O’Brien puts stamp on UT athletics with recent hiresWritten by Toledo Free Press Staff Writers | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s been a busy few weeks for UT Athletic Director Mike O’Brien. It’s something that has been six years in the making and could define his career as a Rocket administrator.
O’Brien was hired away from Kansas State on Jan. 22, 2002. When arriving at UT, Stan Joplin was the men’s basketball coach, Mark Ehlen was the women’s basketball coach and Tom Amstutz was the football coach. Less than two months ago, the same could still be said.
Many incoming athletic directors want to put their stamp on the athletic program right away. O’Brien didn’t have to put his stamp on the Rockets in 2002, but now he has.
Last week O’Brien hired Tricia Cullop away from Evansville to fill the vacant women’s basketball coaching post. Cullop seems to be a blue-collar coach who can’t wait to roll up her sleeves.
“She’s the type that just works the program,” O’Brien said. “Not only the product on the court, but the attendance had also increased the last six years [at Evansville]. She was very involved in the community and she really works at the game and recruiting.”
Cullop had just one 20-win campaign as a coach when Evansville went 21-12 last season, but it’s not an easy place to win.
“When it’s recruiting time in the fall, they didn’t have football,” O’Brien said. “She thinks it makes a difference on recruiting visits when you don’t have that football game to take the recruits to.”
The new women’s coach has a bachelor’s degree in communications. That’s not why you hire a coach, but it helps.
“You want someone that can talk on their feet in front of crowds,” O’Brien said. “We ask them to go out and promote the program in a variety of ways, whether you are talking to a group of five or 500. It’s a big part of the job. Some of the coaches that are now retired, they didn’t like that. They simply wanted to X and O and recruit. Now it’s dealing with many more factors of the job than it used to be.”
A week before Cullop was hired, Gene Cross was the guy O’Brien ultimately hired to run the men’s basketball program.
“I describe him as the total package,” beamed O’Brien. “I really am excited about what he is going to bring to the University of Toledo. He’s the type of individual that can really promote the program, help us sell tickets and he’s going to recruit, be it locally or regionally. He is going to have a very sound recruiting base in the state of Ohio.”
The biggest holdover is obviously UT football coach Tom Amstutz. There are mumbling questions from fans and media alike about whether there is pressure on Amstutz to turn around two straight losing seasons. O’Brien is not biting the bait.
“Those things work themselves out,” O’Brien said. “I have the utmost respect and faith in Tom Amstutz that this is going to be a really good year. I can sense it. I think anyone that was around our team in the spring with spring practice [can]. [Many of] our players are back, especially on the defensive side of the ball as far as being healthy. I think it’s going to be a good year.”
The truth is that sports are all about performing under pressure. If you don’t like pressure, sports aren’t for you. The pressure may now be off O’Brien and now on Cullop, Cross and Amstutz, but O’Brien’s legacy at UT may have been decided in the last two weeks.
Norm Wamer is program director of Sports Radio 1470 “The Ticket” WLQR-AM and co-hosts “The Front Row” weekday afternoons from 3 to 6 p.m.