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Tim O’Brien


Sweeney Award



Tim O’Brien’s rugby career began as a 17-year-old, with the Palo Alto Rugby Club. Tim’s father, Kevin, a Stanford Peninsula Rambler and Palo Alto rugby player, introduced him to the game at a very young age and he’s been passionately involved in the sport ever since.

Tim played at the collegiate level for the University of California, Berkeley, from 1979-1981, winning National Championship teams in 1980 and 1981 as captain. At the conclusion of the 1980 college and select season, O’Brien traveled to Christchurch, NZ, to play for Merivale Papanui while hosted and coached by former All Blacks Stan ‘Tiny’ Hill and John Creighton. Upon returning home and prior to the fall quarter of his senior year at Cal, Tim was selected to start for the Eagles vs the All Blacks.

O’Brien was selected to play for the U.S. Eagles from 1980-1983. In 1981, he played on the first U.S. Eagles team participating at the Hong Kong 7’s tournament and acted as captain in 1983. In 1982, Tim traveled to Pretoria, South Africa as a member of the Rugby Club of the Americas. As a player on 1986 and 1988 Pacific Coast Grizzly tours with coach Bing Dawson, he traveled to Argentina and South Africa at which time he began to put the wheels of coaching into motion.

Instrumental in his coach development process would be Tim’s club, the Old Blues of Berkeley, a team mostly made up of Cal Berkeley graduates, who were ahead of their time on an intellectual and physical basis, winning seven of nine Men's D1 titles from 1979 to 1987. Over the course of his club career with the Old Blues of Berkeley, Tim was a member of four national championship teams as a player, serving as captain in 1989. The Old Blues coaches, PhD’s Ron Mayes and Jeff Hollings, and former U.S. Eagles captain Whit Everett, provided a solid platform for a natural evolution into coaching and serving the rugby community.

Aside from his notable playing career, O’Brien has a coaching resume to match. Interestingly, he is the first member of USA Rugby to win a national championship as a player and a coach at the men’s club and collegiate levels. Tim started his coaching career - during a 2-year rugby playing sabbatical in 1984 and ’85 – under coach Jack Clark at Cal. This would be followed by coaching the Old Blues to a 1992 National Championship, coaching Lamorinda High School, under his former Cal coach Ned Anderson, and Saint Mary’s College of California. Blended into the coaching fabric would be a couple more firsts. Tim was a member of USA Rugby’s first coach accreditation instructor programs as well as the youngest member of the USA National Technical Panel, which helped create and implement competitions for USA Rugby territorial and national teams, as well as vehicles for player, coach and referee development.

Over the past 16 years as a volunteer, O’Brien has masterfully built a perennial collegiate powerhouse at Saint Mary’s College. A unique component of Tim’s love of coaching and teaching lies in the relationship he has with his coaching partner for nearly 20 years, John Everett. A former member of the Old Blues family and a USA Eagle, John has been a powerful force in keeping balance, power and creativity at the forefront of the development process. Saint Mary’s, with an undergraduate student body enrollment of less than 1,100 male students, has gone to four straight Division 1-A National Championship games from 2013 through 2016, winning USA Division 1A National Championships in 2014 and 2015. The Gaels also won the Division 1A National Sevens Championship in 2016. Under his leadership the Gaels program maintains a 99% graduation rate, and has produced over 40 All-Americans and six U.S. Eagles. Tim’s establishment of a rugby board, internship and mentoring programs, and coach development opportunities are the drivers of the Gaels program and coupled with the game itself, make St. Mary’s a special place.

Tim is dedicated to a cradle to grave system of rugby development in the United States, allowing young ruggers a clear pathway to rise through the ranks from youth programs to positions on the U.S. Eagles and beyond. His endless dedication to advancing and growing the sport of rugby is clearly defined by his work as a coach, catching the attention of many and contributing to the growing popularity of collegiate rugby in the United States.

Tim has been married to Christine, a woman’s rugby player at Cal, his college sweetheart, for over 30 years. They have two active, attentive and wildly independent children Emily and Luke.