UCSB men’s water polo Head Coach Joe O’Brien is moving from the pool deck to the cubicle, as he steps down as head coach and accepts a counseling position in the College of Letters & Science. O’Brien leaves the Gauchos after coaching for 11 seasons and posting a 103-178 record.
“It’s a unique opportunity that worked out nicely to stay in Santa Barbara and on campus while traveling less,” O’Brien said. “Coaching is the greatest profession, but it’s a good opportunity to take a step back and take part in my daughter’s life a little bit more.”
O’Brien guided Santa Barbara to an 18-14 record last season, the best under his reign as head coach. Under his tenure, UCSB has produced nine All-Americans, including UCSB senior defender Brian Alexander.
“The team and I respect the decision. He’s given us his reasons and ideas behind it, but he’s going to be greatly missed,” junior goalkeeper Jon Bonafede said.
O’Brien is no stranger to academics at UCSB. Before graduating in 1985, O’Brien was, and still is, Santa Barbara’s first and only two-sport All-American with accolades in water polo and swimming. O’Brien holds a masters degree in education from UCSB and has served as an assistant swimming coach and academic advisor at UCSB. Part of the job description entails advising athletes, so O’Brien won’t be leaving for good.
“I worked for College of Letters & Science before, and all the people are really great. It’s a really great environment. I’ve been coaching water polo for a while and my daughter is marching toward adulthood very quickly, so I want to be a larger part of her life,” O’Brien said.
The search for a replacement for “Gaucho Joe” has already begun with several names being thrown in the hat, but it will still be some time before the Gauchos have a new coach.
“It’s going to be hard adjusting to a new coach for my final season and for the other seniors – it’s just not going to be the same,” Bonafede said. “It could go either way. I’m willing, and I think the team is willing, to make it as easy as possible. It just depends on who comes in to coach us.”