As a graduate of UC San Diego, Dan O'Brien is a Triton through and through. Having recently completed his 13th year as head coach of the UCSD baseball team, O'Brien has amassed a winning percentage of .606 while going 412-268-1. The Tritons' meteoric rise toward the top of the Division II ranks reached another monumental marker in 2010, as O'Brien's squad advanced to the national title game for the first time in program history. Preceding the runner-up finish at the D-II championships, UCSD totaled 54 wins on the season while capturing back-to-back California Collegiate Athletic Association regular season, CCAA Tournament and West Regional Championships. As the offseason begins, O'Brien took a few moments to discuss being on the cusp of a D-II title, his playing days, the "Baseball Lights Campaign," and much more.
Q: More than three weeks have passed since the national championship game. What mental approach does the team have toward dealing with the loss and how will that mindset change as the offseason rolls along?
O'BRIEN: It was an incredible year, but I'd be lying if I told you we're over the loss. It still hurts. Our goal from day one was to win the National Championship. To get that close and to fall short may be the toughest loss I've dealt with as a player or a coach. The silver lining is that motivation will not be an issue next year. Returning coaches and players are already gearing up for next year's run. New players coming in next fall better be ready to work because I'm telling you right now, we're winning that thing next year.
Q: Your 2010 squad received some huge contributions from the senior class, with the likes of Vance Albitz, Brandon Gregorich and Matt Rossman leading the postseason run. How pleased were you with the leadership this past season and which players do you expect to take the reins in 2011?
O'BRIEN: I can't say enough about the development of leadership in our program. And it's not one guy, or a few guys, it's been a team full of leaders year after year. It's hard to explain, but in our program we want everyone to be a leader, and we're close to achieving that. Freshmen as well as seniors can hold one another accountable and offer advice based on their own experiences. They're all in the trenches together, so why not lead one another together? I think the concept of having one or two vocal leaders is overrated. That being said, if our younger players look to Rossman, St. John and Albitz, to name a few, for inspiration, then I think that's awesome. Even I look to those guys for motivation. But I am my own leader, and we want our guys to view leadership that way.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what made the 2010 team different than the ones you've coached in previous years?
O'BRIEN: We were talented and we worked harder than any team I've been a part of, but I can't emphasize the importance of this team's chemistry enough. This is a group that would do anything for one another. When you have a group that cares about one another that much, you can accomplish anything, in my mind.
Q: In terms of in-game strategy, what was the toughest call you had to make during this season's playoff stretch?
O'BRIEN: Handling your pitching staff in the postseason is a fun and exciting challenge that I really enjoy. You have a different format in the postseason with more time off. You typically don't need four starters in three days like you do in the regular season. Do you go with your No. 1 on short rest, or do you trust your No. 3 or No. 4 starter on full rest? We tend to trust all of the guys that got us there, but every program is different. So deciding who to throw when is always a tough call.
Q: Can you share your philosophy of coaching the player versus coaching the person? What distinction is there and what do you enjoy more?
O'BRIEN: I believe that my role is as an educator. I truly believe that it is my job to help prepare these guys for life after college. If they go onto play pro ball, they will be prepared. But more important than that is the life they'll live after baseball. I feel a great deal of responsibility to help them develop for that time in life. I love coaching, competing and winning. But I also believe that baseball is a vehicle that helps us all learn more about ourselves and our futures.
Q: In regards to conference rivals, would you rather have a win against Chico State or a win against Cal State Dominguez Hills?
O'BRIEN: It was Dominguez this year but Sonoma last year. It was Chico before that. I honestly don't think we have a rival CCAA team. Every game in the CCAA is a battle, and we take no wins for granted. Our conference is legit, and because we've been on top the last few years everyone has been gunning for us. It's a playoff atmosphere every weekend, and we're getting our opponent's best every game. Nothing can prepare you better for the postseason. You're battle tested when you get to the postseason having come out of the CCAA.
Q: You were a two-time team captain when you played two seasons for UCSD in 1994-95. Which player on the 2010 squad reminds you of yourself as a student-athlete?
O'BRIEN: Thankfully no one. I would drive this team and this coaching staff crazy if I were on it. In fact, I'd cut me. I was a very vocal "in your face" type of leader. I had my reasons for being that way then, but this program doesn't need that style of leadership now. I will say that I loved to get dirty and we have a roster full of guys like that now.
Q: Within the UCSD alumni community, attention is turning to the "Baseball Lights Campaign." Can you talk a little bit about that and how critical it is to your program's future?
O'BRIEN: Lights are the logical next step as we continue to develop our program and facility. The San Diego community is starting to get excited about UCSD baseball, yet a lot of our games are not played at an convenient time for them. Friday night college baseball games are electric, and I can't wait for that part of our program to emerge. In addition, we've had to travel to several different locations for the NCAA Regionals while we would have hosted if we had lights. We are a very good home team and lights at our facility would give us a tremendous advantage in the postseason that we have never had in the past.
Q: The camaraderie between the Triton coaches across all sports is obviously a benefit that you enjoy. If you are looking for a slice of coaching wisdom, which fellow head coach do you turn to first?
O'BRIEN: I usually go to coaches Carlson, Elliott, Johnson, Pinkerton, Garcia, Runyan, Wydra, Pascale, McManus, Gerckens, McGihon, Steidlmayer, LaPlante, Salerno, Ahner, Ring, Harper or Kreutzkamp... just to name a few.
Q: If you could enjoy a dinner with four sports figures, living or dead, who would you choose?
O'BRIEN: I admire those who achieved, and then sustained, greatness. All while doing it the right way. Wooden, Lombardi and Dean Smith for example, would definitely be invited. Jackie Robinson would also be there. He succeeded under ridiculous circumstances while teaching us all a lesson in the process. But how can I leave out the autistic manager of the high school basketball team who came off the bench and drained threes all night... or the track and field star who pulled his hamstring during his Olympic race and finished it with the help of his father? I'm leaving out way too many people who've inspired me. I don't like your rules.
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