Probably the best word to describe Mike O'Brien is "builder."
Now in his 11th year as the athletic director at the University of Toledo, O'Brien has been an instrumental force in initiating one 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.
O'Brien, who has the second-longest tenure among Mid-American Conference athletic directors, 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 22 league titles in eight 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.
O'Brien 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 2010-11 Football Bowl Subdivision Northeast Athletic Director of the Year.
The building boom of capital projects under O'Brien's reign began shortly after his arrival at UT in 2002 and has never relented. He secured funding for the renovation of the outdoor track, tennis courts and soccer field. The soccer field project was completed in the fall of 2004, while the tennis courts and track were completed in 2006.
O'Brien secured significant funding for the Athletics capital campaign for the new Charles A. Sullivan Athletics Complex and Savage Arena renovation project, including a $5 million gift from Chuck and Jackie Sullivan.
The $30 million facility, which debuted on Dec. 3, 2008, can rightfully claim to be one of the premier facilities of its kind in the country. Changes to Savage Arena included a new seating configuration, improved fan amenities, new locker rooms and offices, new suites and loges, as well as a new video scoreboard and sound system.
The Sullivan Athletics Complex features a beautiful glass atrium entrance to Savage Arena, a new ticket office, the Varsity 'T' Hall of Fame and "The Rocket Shop," a merchandise store devoted exclusively to selling Rocket gear and souvenirs.
The most recent addition to the Rockets' building spree was the completion of the Fetterman Training Center in 2010. The Fetterman Training Center is a 90,400 square-foot indoor multi-sport practice facility that features a 100-yard Field Turf playing surface, a regulation basketball/volleyball court, sprinting lanes and a long jump pit for track, a golf practice area and new golf locker rooms. As part of the project, improvements were also made to the adjacent UT Outdoor Track, including new permanent bleacher seating, a press box and elevated viewing platforms.
O'Brien's term as athletic director has been more than just bricks and mortar. Since becoming the school's 13th athletic director on Jan. 22, 2002, the Rockets have won or shared 22 MAC division, regular-season and tournament titles in the sports of football, men's basketball, women's basketball, women's cross country, men's golf, women's soccer, women's swimming and baseball. In that same span, UT has made five bowl appearances in football, two NIT appearances in men's basketball and four WNIT appearances in women's basketball (including a WNIT championship crown in 2011). In addition, women's soccer advanced to the NCAA Tournament four times, while men's golf competed in the NCAA Championships twice. UT women have qualified for the NCAA Championships in either track or cross country a total of 14 times and received All-America recognition nine times since 2002. In women's swimming & diving, four Rockets have qualified for the NCAAs, with one earning All-America honors.
In the classroom, UT has produced overall department grade-point averages of above a 3.1 in each of the past seven semesters. In the 2012 spring semester, UT student-athletes achieved a combined GPA of 3.266, the highest in school history. More than 41 percent of student-athletes received at least a 3.5 GPA, with nearly 71 percent earning a 3.0+ GPA, the 17th consecutive semester above the 50-percent mark.
Among O'Brien's other accomplishments are adding Ohio State, Miami (FL), Colorado, Purdue, Arizona, Missouri, Navy, Fresno State, Boise State, Wyoming and Cincinnati to the home football schedule; working with the Inverness Club to bring the 2009 NCAA Men's Golf Championships to Toledo; and securing a multi-year deal with Learfield Sports to increase UT's advertising revenue.
O'Brien has served as a member of the NCAA Division I Football Issues Committee, and chaired of the Mid-American Conference Athletic Director's Committee. He is also the conference's athletic director representative to the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).
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.
O'Brien and his wife Michelle have a son Jack (10).