O’Brien primarily covered the Atlantic Coast Conference, with which he was intimately familiar after working at Virginia, Boston College and N.C. State. He traveled to different schools each weekend and was able to catch up with friends developed during a four-decade career as a college football coach.
However, O’Brien did not hesitate when offered the position as color analyst for the Navy Football Radio Network. The 1971 Naval Academy graduate gladly gave up the ESPN gig in order to reconnect with his alma mater.
“It really wasn’t a difficult decision to choose Navy radio over ESPN television,” O’Brien told The Capital this week. “The Naval Academy holds a special place in my heart. I went to school here, played football here and began my coaching career here.”
O’Brien truly is a terrific fit for the job, having earned three letters as a defensive end for the Navy football team from 1968 through 1970. After serving nine years in the Marine Corps and rising to the rank of major, O’Brien returned to Annapolis to serve as academic liaison for the Navy football program. Maj. O’Brien also directed the junior varsity under head coach George Welsh.
When Welsh left Navy for Virginia in 1982, he brought O’Brien with him as offensive line coach. O’Brien was soon promoted to offensive coordinator and oversaw some high-powered units featuring a slew of future NFL standouts.
Virginia’s offense success helped O’Brien get hired as head coach at Boston College, where he enjoyed a tremendously successful 10-year tenure. He led the Eagles to eight straight winning seasons capped by bowl berths. He spent six seasons at N.C. State and retired from coaching in 2012 after compiling a 115-80 career record.
O’Brien was enjoying the good life in Charleston, South Carolina, when he realized he missed college football during the fall months. His daughter, Colleen O’Sullivan, is a producer with ESPN, which gladly accepted the services of a former coach with such vast experience and insight into the college football.
“My first foray into broadcasting came two years ago when I was assigned to the Clemson-Appalachian State game,” O’Brien recalled. “I get to the stadium and they tell me to go down on the field because I would be doing one-minute updates on ESPN wraparound. I had no idea what they were talking about and what they wanted me to do.”
O’Brien sought advice from former colleagues such as Mack Brown (North Carolina, Texas) about making the transition into television. He improved weekly while doing ESPN3 telecasts of Atlantic Coast, Sun Belt and Mid-American conference contests.
“I would say the consensus among coaches who had done television was that it was a great way to stay active and remain involved with the game,” O’Brien said. “I think the best thing is that through ESPN I had access to all the college football film from 2011 through 2016. I could pull up any game I wanted. It was a great way to fill time during the week.”
That broadcasting experience made O’Brien even more attractive when the Naval Academy Athletic Association was searching for a replacement for Omar Nelson, who left the booth to become a recruiting coordinator for Navy football.
O’Brien learned of the radio opening from his son, who just happens to be an assistant coach for the Midshipmen. Dan O’Brien, Navy’s secondary coach, was visiting his parents in Charleston when he mentioned that Nelson would be joining the administrative staff.
Navy senior associate athletic director Eric Ruden oversees the Navy Radio Network and therefore conducted the interview with O’Brien, who was formerly announced as new color analyst on June 29.
“Tom’s experience is exceptional and as an alumnus he has a unique perspective of the Naval Academy,” Gladchuk said. “He graduated from the Naval Academy, he played football at the Naval Academy, he served in the Marine Corps and he served as a top assistant at Navy. I can't imagine anyone being more insightful about football and the Naval Academy than Tom O’Brien. I am glad to have him on the team.”
O’Brien made his debut on Friday night at Florida Atlantic, working alongside veteran play-by-play announcer Pete Medhurst and sideline reporter Joe Miller. Navy’s opener was a challenge because the visiting radio booth at FAU Stadium did not have any television monitors, which prevented the team from seeing replays.
“Pete is a true professional who is very good at his job. He has the experience and knowledge of Navy that I don’t have at this point,” said O’Brien, who has only seen Navy play four or five times live over the last two years.
O’Brien spent four decades talking constantly on the headset with fellow coaches and thus must constantly remind himself to remain silent at times. He must remember to allow Medhurst to finish describing the action before jumping in.
“I think the more we’re around each other, the more comfortable we’ll become. I’ll grow more accustomed to how Pete calls the game, where he puts in pauses so it is time for me to say something,” O’Brien said.
Medhurst, who is now on his third color analyst (John Feinstein preceded Nelson), is looking forward to working with O’Brien and developing a strong rapport.
“Coach won 115 games at the highest level. He brings great insight and knowledge,” Medhurst said. “Add the fact he’s a Navy grad and it’s a terrific combination. Joe and I are excited to learn even more about the game from Coach O’Brien.”
O’Brien makes it clear from the outset that he’s an unabashed homer. As such, the 69-year-old has no intention of second-guessing or criticizing the coaching staff.
“I wasn’t hired to criticize anyone. I’m there to explain to the listeners what is going on and why,” O’Brien said. “I coached over 400 games during my career so the prism I see games through is different. There’s enough critics in the stands. The fans can criticize, I’m here to educate.”
Source : http://www.capitalgazette.com/sports/navy_sports/ac-cs-obrien-radio-analyst-20170907-story.html