Sept. 1, 2001
Notre Dame’s Brian O’Connor has been promoted to the position of associate head baseball coach, following seven seasons as the Irish baseball program’s primary assistant coach. O’Connor’s duties will remain the same on head coach Paul Mainieri’s staff, continuing to serve as the team’s pitching coach and recruiting coordinator.
Baseball America included O’Connor on its 2001 list of the nation’s top 10 Division I assistant baseball coaches and he also has been nominated for the 2001 national assistant coach of the year award, with the winner to be announced by the American Baseball Coaches Association in early September.
“Every success that we’ve had at Notre Dame the past seven years has as much to do with Brian’s efforts as anyone else,” said Mainieri, who hired O’Connor shortly after becoming the Irish head coach in the fall of 1994.
“I saw something special in Brian as a 23-year-old and he currently is unparalleled in the country because of his ability as a recruiter and evaluator of talent, combined with his ability to consistently develop pitchers at the college level. He also is a very clever game technician and gets the most out of his pitching staff game-in and game-out. He has the special ability to observe a pitcher, see what he does well, and make minor adjustments to increase effectiveness.
“We are very fortunate to have Brian as part of Notre Dame baseball and this promotion is a recognition of the contributions he has made to the program.”
O’Connor-who pitched on Creighton’s 1991 College World Series team-has tutored 14 eventual professional baseball pitchers, including 11 Major-League draft selections. The native of Council Bluffs, Iowa, has a proven track record of developing pitchers into top-level prospects, including a pair of first-round selections-Brad Lidge in 1998 and fellow righthander Aaron Heilman in 2001-who weren’t even drafted in the first 40 rounds coming out of high school (Lidge was a 42nd-round pick, Heilman a 55th-rounder). Two other pitchers under O’Connor have developed into high draft picks despite going undrafted as preps: lefthander Tim Kalita (7th round in ’99) and righthander Danny Tamayo (10th round, ’01).
During O’Connor’s tenure, seven of nine Irish players that were drafted out of high school have gone on to be drafted in a higher round at Notre Dame while 13 that were undrafted as preps went on to be drafted as members of the Irish program.
O’Connor’s most noteworthy pupil has been Heilman, whose four-year All-America career saw him rank as one of the nation’s premier players. Heilman-who burst onto the scene as the nation’s ERA leader in 1998 (1.61)-is the most decorated player in Notre Dame baseball history and became the 14th player in Division I history to reach 40 career wins and 400 strikeouts.
Notre Dame is one of just four schools since 1998 to produce two pitchers who have been drafted in the first round, with only Notre Dame and Baylor having the same pitching coach during that span (Baylor head coach Steve Smith coaches the pitching staff).
As a recruiting coordinator, O’Connor led the effort that landed Notre Dame’s current 11-member freshman class-which could be ranked as high as the nation’s top incoming class. That highly-touted group includes shortstop Matt Macri (who also could be used as a closer, due to his 94 mph velocity off the mound) and righthander Chris Niesel, with both those players considered by some to be the nation’s best freshmen at their respective positions.
Three of Notre Dame’s current freshmen-Macri (Iowa), Grant Johnson (Illinois) and fellow righthander Martin Vergara (New Jersey)-were named the Gatorade player of the year for their respective states while Niesel was one of five pitchers named a first team All-American by Baseball America (Macri was not eligible because Iowa prep baseball is played in the summer).
Most recently, the 30-year-old O’Connor helped the 2001 Notre Dame team compile one of the most successful seasons in the program’s 109-year history. The Irish held the nation’s No. 1 ranking in midseason while setting the team record for wins (49-13-1). Led by the first team all-BIG EAST tandem of Heilman and Tamayo, the 2001 Irish pitching staff ranked sixth in the nation with a 3.22 season earned-run average. An unprecedented six Irish players were selected in the 2001 Major League draft.
O’Connor’s 2000 and 2001 pitching staffs both led the nation in ERA at some point during those seasons (the 2000 team finished 16th at 3.93). His 2001 staff set Irish records for strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.92, besting the 2.50 from 2000) and fewest walks per nine innings (2.48). The 1997-99 staffs each set the Irish strikeout record (399 in ’97, 456 in ’98 and 478 in ’99, plus 454 in 2000 and 420 in ’01) while the ’98 staff ranked 12th in the nation for season ERA (4.02).
Three of O’Connor’s former pitchers already have made their marks in pro baseball, as Lidge was named to the Houston Astros 40-man roster for 2001 spring training while Christian Parker (who pitched on the ’95 and ’96 teams) was named to the New York Yankees opening-day roster (O’Connor, Mainieri and others from Notre Dame were able to view Parker’s first start with the Yankees, in early April). Heilman signed with the New York Mets in mid-summer (he is pitching in double-A St. Lucie, Fla.) but already is being touted as a potential 2002 Major League player.
During O’Connor’s seven years at Notre Dame, the Irish have posted a .710 winning pct. (304-124-1) and have totaled four conference titles, four trips to the NCAA tournament, 29 players who have been drafted or signed free-agent contracts, and 10 players selected in the first 10 rounds of the Major League draft-while extending the program’s string of consecutive seasons with 40-plus wins to 13, the nation’s fourth-longest active streak. The past seven Notre Dame teams also have combined for a 100-percent graduation rate (47 of 47), among players who completed their eligibility or signed professionally after their junior year.
ADDITIONAL BRIAN O’CONNOR NOTES
- Other noteworthy additions in the Mainieri/C’Connor era include catcher/DH Jeff Wagner (a four-time, first team all-BIG EAST selection from ’96-’99), All-America infielder Brant Ust (’97-’99), who preceded Heilman as a member of the U.S. national team (Ust was a 6th-round draft pick of Detroit, in ’99), and shortstop Alec Porzel, the only player in ND history ever to reach 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in his career (he was picked by Boston in the 13th round of the 2001 draft).
- O’Connor posted a 20-13 career record, seven saves and a 3.78 ERA in four years at Creighton. He logged 73 innings and a 5-3 record as a sophomore, helping the Blue Jays advance to the ’91 College World Series in the school’s hometown of Omaha. His losses came versus nationally-ranked Cal State-Northridge, Oklahoma and Wichita State.
- As a freshman, O’Connor went 6-2 with a 1.91 ERA that still stands as the team record. As a junior and senior, the native of nearby Council Bluffs was a fixture in Creighton’s starting rotation, with 14 starts in both seasons while moving into the top six on Creighton’s career charts for victories, appearances, innings and starts.
- After graduating with a marketing degree in ’93, O’Connor was selected in the 29th round by the Philadelphia Phillies. He posted a 4-2 record and 4.03 ERA in ’93 for Martinsville (Va.) of the Appalachian Class A League before accepting a position as pitching coach at his alma mater, under first-year head coach Jack Dahm.
- O’Connor, born April 21, 1971, in Omaha, Neb., married the former Cindy Petratis in October of 1995. The couple resides in South Bend with daughter Ellie, who was born June 1, 2000.