UMass athletics: Former XC, track coach Ken O’Brien passes away at age 82

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-04-2024 5:53 PM

AMHERST — Men's cross country and track and field coach emeritus and former head coach at the University of Massachusetts, Ken O’Brien, passed away Monday at the age of 82.

O'Brien spent half a century in Amherst, coaching cross country and track and field at UMass from 1967-2016 (50 seasons). During his tenure, the Minutemen won 19 conference titles (Yankee, Eastern and Atlantic 10), four New England titles, two IC4A crowns and he mentored 13 individual NCAA qualifiers seven All-America performers.

According to UMass athletics, O’Brien was instrumental in the founding of both the women's cross country and track and field programs. He also served as head coach of those programs from their inception in 1975-76 through 1987.

“It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of a UMass coaching legend and Hall of Famer,” UMass director of athletics Ryan Bamford said. “Ken's contributions to his alma mater, his home state and the Amherst community may never be replicated. As our head coach for 50 years, he had a lasting influence on the lives of thousands of student-athletes. Helping young people was his life's work and he excelled in innumerable ways. Our thoughts are with his family at this time.” 

In 2008, O'Brien nabbed his second Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year award in his career, as the Minutemen finished first in the league. It was UMass’ second-ever A-10 Cross Country title, the first coming in 1995 when he earned his first coach of the year recognition. 

Following the 1999 campaign, O'Brien earned NCAA District 1 Track and Field Coach of the Year honors for the second straight year, including the fourth time he won the award in track and field. He was also a four-time District 1 Coach of the Year award winner for cross country.

He was inducted into the UMass Athletics Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2016.

“When someone that has had over a half century of impact on people passes, it is hard to fathom, and impossible to wrap words around that type of loss,” UMass director of track and field and cross country David Jackson said. “As a mentor, coach and leader ‘Coach OB’ was awesome. He allowed you to grow and gently guided you to understand the paths to success. Coach did so via sport, education, or chatting over a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie. As we approach a men's program that's well over 100 years old and a women's program that is turning 50, his presence and impact cannot be refuted. Thank you for being a coach to all. I hope you are resting and getting ready to coach the next crop of heavenly athletes. You, sir, will never be forgotten.”

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