When men’s track and field and cross country coach Ken O’Brien ’63 arrived on the University of Massachusetts campus as a student in the fall of 1959, he came to play sports and become a physical education teacher and coach. A four-sport standout athlete at Foxboro High School, he hadn’t decided which sport he wanted to play and he wasn’t even sure how to try out for a team. So on the first day of school he went to Curry Hicks, home to all the coaches’ offices, and approached the first person he saw who looked like a coach. Come back at 2:30 ready to run he was told. Without knowing what sport he was getting into, he returned at the appointed time and with some other students was driven five miles from campus. Run back to campus, they were instructed, and “if you make it before five, you can get dinner.”
“Not only did I not have a plan,” he quips, “I didn’t even have a clue.”
He quickly learned he had joined the cross country team. So began O’Brien’s long career at UMass Amherst, first as an athlete, and then as a coach, interrupted for only a couple of years at Ohio University to get his master’s degree and a year as head track coach at the University of Bridgeport. He returned to UMass in 1966 as assistant cross country and track and field coach, and 18 months later was named head coach, a position he has held ever since.