July 4, 2001

Santa Clara's O'Brien has keys to success

July 3, 2001

By Glenn Reeves
ANG Newspapers

It was Sunday, June 17, Father's Day. The Santa Clara University campus was at rest. Virtually everyone in the campus community welcomed the day away from the workday world.

Except for Mark O'Brien. The freshly hired baseball coach was eager to get started, so he walked around the campus searching for a key. There wasn't a whole lot else he could do. He couldn't get into his office.

O'Brien's Sunday had started in Omaha, Neb. Stanford had lost to Miami (Fla.) 12-1 the day before in the national championship game at the College World Series in O'Brien's final game as Stanford's first base coach. He got up at 4:30 a.m. Sunday for a 6:30 flight that arrived in San Jose around noon. He drove to Los Gatos for a brief stop at home, then turned around and drove to his new place of employment at Santa Clara.

And walked around, all by himself, admiring the silent campus.

He finally gave up and went home. He figured he'd come back the next day, a Monday when all would be business as usual.

He came back, all right. At 6:30 a.m. Still nobody was there.

Where is everybody, O'Brien wondered, doesn't everybody want to get this thing turned around?

No, he realized, nobody wants it the way he did.

"So I went home and came back again at 8:30," O'Brien said. "This time I got my keys.

"I don't think I'll take a day off for a while."

And there you have the Mark O'Brien approach to his first NCAA Division I head coaching job -- overwhelm all obstacles with sheer energy.

"Nobody will outwork him," Stanford coach Mark Marquess said.

"He's a 24-7 guy," San Jose State coach Sam Piraro said.

The 31-year-old O'Brien is -- understandably -- single.

"I wish he'd get married," Marquess said. "That might slow him down."

O'Brien was named head coach at Santa Clara on June11, during the College World Series. That appointment capped a whirlwind ascent through the coaching ranks.

O'Brien has strong roots in the Bay Area. He was born in Redwood City and moved to Mountain View at the age of 8. He made a name for himself as a hustling second baseman at St. Francis High, De Anza College and San Jose State.

O'Brien always wore No.14 in a gesture to Pete Rose, a favorite player.

"I admired the way he played, although maybe not off the field," O'Brien said. "I admired his mental toughness. That's the attitude my players at Santa Clara will take."

He'll have to pick a new number at Santa Clara because 14, the number formerly worn by Sal Taormina, is already retired. That's OK with O'Brien, because he's well-versed in Santa Clara history. An uncle, Terry O'Brien, was a starter along with Bud Ogden, Ralph Ogden, Dennis Awtrey and Kevin Eagleson on the 1968-1969 basketball team that went 27-2 and was ranked No.2 in the nation behind UCLA.

O'Brien is also conversant with famous names like Bob Garibaldi, John Boccabella, Ernie Fazio and Tim Cullen from the 1962 baseball team that advanced to the championship game of the College World Series before losing to Michigan. O'Brien played football at St. Francis for Ron Calcagno, a catcher on that team.

"I know a lot of people who went here," O'Brien said. "Santa Clara has been successful before. Obviously, we want to do it again."

After graduating from San Jose State in 1993, O'Brien coached the Anchorage Bucs in the Alaska Summer League one year and then served as an assistant under former De Anza coach Ritch Price at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for three years.

O'Brien lists Marquess, Piraro and Price as mentors along with St. Francis coach Chris Bradford and Caada College coach Mike Garcia.

O'Brien came back to De Anza as the head coach for one year before joining Stanford.

The Cardinal advanced to the CWS in each of O'Brien's three years with the program. Getting back there is his ultimate goal at Santa Clara, but he realizes that's down the road.

"Omaha is a magical place," O'Brien said. "The winning feeling we had is a hard feeling to forget. I say to myself every couple of days, 'Remember the feeling.' It's something I'll never forget. But the first thing is to take care of business in conference. The next thing is to advance to postseason play."

Just don't forget the keys.