Probably the best word to describe Mike O’Brien is “builder.”Now in his 10th year
as the athletic director at the University of Toledo, O’Brien has been an instrumental
force in initiating one of the most ambitious construction schedules in school history.
No fewer than five major projects have been completed during O’Brien’s reign, as well
as numerous smaller ones.
O’Brien, who has the second-longest tenure among Mid-American Conference athletic
directors,has also been a builder in an even more important sense. He has guided the
Rockets into position as one of the strongest programs in the Mid-American Conference,
both on the field and in the classroom.The Rockets have won or shared 16 MAC titles
in seven different sports under O’Brien’s watch. And in the classroom, O’Brien’s emphasis
on academics has led to record-breaking report cards for the department.
The building boom of capital projects under O’Brien’s reign began shortly after his
arrival at UT in 2002 and has never relented. He secured funding for the renovation
of the outdoor track, tennis courts and soccer field. The soccer field project was
completed in the fall of 2004, while the tennis courts and track were completed in
O’Brien secured significant funding for the Athletics capital campaign for the new
Charles A. Sullivan Athletics Complex and Savage Arena renovation project, including
a $5 million gift from Chuck and Jackie Sullivan.
The $30 million facility,which debuted on Dec. 3, 2008, can rightfully claim to be
one of the premier facilities of its kind in the country.Changes to Savage Arena included
a new seating configuration, improved fan amenities, new locker rooms and offices,
new suites and loges, as well as a new video scoreboard and sound system.
The Sullivan Athletics Complex features a beautiful glass atrium entrance to Savage
Arena, a new ticket offi ce, the Varsity ‘T’ Hall of Fame and “The Rocket Shop,” a
merchandise store devoted exclusively to selling Rocket gear and souvenirs.
The most recent addition to the Rockets’ building spree was the completion of the
Fetterman Training Center in 2010. The Fetterman Training Center is a 90,400 square-foot
indoor multi-sport practice facility that features a 100-yard Field Turf playing surface,
a regulation basketball/volleyball court, sprinting lanes and a long jump pit for
track, a golf practice area and new golf locker rooms. As part of the project, improvements
were also made to the adjacent UT Outdoor Track, including new permanent bleacher
seating, a press box and elevated viewing platforms.
O’Brien’s term as athletic director has been more than just bricks and mortar. Since
becoming the school’s 13th athletic director on Jan. 22, 2002, the Rockets have won
or shared MAC titles in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, women’s cross
country, men’s golf, women’s soccer and women’s swimming. In that same span, UT has
made four bowl appearances in football, two NIT appearances in men’s basketball and
three WNIT appearances in women’s basketball (including a WNIT championship crown
in 2011). In addition, women’s soccer advanced to the NCAA Tournament three times,
while men’s golf competed in the NCAA Championships twice. UT women have qualified
for the NCAA Championships in either track or cross country a total of 13 times and
received All-America recognition seven times since 2002. In women’s swimming & diving,
two Rockets have qualified for the NCAAs, with one earning All-America honors.
In the classroom, UT has produced overall department grade-point averages of above
a 3.0 in 10 of the last 12 semesters. In the 2011 spring semester, UT student-athletes achieved a combined GPA of 3.166,
the highest in school history. More than 35 percent of student-athletes received at
least a 3.5 GPA, with more than 62 percent earning a 3.0+ GPA, the 15th consecutive
semester above the 50-percent mark.
Among O’Brien’s other accomplishments are adding Ohio State, Colorado, Purdue, Arizona,
Missouri, Navy, Fresno State, Boise State and Wyoming to the home football schedule;
working with the Inverness Club to bring the 2009 NCAA Men’s Golf Championships to
Toledo; and securing a multi-year deal with Learfield Sports to increase UT’s advertising
O’Brien has served as a member of the NCAA Division I Football Issues Committee, and
is the current chair of the Mid-American Conference Athletic Director’s Committee.
He is also the conference’s athletic director representative to the Bowl Championship
Previous to his appointment at UT, O’Brien had 15 years of experience in athletics
administration at four universities, Kansas State (associate A.D., 1997-2001), Lamar
(athletic director, 1993-97), Pittsburgh (director of development 1989-93) and Ball
State (marketing and development, 1986-89).
A native of Iowa City, IA, O’Brien earned a bachelor’sdegree in elementary education
from Missouri Valley College in 1975, and has master’s degrees in education from Wisconsin-River
Falls in 1982 and in sports management from Western Illinois in 1986. Prior to his
administrative career, O’Brien was an assistant basketball coach at three different
schools from 1982-1986.
O’Brien and his wife Michelle have a son Jack(9).