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UMass cross country and track and field coach Ken O’Brien hits half century mark with program

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(Daily Collegian Archives)

(Daily Collegian Archives)

Massachusetts cross country coach Ken O’Brien will forever go down UMass legend.

O’Brien has been the head coach of the cross country and track and field programs for 50 years and has been one of the major staples of UMass athletics for as long as anybody can remember. He is just the fourth coach of the men’s cross country and track teams in its 119-year history, which shows the great tenure of coaches in this program.

“I never realized that’s been fifty years,” O’Brien said. “I love coaching.”

Life came around full circle for O’Brien, as UMass is his alma mater. In fact, UMass was the only college he applied to.

Coming out of Foxboro High School, he was hungry for more athletic competition. O’Brien was a four-sport letterman and when he arrived at the university, he wanted to be a part of some team, but he didn’t care which one.

When O’Brien met the then cross country head coach Bill Footrick, his life changed forever, and from there running became his life.

O’Brien ran for the Minutemen for four years, graduating in 1963, and his development with Footrick led him to a life-long career in coaching.

Upon graduation, he began working at Ohio as a graduate assistant for two years, then went to the University of Bridgeport as a full-time coach for one year. But he couldn’t get away from UMass, as he came back as Footrick’s assistant in the fall of 1966. He then took over the head coaching position the next fall in 1967, a role he still holds to this day.

O’Brien has quite the illustrious trophy case as an athlete and a coach. As an athlete, he led the Minutemen to three consecutive Yankee Conference championships and one New England championship in 1961. While at the helm of UMass, he has won 19 conference titles (Yankee, Eastern and Atlantic 10) and four New England championships. He’s coached thousands of athletes and has been a part of well-over one thousand meets.

“I love that I can develop individuals in this sport,” O’Brien said. “More importantly however, my life and family allow me to work this job that I am so passionate about.”

To ask O’Brien to reminisce on only a few highlights across his 50-year career would have been an arduous challenge. There are far too many emotional wins, tough losses and memorable athletes, but they are all good memories that he will cherish for the rest of his life.

Even after 50 years he is still extremely excited to come to work every day.

“Each year seeing what the freshmen can do is like opening a Christmas present,” O’Brien said.

Along with Jim McAleavey, Patty Shea, Kelly Liljebald and Wendy Wilbur, O’Brien will be inducted into the UMass athletics hall of fame as the Class of 2016.

Tyler Movsessian can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MOSEphere.

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