Oct. 20, 2005
By Craig Chval
Coley O’Brien made the first start of his Notre Dame career in the final game of his sophomore season, one week after replacing injured classmate Terry Hanratty at quarterback in Notre Dame’s fabled 10-10 tie with Michigan State.
In that season finale, O’Brien completed 21 of 31 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns as the Irish pummeled 10th-ranked Southern California, 51-0, to cement their number-one ranking.
But O’Brien and everyone else knew that the starting job in 1967 would belong to Hanratty, who finished sixth in the 1966 Heisman Trophy balloting. Today’s “experts” would speculate that – blocked on the Notre Dame depth chart – where would O’Brien transfer in search of playing time, stardom and ESPN highlight clips?
But O’Brien didn’t switch schools; he switched positions, becoming a halfback in Irish head coach Ara Parseghian’s full-house backfield. According to longtime Irish offensive coordinator Tom Pagna, O’Brien was the best blocking back he ever coached.
“Football was my entry into Notre Dame,” explains O’Brien. “It was a dream come true to be able to attend Notre Dame and it didn’t enter my mind about moving to another school.”
O’Brien helped the Irish to a 24-5-2 record during his three years on the varsity before earning his law degree from Notre Dame. The McLean, Va., native returned home, earning a reputation as one of Capitol Hill’s most effective lobbyists. O’Brien currently leads NASA’s legislative efforts, helping to promote the agency’s vision and program for space exploration in Congress.
“It’s very exciting to be working as part of NASA’s space exploration program,” says O’Brien, who inherited his fascination with space travel from his father, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. O’Brien has passed his love for Notre Dame on to his three children – Christin, Conor and Cara. He and his wife, Barbara, currently have an additional reason to visit Notre Dame, as Christin is a senior, majoring in political science.
O’Brien is impressed by Charlie Weis’ 2005 Irish football team. He’s noticed a familiar confidence in the Irish.
“With Ara, every time we took the field, we knew that if we executed properly, he and the coaches had given us the schemes we would need to win the game – no matter who our opponent was,” remembers O’Brien.
Of course, of particular interest to O’Brien is the play of Irish quarterback Brady Quinn.
“If I were being recruited as a quarterback today, I’d say, `I think Charlie is the guy.'”