Now in his 15th year as vice-president and athletic director at the University of Toledo, Mike O’Brien has helped shape the UT Athletics program into one of the very best in the Mid-American Conference. Whether embarking on ambitious capital projects or nurturing the athletic and academic achievements of UT’s student-athletes, O’Brien has left a legacy of success that few can match.
O’Brien, who has the second-longest tenure among MAC athletic directors, received national recognition for his accomplishments from the National Association of College Directors of Athletics at the NACDA Convention in June of 2012 when he was named the Football Bowl Subdivision Northeast Region Athletic Director of the Year. Just a few months later, O’Brien accepted the 2011-12 Cartwright Award, given annually to the MAC athletic program with the highest degree of excellence in academics, athletics and citizenship.
Perhaps the best word to describe O’Brien is “builder.” He has been an instrumental force in initiating some of the most ambitious construction schedules in school history. No fewer than five major projects have been completed during O’Brien’s reign, as well as numerous smaller ones, most recently renovation projects at the Glass Bowl and Savage Arena in 2016.
O’Brien has also been a builder in an even more important sense. He has guided the Rockets into position as one of the strongest programs in the Mid-American Conference, both on the field and in the classroom. The Rockets have won or shared 29 league titles in nine different sports under O’Brien’s watch. And in the classroom, O’Brien’s emphasis on academics has led to record-breaking report cards for the department.
Among O’Brien’s other accomplishments are adding Ohio State, Miami (FL), Colorado, Purdue, Arizona, Missouri, Navy, Fresno State, Boise State, BYU, Iowa State, Colorado State and Cincinnati to the home football schedule; securing Savage Arena as a site for the first and second rounds of the NCAA women’s Basketball Championships in 2014; working with the Inverness Club to bring the 2009 NCAA Men’s Golf Championships to Toledo; securing a multi-year deal with Learfield Sports to increase UT’s advertising revenue; and joining forces with The Aspire Group to increase ticket sales.
O’Brien was named to the NCAA Division I Council in 2015, where he works on the Competition Oversight Committee. He also chairs the MAC Football Coaches Committee and was the conference’s athletic director representative to the College Football Playoff Committee (formerly the Bowl Championship Series). Previously, he has served as the chair of the Mid- American Conference Athletic Director’s Committee and was a member of the NCAA Division I Football Issues Committee.
Previous to his appointment at UT, O’Brien had 15 years of experience in athletics administration at four universities, Kansas State (associate A.D., 1997-2001), Lamar (athletic director, 1993-97), Pittsburgh (director of development 1989-93) and Ball State (marketing and development, 1986-89).
A native of Iowa City, IA, O’Brien earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Missouri Valley College in 1975, and has master’s degrees in education from Wisconsin-River Falls in 1982 and in sports management from Western Illinois in 1986. Prior to his administrative career, O’Brien was an assistant basketball coach at three different schools from 1982-1986.