Posted: 12:00 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19, 2013
By Brian Schwartz
We'll finish our "Meet The Coaches" Series with a look at Associate Head Coach for Offense Tom O'Brien. Previously, we've profiled:
When the end of the 2012 football season led to turnover at all three of the major coordinator spots, Virginia focused on gathering a wealth of experience on the coaching staff. Fairchild, Tenuta, and Lewis each have more than 30 years of experience coaching in college or the pros.
But the administration wasn't content merely replacing coordinators and went on to add a new piece to the puzzle. While he has brought plenty of positives to the Virginia program, Mike London has demonstrated a few undeniable weaknesses during in his tenure. His game-management (and clock-management) gaffes have been well-chronicled, and his lack of head-coaching experience has shown through. When Tom O'Brien was let go by NC State, an opportunity presented itself.
NC State Athletics Director Debbie Yow agreed to waive O'Brien's non-compete clause (in exchange for $1 million of his $1.2 million buyout), and he joined the Virginia staff as the associate head coach for offense and tight ends coach.
Before he was a football coach, Tom O'Brien was a Marine; he graduated from Navy in 1971 before spending 9 years serving the country. His time in the Marines made a heavy impact on how O'Brien acts as a coach and as a man, as he commented at NC State, "I don't know if you ever leave the Marines. Somewhere your life may take a different turn, but those core values never leave. The things that you learn in the Marine Corps go with you through life."
Tom O'Brien got his start in coaching under George Welsh at Navy. He then came along to Virginia, coaching the offensive line and acting as offensive coordinator during the program's glory days. He left after the 1996 year to take the head coaching job at Boston College, where he stayed for 10 years. O'Brien inherited a sputtering program under NCAA and law-enforcement investigation, and left after leading 6 consecutive bowl game victories and compiling a 75-45 record. He moved to NC State and was dismissed after compiling a 40-35 record over six seasons. Despite the financial security in his buyout, O'Brien decided he was not yet done coaching, and took the opportunity to head back up the road to Charlottesville.
What exactly does the "associate head coach for offense" do? It's a good question without a definite answer. The way O'Brien describes it, he'll be an adviser of sorts for the offense and will have a voice in the direction of the program as a whole: "Being in my position here, coaching tight ends, I can step back and take a look at the big picture," O'Brien told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
For example, he has already influenced Coach London to better define how scholarships are dispersed; now, 41 are for offense, 41 for defense, and 3 reserved for special teams.
The one thing that is for sure is that he will be doing more than coaching Jake McGee and the tight ends, as O'Brien is an asset in any facet of the game. He will assist in game-planning and strategy, and will likely have some voice on in-game decisions when London desires it.
While the potential of having too many cooks in the kitchen is a legitimate one (UVA has a "head coach," "associate head coach for offense," and an "offensive coordinator") , the experience factor should mitigate concerns. O'Brien, as well as Fairchild, are at the point where they'll know and understand their roles on the team without stepping on any toes. After all, O'Brien is actively planning his retirement to his South Carolina vacation home (and isn't exactly plotting for a promotion).
Despite the uncertainty over his precise role within the staff, O'Brien's mere presence brings knowledge and experience that will be an asset to both the coaching staff and the program as a whole.
"There's a working relationship where there's no ego," Mike London told NBC 29. "There's a collaborative effort on a lot of things, whether it's practice scheduling, recruiting philosophy, just the management of off the field issues. A lot of collaborative effort on some of the things I believe in, but also some reinforcement on the things he's done in the past."