Q&A with AD Mike O'Brien

A few weeks ago I had a chance to sit down with Mike O'Brien, Vice President and Director of Athletics at the University of Toledo. We had the chance to talk about academics, prospects for the upcoming seasons, and a few other topics. Read on for the full Q&A.

A few weeks ago I had a chance to sit down with Mike O'Brien, Vice President and Director of Athletics at the University of Toledo. We had the chance to talk about academics, prospects for the upcoming seasons, and a few other topics. Below is an abridged Q&A.

RD: It's starts off with academics – another record semester.

MOB: Boy, we are so pleased about that because our expectation of our student-athletes is that they graduate. Because ultimately, we all have to put the balls down and the bats, and the competition ends someday. [So] get that degree from the University of Toledo and move on with your life. Our coaches have done a terrific job as to the expectations of what we want to do academically. [O]bviously it starts with our student athletes…we're recruiting the right kind of student athlete to be successful in the classroom. It's really made a difference on campus too, and in the community, as to our perception. We're not just here for wins and losses, that UT is serious about academics.

RD: Every time you've talked about hiring a coach, or recruiting classes, or other press conference I've attended, the first thing you talk about is the academic side of it. That seems to be where it's starting. It's coming from you, and obviously your giving credit to the coaches and students. How does this kind of improvement happen over time?

MOB: Well it evolved because of a variety of people. It starts with our coaches, and the academic tutorial services, our faculty and staff, they take it seriously. No question about that. It's really been important to our campus, Dr. Jacobs. And it should be. It's why we're here – for our student-athletes to be successful on the court and in the classroom. Our expectation…Tod Kowalczyk is an example: graduated every one of his players. Tim Beckman, grade point average went from 2.3 fall semester to 2.9. And it's all relative making decisions on Saturday night in the Glass Bowl, or Savage Arena, or in the pool, wherever you're at. It's about discipline. The coaches, I use the term "bought in" but I'm not sure that's accurate…they've always been there…we should all buy in because it's the right thing to do.

RD: How are all these demands effecting recruiting? One might thing it could be negative, but it seems in spite of the expectations, the recruiting seems to be getting better. We're getting some very talented kids in spite of the expectations.

MOB: You would think most schools would have those expectations academically. However…

RD: You and I both know that's not necessarily true!

MOB: Well you said that not me…But we're winning, we're competing. On paper we had the best recruiting class in the MAC. Coach Kowalczyk was pretty successful with his academic program at UWGreen Bay. Tricia Cullop…it goes right down the line. It will continue. So I couldn't be happier with what's happening and I really do feel we're in for some very good years. With wins and losses too.

RD: The so-called "non-revenue" sports…you've had some incredible success the past season or two.

MOB: We've had some wonderful runs. Soccer, baseball… Cory was coach of the year, Lars was coach of the year, we won our first ever MAC championship, both tennis programs are doing very very well. Our golf programs are very solid. So yeah, we've had a good run.

RD: And baseball was as close as you come without winning the championship.

MOB: Right. It's amazing – the University of Toledo has never won a MAC championship in baseball. Cory is getting closer every year.

Switching gears to conference realignment…

RD: The first time we talked about realignment, the last time it happened, you said it wasn't done yet and it would happen again in a few years. Well it's a few years later, and it's happened. You don't think it's done yet, do you?

MOB: No. And who knows what the next step is. It could have been much more [this time]. It was headed in that direction. It's slowed down considerably, at least the talk and all the big conferences have said they're going to slow down and stay where they're at for awhile.

RD: Do you see this affecting anything here?

MOB: There's always the possibility. It depends on the dominos and the conference shakeups. I don't want to get into speculation though.

RD: I don't blame you. It's been apparent with the money and effort that's been poured into facilities and coaching that you're positioning yourselves for the best possible. I have to believe at this point it's a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

MOB: We shall see what happens.

Mike mentioned that the freshmen were either all on campus or would be very soon, for summer sessions (it was June), then offered that he is more impressed with Coach Kowalczyk every day. "He is so connected. He continues to recruit. That's our lifeline. He just continues, day in and day out. July is a big month for that sport because they can be on the road at various camps."

RD: How do you feel about where your "major" sports, football, men's and women's basketball, are at right now?

MOB: I think football is clearly headed in the right direction with Tim. It just doesn't happen overnight. Wow, 5-7 is not where we want to be, and nor Tim, but at the same time, there was progress shown from the previous year. The recruiting class speaks for itself. The facility competes with the indoor, that's all part of the program. We're getting better. There's no question in my mind. Our talent has improved, and that's nothing against those in the past...you just keep trying to recruit the best players.

Tricia, what she's done in just a couple of years: post season, last year going to the NIT. Again, a very solid recruiting class coming in.

RD: How would you analyze what she's been able to accomplish in 2 years?

MOB: It's amazing.

RD: It wasn't an influx of new people that turned things around.

MOB: She's just a quality coach, a quality person. She has a wonderful knack of putting the right pieces in the right spot. Great experience as a tactician, wonderful motivator. I kid her about that communications degree that she has. But she uses it.

And Tod, Tod knows he has a chore ahead of him. He's the right guy at the right time. He doesn't bat an eye at a challenge. He's not afraid of it, never has been. We're going to see a vast improvement this year, and as his recruit classes continue, and we have 3 kids sitting out this next year, you're going to see improvement in that program too.

Mike always turns the table and becomes the interviewer for just a little bit each time I talk with him. He's very interested in what the fans are talking about, what they think and feel about what's going on.

RD: One last thing Mike…Scheduling. Any surprises coming?

MOB: (with a wink) We may.

RD: But you're not saying?

MOB: Not til the contract's signed.

That contract was signed and the deal announced yesterday…the University of Miami Hurricanes will be coming to the Glass Bowl for the first game of a home and home series in 2015 and 2016. Mike O'Brien scores another major program visiting the Glass Bowl. And the hits just keep on coming!

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