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Top 30 Greatest UCF Head Coaches: Top Ten

Short-term standouts and program architects highlight the top ten

UCF head coach Scott Frost hoists the Peach Bowl championship trophy. Photo: Derek Warden)
UCF head coach Scott Frost hoists the Peach Bowl championship trophy. Photo: Derek Warden)
Photo: Derek Warden

A lot has changed since the world emerged from the COVID-19 lockdowns, which was the last time we ranked the UCF Knights head coaches of years past.

In just three years, several coaches have added to their legacies, while others burst onto the scene and made their presence felt.

With UCF getting ready for its first year as a member of the Big 12 (and in the Sun Belt in Men’s Soccer), it’s time the count down the Top 30 Head Coaches in UCF History.

Criteria used to create this list include:

  • A coach’s impact on their respective sport and on the school (Induction in the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame automatically places a coach on this list)
  • Accomplishments during their tenure
  • Accolades they received during their tenure

We made sure to include at least one coach from every current UCF sport.

In case you missed #30-11. click the link below to check them out:

Top 30 UCF Greatest Head Coaches: #30-21

Top 30 UCF Greatest Head Coaches: #20-11

Now, let’s continue the countdown:

#10 - Gene McDowell (Football)

Gene McDowell was the UCF Knights’ Head Football Coach from 1985-1997, leading the program through Division II (1985-1989), Division I-AA (1990-1995), and into Division 1-A (1996-1997).

McDowell went 86-61 leading UCF to three NCAA playoff appearances (1987, 1990, 1993) and advancing to the Division II semifinals in 1987 and Division I-AA semifinals in 1990. McDowell won the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year award in 1990.

McDowell is known as the “Father of UCF Football”, helping grow the program on and off the field as he is credited with pulling UCF from the brink of extinction due to financial trouble. He served in a dual role as coach and athletic director in the late 1980s, getting the football program’s first $1 million donation from Wayne Densch.

However, McDowell resigned shortly after admitting to lying to the feds about his role in a cell phone fraud case involving several players in 1998. His plea deal cost him two years’ probation, 100 hours of community service, a $2,000 fine, and a permanent stain on his coaching reputation.

In September 2015, UCF honored McDowell at halftime of its game with Furman, embracing his contributions to the program.

McDowell passed away at the age of 81 on January 26, 2021.

#9 - Renee Luers-Gillispie (Softball)

UCF Softball Head Coach Renee Luers-Gillispie
Former UCF Softball Head Coach Renee Luers-Gillispie. (Photo: UCF Athletics)
Photo Courtesy: UCF Athletics

Renee Luers-Gillispie came over from Texas Tech and quite literally built the UCF Softball program from scratch.

During her 17 seasons at UCF (2002-2018), Gillispie compiled a record of 625-403-1, winning five combined conference regular season and tournament championships. She is the only UCF head coach in any sport to win a conference championship in the ASUN (2005), CUSA (2008) and the American Athletic Conference (2014-2015). Gillespie also led the Knights to seven NCAA Regionals (2005, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014-2016), including four regional final appearances (2008, 2014-2016).

Gillispie started UCF’s program in 2002 and averaged more than 36 wins per season with only two losing seasons, winning 35 or more games 11 times. In 2014 and 2015, Gillispie’s staff was named AAC Coaching Staff of the Year, and in 2015 they were named the All-Regional Coaching Staff of the Year. The Knights set a school record with 50 wins that season, leading the NCAA with a 0.93 team earned run average. The Knights reached as high as 13th in the national rankings and finished the season ranked 16th.

Gillispie left after the 2018 season to go back to her home state of Iowa to become the head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

#8 - George O’Leary (Football)

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Central Florida v Baylor Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

George O’Leary went 81-68 during his 12 seasons at UCF, winning four conference championships - two in CUSA, (2007, 2010) and two in The American (2013, 2014). O’Leary led the Knights to seven bowl games and three bowl wins, the first coming in the 2010 Liberty Bowl against Georgia.

But O’Leary’s best team was in 2013 when UCF went 12-1, won The American Championship and earned a BCS Bowl win over Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl as a 17-point underdog.

O’Leary was a three-time CUSA Coach of the Year (2005, 2007, 2010) and American Coach of the Year in 2013. Overall, UCF won 10 games or more three times during the O’Leary era.

O’Leary was arguably the most polarizing coach in UCF Athletics history. With all the ups, there were some tough moments both on and off the field.

On March 18, 2008, wide receiver Ereck Plancher died after conditioning drills, resulting in a lawsuit in which O’Leary’s practice methods came into serious question.

O’Leary also had five losing seasons, including two winless seasons in his first season (2004) and in his final season (2015), when he resigned with an 0–8 record after also briefly taking on the role of interim athletic director. He finished just five wins short of Gene McDowell’s record for the most wins by a UCF head football coach.

O’Leary was inducted into the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame in 2019.

#7 - Cindy Ball-Malone (Softball)

Photo: Noah Goldberg Photo: Noah Goldberg

Cindy Ball-Malone has taken UCF Softball to new heights in just a short tiime leading UCF to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances (2021-2023) highlighted by the historic 2022 season where the Knights finished the season with a record of 49-14, hosting and winning the program’s first regional finishing the season ranked No. 14 in the USA Today/NFCA, and their highest finish at the end of a season topping the No. 16 ranking achieved by the 2015 squad.

Ball-Malone was named the National Coach of the Year by Extra Innings Softball, becoming the fourth UCF Head Coach to win a national head coaching award. She joins UCF Football’s Gene McDowell (1990 Eddie Robinson Award), George O’Leary (2005 CBS, Sports award) and Scott Frost (2017 Eddie Robinson, Home Depot Award).

Under Ball-Malone, UCF won an AAC Regular season title (2022) and two AAC Tournament titles (2022-2023). It also won 40 or more games in three straight seasons, which is the first time the Knights have done that. The Knights have averaged over 40 wins in four full seasons at a 70% clip.

Ball-Malone currently is in her 2nd consecutive year as the USA Softball national assistant coach. In 2022, Ball-Malone helped Team USA win the gold medal at the World Games held in Birmingham. It is the 2nd gold medal for Ball-Malone who was an assistant coach at the 2019 WBSC U-19 Women’s Softball World Cup.

On July 15th, Ball-Malone was in Dublin, Ireland with Team USA as they qualified for the 2024 World Cup in Italy by winning the group by outscoring its opponents 28-0 through the event. Three Ball-Malone Era players have played for their country’s national softball teams: Jada Cody (USA), Katie Burge (Great Britain) and Gianna Mancha (Puerto Rico).

#6 - Amanda Cromwell (Women’s Soccer)

UCF Athletics

Amanda Cromwell was the women’s soccer head coach at UCF for 14 seasons (1999-2012), guiding the Knights to a 203-83-26 record, 11 NCAA Tournament appearances (which is most by any UCF coach in any sport), four ASUN regular season and tournament championships (1999, 2001, 2002, 2003), four Conference USA regular-season titles (2005, 2007, 2009, 2010) and the 2012 CUSA Tournament title. Cromwell’s Knights made an NCAA Elite Eight run in 2011 that included a win over North Carolina in the Sweet 16 in Gainesville.

Cromwell got to the Round of 32 seven times in 11 NCAA Tournament appearances. Keep in mind, UCF Women’s Soccer did not host an NCAA Tournament game under Cromwell until 2011 due to a lackluster facility in most seasons.

Cromwell left UCF after the 2012 season to become the head coach at UCLA, where she won the National Championship in her first season in 2013.

She would go on to become the head coach of the Orlando Pride in 2021, though she would be placed on administrative leave and her contract later terminated less than a year into her tenure in the fallout of an NWSL/NWSLPA Investigation done in the wake of the 2021 NWSL Abuse Scandal.

Cromwell’s response to the move is below:

#5 - Scott Frost (Football)

Scott Frost has brought the two remaining coaches from UCF's 2017 staff, Troy Walters and Sean Beckton, to Nebraska. (Photo: Derek Warden)
Scott Frost celebrating after 2017 AAC Title win by UCF over Memphis. (Photo: Derek Warden)

Scott Frost was hired as UCF’s head football coach in December 2015, replacing long-time head coach George O’Leary and interim head coach Danny Barrett, who combined to go 0–12 that year.

Frost immediately turned UCF around. He won six games in 2016, taking the Knights to the 2016 Cure Bowl, where they lost to Arkansas State.

In 2017, the Knights stormed through the regular season, finishing 11–0. They then won The American Championship, 62-55, in double overtime at home against Memphis.

Frost led the Knights into the 2018 Peach Bowl, the school’s second-ever appearance in a major bowl. In that game, they defeated No. 7 Auburn, completing the first undefeated season in school history.

UCF became the first FBS team ever to go from winless (2015) to undefeated (2017) in just two seasons. Frost won numerous national head coaching awards, including the Home Depot Coach of the Year and the Bear Bryant Award.

Frost left UCF to become the head coach at his alma mater, Nebraska, but his two-year run turned the Knights into a national brand and the talk of college football.

#4 - Jim Rudy (Men’s and Women’s Soccer)

Jim Rudy (left) was the first ever Men’s and Women’s Soccer Head Coach at UCF. Here, he iz standing next to his star goalkeeper, Winston DuBose, who was a three-time All-American (74-76).
Winston DuBose

Jim Rudy built and coached both the UCF men’s soccer team from 1975-87 and the women’s team from 1981-87 after a standout playing career at Rollins College.

He founded the women’s soccer program and led it to four postseason appearances (1981, 1982, 1984, 1987) in seven years with a 73-22-6 overall record. Rudy coached UCF greats Michelle Akers, Amy Allman and Kim Wyant. Rudy’s women’s teams advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament twice (1982, 1987), including the first NCAA Championship Game in 1982.

Meanwhile, on the men’s soccer side, Rudy finished his career as the winningest coach in UCF history with a 129-58-18 record and two NCAA Tournament appearances (1982, 1983).

Coincidentally, the last game Rudy would coach at UCF was a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to UMass in the 1987 Women’s Final Four in Amherst. Following that season, Rudy left to take over the UMass program, where he would coach from 1988-2009.

Rudy was inducted into the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001.

#3 - Lucy McDaniel (Volleyball)

Lucy McDaniel was the first coach in UCF women’s volleyball history and can be credited with five of the most dominant seasons in UCF Athletics history from 1975-79. During her tenure, she led the Knights to a 236-34 (.795) mark. She is widely known in the state as a pioneer of women’s sports going back to her time at Florida State.

McDaniel coached some of the best teams in school history, including the 1978 squad that finished an incredible 55-0 and won the AIAW Small College National Title in the Education Gym on campus.

The 1977 team (56-6) and the 1979 club (54-5) also reached the AIWA Small College Championship matches.

McDaniel has the second-most victories in school history and owns the best winning percentage of any UCF volleyball coach. She was inducted into the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006. She was also honored in 2017 as she was inducted into the UCF Volleyball Honor Roll.

#2 - Linda Gooch (Cheerleading)

Linda Gooch has led UCF Cheerleading to 3 National Championships
UCF Athletics

Three is the magic number for Linda Gooch, whose spirit squad began competing in the national championships in 1994. In the time since, the UCF Cheer Team has captured three national titles at the UCA College Cheerleading National Championships (2003, 2007 and 2020).

The Knights have secured a top-three finish at the national championships in each of the past six seasons and have finished among the top 10 in 17 of the last 19 years.

In 2003, the Knights won their first national crown, ending Kentucky’s streak of eight consecutive titles. That team was inducted into the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014.

In 2007, UCF claimed their second national championship, outlasting several SEC schools, including Kentucky once again. The team was featured in a six-part television documentary that followed them as they prepared to defend their national title.

In 2020, the Knights won their third national title, snapping another Kentucky streak while also finishing ahead of Alabama and Ohio State.

In 2022, she became the first active head coach to be inducted into the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame.

#1 - Torchy Clark (Basketball)

Bo Clark with his dad and Florida Tech Head Coach Torchy Clark.
Photo courtesy: Pegasus Magazine

Torchy Clark was the first head coach of the UCF - then Florida Technological University - men’s basketball team and served from 1969-1983.

During his 14-year run, Clark never had a losing season and built the Knights into a national power, leading the team to five Sunshine State Conference regular season championships (1976-78, 1981-82), one conference tournament championship and six NCAA tournament appearances (76-78, 80-82) in eight years. In 1978, Clark led the Knights to the Final Four with the help of a 24-game winning streak. During his tenure, the Knights were ranked in the top 10 nationally for seven straight years.

Clark won Sunshine State Conference Coach of the Year honors four times and won the conference’s Coach of the Decade award. While at UCF, Clark coached both of his sons, Bo and Mike. All three of the Clarks are members of the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame. Bo is the Knights’ all-time leading scorer with Mike second on the list. As a freshman in 1976, Bo was the nation’s leading scorer. Torchy and Bo were featured in a 1979 Sports Illustrated issue.

Bo wrote a book about his dad in 2020, and we spoke with him about it and Torchy on our podcast:

During the Torchy era, UCF went 274–89, winning 20 or more games in seven seasons. He was inducted into the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998 and is in the Florida Sports Hall of Fame as well. Clark is one of only three people from UCF to be in the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, along with Michelle Akers and Winston DuBose.

Following his coaching career, Clark went back to teaching and was an instructor in the physical education department at UCF.

With that, this list comes to a close. Did we get it right? Let us know below.