Baseball Coach Dan O’Brien goes old school. He wants players—and fans—to rekindle a love affair with the game.
When Dan O’Brien took over the SCU baseball team last June from longtime skipper Mark O’Brien, players naturally looked for a way to distinguish one Coach O’Brien from the other. So the team jokingly dubbed the newcomer “OB2.” But judging by Dan O’Brien’s cerebral approach to coaching—and his early victories in the 2012 season—“Obi-Wan” might prove to be a better moniker.
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Certainly O’Brien has a Jedi Master’s belief that success comes from a force inside. His early focus has been on connecting with an ancient tradition and changing his players’ attitudes, sometimes through ways that have no obvious connections to the game. How many other coaches would lead their players on an exercise talking to the grass to build a relationship with the field?
He also rented a theater to show his team the movie Moneyball, which he feels captures the love affair with the game that he shares. He outfitted the team in baggy throwback uniforms to convey the old-school attitude he preaches. He studded the halls and offices with photos from SCU baseball’s more than century-long history to tie players to the team’s heritage. And the email that went out to fans for the season home opener in February urged: “Fall in love again ...”
“We don’t go a day without meeting as a team to talk about why what we are doing is bigger than all of us,” says O’Brien, 40, who counts Steve Jobs and UCLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden among his inspirations. He’s as likely to browse management books as tomes on coaching.
O’Brien developed his bag of tricks during 14 years as head coach of his alma mater, U.C. San Diego, a position that he assumed when he was just 26. Despite scant scholarships, he turned the Tritons into perennial winners—first at the Division III level and then at Division II—leaving as the most winning coach in school history and as a two-time National Coach of the Year.
Success seems to have followed him north, as he takes on responsibilities coaching at Division I Santa Clara. The Broncos opened the season with five victories in a row. At press time, they had broken into the top 50 teams nationally—not bad for a team picked to finish last in the West Coast Conference. Nothing second-rate about OB2.