July 9, 2003
Brian O’Connor, associate head baseball coach at Notre Dame for the last two years and a member of the Irish coaching staff for nine seasons, has been named head baseball coach at the University of Virginia, as announced today by UVa athletic director Craig Littlepage.
The hiring ends one of the most successful head coach and assistant coach combinations in Notre Dame athletics history, as O’Connor and Irish head coach Paul Mainieri guided the Notre Dame baseball program into a spot among the nation’s elite. That nine-year partnership had ranked as the second-longest active coaching combination among Notre Dame’s current sports, with Joe Piane’s track-and-field staff including Tim Connelly, John Millar and Scott Windsor for more than a decade (Connelly and Windsor just completed their 15th seasons on Piane’s staff, Millar his 13th).
“The past few days have run the gamut of emotions, as this is both a happy and sad day for those associated with the Notre Dame baseball program,” said Mainieri. “I always felt that Brian was the best assistant coach in the country and truly had developed great qualities to become a head coach – and nobody deserves this opportunity for himself and his family any more than Brian.
“Brian had significant responsibilities with this program and his experiences have prepared him well for this challenge. He is a tremendous evaluator of talent, a great communicator, a clever game technician and a true motivator who has the wisdom to make the tough decisions,” added Mainieri. “Brian also always has put the student-athlete’s welfare first and foremost in his mind, and for that reason the players have really responded to him.
“One of the great things about Brian’s impact on this program is that he has helped raise the level of success and respect for Notre Dame baseball, and we all have learned from his professionalism and baseball knowledge. His impact will continue to be felt in years to come as others – coaches and players alike – look to maintain the standard he has helped set for this program.”
O’Connor’s primary responsibilities with the Irish had included the dual roles of recruiting coordinator and pitching coach for all but the 2003 season.
“We made the transition last season to having assistant coach David Grewe take over as recruiting coordinator, to lessen the impact of Brian inevitably taking a head-coaching position,” said Mainieri. “David has excelled in that role, as evidenced by the excellent class that we have signed for next season, and I don’t think we will skip a beat in our future recruiting efforts.
“Because of Brian’s hard work in the areas of recruiting and pitching coach, it is now a very attractive position in the profession. I owe it to our returning and incoming players to work tirelessly in finding the most competent pitching coach, someone who also can contribute greatly in the recruiting efforts, so we can maintain the high standard of excellence that Brian established in his role.”
O’Connor’s 2004 Virginia team is set to include rising third-year pitcher Adam Laird, brother of former Notre Dame pitcher and ’03 graduate Matt Laird (who recently signed a free-agent contract with the Chicago Cubs organization).
See quotes from O’Connor and Littlepage below, plus final updated bio. notes (following ’03 season).
BRIAN O’CONNOR: “To be the head baseball coach at the University of Virginia is a tremendous honor and opportunity. The combination of one of the premier athletic departments in the nation, school tradition and excellence in academics was very attractive to me. I’m extremely excited about the opportunity at Virginia for my family and me. … The direct attention Craig Littlepage gave to this search was very impressive. His efforts in finding the right fit for the University of Virginia showed me the commitment that exists to the baseball program. I took this job with the goal of Virginia becoming a consistent winning program. Under Craig Littlepage’s leadership, we will work to make the experience for the student-athletes, fans, supporters and the Charlottesville community one of which we will all be proud. … I look back at my nine years at the University of Notre Dame with very special memories. The experience of working with great people and outstanding student-athletes has allowed me to grow as a person and a coach at the highest level of collegiate baseball. My tenure at Notre Dame has prepared me to succeed in the Atlantic Coast Conference as the head coach at the University of Virginia. It’s now time for me to focus my enthusiasm and energy on our program at Virginia. … I’m very passionate about developing student-athletes while creating an exciting, winning environment. I look forward to meeting with the players and sharing with them my vision for the future of this baseball program.”
VIRGINIA A.D. CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: “Brian O’Connor will bring energy and enthusiasm to our baseball program, and a great understanding of the landscape in college baseball. He will hit the ground running and make an immediate impact in all aspects of our program. Notre Dame is one of the country’s most admired baseball programs. The experience Coach O’Connor gained in helping build Notre Dame’s program will be instrumental in developing a plan to move the University of Virginia’s baseball program forward.”
BRIAN O’CONNOR UPDATED AND FINAL BIO NOTES: Named ’01 national assistant coach of the year as selected by American Baseball Coaches Association and Baseball America … helped land nation’s top-ranked incoming class for ’02 (per BA) … has tutored 17 eventual pro baseball pitchers, including 13 MLB draft selections … two of his ND pitchers were 1st-round selections and both – Brad Lidge (Houston Astros) and Aaron Heilman (New York Mets) – are now in the majors (another, Christian Parker, pitched for the N.Y. Yankees during ’01 opening week and now is at triple-A Columbus) … five of his last six ND pitching staffs finished among the nation’s top-20 in team ERA … with its 19th-place ERA in ’03 (3.53), ND remained in the elite company of the last two national champs, Texas and Rice, as only teams to post top-20 ERAs in 2000 (16th, at 3.93), ’01 (6th, 3.22), ’02 (13th, 3.57) and again in ’03 (the Irish also were 12th in ’98, at 4.02) – with the ’00 and ’01 staffs leading the nation in ERA at some point in those seasons … during his nine seasons, ND compiled an overall record of 399-160-1 (.713), won six BIG EAST titles and made six trips to the NCAAs … during his tenure, eight of 10 players who were drafted out of high school have gone on to be drafted in a higher round at ND while 16 who were undrafted as preps (seven pitchers) went on to be drafted as members of the Irish program … ND was one of just four schools that produced two pitchers who were drafted in the first round from ’98-’00, with only ND and Baylor having the same pitching coach in that span … the last three ND baseball teams combined for 144 wins (only Florida State, South Carolina, Rice and Stanford won more games in that three-year stretch) … ND went 45-18 in ’03, became the first team since ’86 to repeat as the BIG EAST Tournament champion and advanced to the NCAAs for the fifth straight season … the ’02 ND team won a school-record 50 games (50-18) and advanced to the College World Series (ND’s first CWS trip since 1945) while the ’01 team was 49-13-1 and ranked No. 1 in the nation at midseason … his most noteworthy pupil at ND was Heilman, a 54th-round draft pick out of high school before developing into a 1st-rounder with the Irish (a four-year All-American, Heilman became the 14th pitcher in Div. I history to reach 40 career wins and 400 Ks) … his ’01 staff set Irish records for K-to-walk ratio (2.92; besting the 2.50 from ’00) and fewest BB per 9 IP (2.48) while the ’97-’99 staffs each set the Irish strikeout record (399 in ’97, 456 in ’98 and 478 in ’99, plus 454 in ’00, 420 in ’01, yet another record 483 in ’02 and nearly another record with 479 in ’03) … his tenure at ND saw 36 total players be drafted or sign free-agent contracts, and 12 players selected in the first 10 rounds of the MLB draft – while extending the program’s string of consecutive seasons with 40-plus wins to 15, the nation’s third-longest active streak (behind Florida State and Wichita State) … the past nine ND teams also have combined for a 100% graduation rate (53 of 53), among players who completed their eligibility (eight others who signed professionally after their junior year have returned to complete or near completion of their degree requirements) … the 32-year-old is a native of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and a 1993 graduate of Creighton (where he played for current Chicago Cubs G.M. Jim Hendry) … as a pitcher on the Creighton baseball team, he posted a 20-13 career record with seven saves and a 3.78 ERA … he was a member of the Blue Jays’ 1991 College World Series team (5-3, 73 IP) and as a freshman went 6-2 with a 1.91 ERA that still stands as the team record … fixture in Creighton’s ’92 and ’93 starting rotation, with 14 starts in both seasons while moving into the top six on CU career charts for wins, appearances, innings and starts … after graduating from Creighton with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, was selected in 29th round of the MLB draft by the Philadelphia Phillies … posted a 4-2 record and 4.03 ERA for Martinsville (Va.) of Appalachian Class A League in 1993 before accepting position as pitching coach at Creighton … married to the former Cindy Petratis, with the couple having two daughters, Ellie and Maggie … replaces Dennis Womack, who retired as UVa head baseball coach in June after 23 years in the position.