach George O'Leary is "on the record" in the case of a football player who died on the practice field.
O'Leary took the stand behind closed doors May 4 regarding the wrongful death lawsuit brought by player Ereck Plancher's family, but a transcript is now on file in Orange circuit court.
He testified under oath for nearly three and a half hours, and repeated several times over that he knew Plancher had a medical condition that put him at risk, that three other players also had the same condition, and that it was the responsibility of trainers, not coaches, to ensure the safety and well-being of players.
Plancher was doing drills inside the Nicholson Fieldhouse when he collapsed March 18, 2008. He was rushed to a hospital but died a short time later.
An autopsy showed he died of complications from sickle cell trait -- a condition his family claims he knew nothing about and are suing UCF and its athletics association. The trait can cause death when an individual becomes over-exerted.
Head trainer Mary Vander Heiden previously testified that she told Plancher he tested positive for the trait, but there's no written proof.
Newly filed court documents show O'Leary testified that he was aware of Plancher's condition in June 2007, nearly a year before Plancher's death.
During his deposition, O'Leary was questioned by Attorney Steve Yerrid, representing the Ereck's parents, Enock and Gisele. "Were you told, Coach O'Leary, that Ereck Plancher had sickle cell trait? Were you specifically sat down and counseled that this particular student-athlete that you were going to coach on a football field had sickle cell trait?" asked Yerrid. "Yes I was," O'Leary replied. O'Leary also testified that it was Vander Heiden's responsibility to tell Ereck and his family that he could be at serious risk.
"They (players) are tested initially for the sickle cell trait, and if it shows positive, there's counseling from the trainer, notification of the parents, and notification of the coach. That's how I knew about Ereck Plancher having sickle cell," O'Leary said.
Yerrid asked, "Have you, Coach O'Leary, seen any documentation… that this notification occurred?"
O'Leary replied that he had not.
UCF and its athletics department contend it doesn't matter what Plancher knew or didn't know about his health, because he signed a waiver, relieving the school of any medical liability. However, O'Leary made it clear players were constantly monitored and coaches stepped back when trainers addresses health issues.
"If somebody says, look Coach, this player cannot play, you say 'okay.?'" Yerrid asked.
"That's accurate," said O'Leary.
"Had you been educated about [the symptoms of sickle cell trait]?" Yerrid inquired.
"I'm not an expert in that," O'Leary replied.
On the day Plancher died, O'Leary said he "saw no problems throughout the practice." He also recalled when he last saw Plancher alive, just before paramedics arrived.
"I grabbed his hand and said squeeze my hand," O'Leary said.
"Did he squeeze it?" Yerrid asked.
"Yes, he did," O'Leary replied.
The head football coach, who is in charge of a staff of 140 plus personnel at UCF, also strongly denied that he cursed and berated Plancher minutes before he collapsed.
O'Leary said he expressed disappointment in Plancher's workout that day but that his cursing was directed at another player who was not following instructions.
A hearing in the family's negligence suit against UCF begins Friday at 1:30 p.m. at the Orange County Courthouse.