Jim O'Brien: Pilloried By Fools

1993 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Finish line at Johnson's Field, Altadena, CA.
 L to R: Nancy, Coach Jim O'Brien, Larry Gassan, pacer Ray Deschenes. I repaid Ray by pacing him at WS in 94.

On June 13, 2013, legendary coach Jim O'Brien was fired by the Arcadia High School for unspecified transgressions, despite two national titles and a winning record going back almost thirty years.
...O’Brien, now 60, was abruptly fired from his head coaching position at Arcadia. Runners, students, alumni and parents were shocked. O’Brien was not apparently involved in any scandal and, though his style has been described as intense, had no real detractors, other than the personnel associated at Arcadia High School associated with his firing. [from the TrailRunner article] 

On July 24, 2013, friends, students and supporters of Coach Jim O'Brien came out and spoke directly to the Arcadia Unified School District Supervisors in an open meeting as to why Jim was important to them, the community, the state [yes!] and the lives of others. His job hangs in the balance, and the final outcome is not certain. Anyone who styles themselves a coach and did not attend, you missed a powerful demonstration of what the responsibilities and rewards of being a real coach are all about.

Let's also keep in mind that the AUSD School Board put on a fine theatrical display of unanimity prior to the O'Brien hearing, Every vote was 5-0 in favor of whatever. In case anybody was watching.

I said the following in my 90 seconds in front of a mic:

I've known Jim for 21 years, and studied under him from 1992 - 2002. Thanks to Jim's coaching, I ran my first sub-24 hour finish at the Angeles Crest 100 in 1996. You may know that Jim set the course record at the Angeles Crest 100 in 1989 with a 17hr 35min time, which remains unbroken.  I've been connected to this race since 1990. I've finished it 3 times, crewed and paced friends, and captained aid-stations. I've been the Racebook editor since 1998. I am also the Page Administrators for the AC100 and Ultrarunning  Facebook pages, with a combined membership of over 4,500 people.
But enough about me, lets talk about Jim.

Jim leads by example. He does not tolerate fake.  For years after high school, I avoided coaches, because they all sounded like authority-driven washouts and bullies. Why? Because in high school I was one of those who did not fit the golden norm of football, basketball, baseball. I'd gone into high school as a stoner, but left as an athlete; a 2 mile track letterman. At the Awards Ceremony that year, the coach gave me my letter and told the audience "I never thought I'd be giving one of these to him". Jim would never say that. 

Jim passed his knowledge on to his Boy's Cross-Country Team. I saw it live, during a meet at Griffith Park in 2011. All the same concepts, slightly retooled for a different audience. I envied those boys. These boys, and the girls, are getting the gold that outlasts a medal or a trophy. They are getting what I got—the knowledge that they accomplished far more than they ever thought they could.
I was proud to support my friend Jim O'Brien at this time. To have not done so would be unthinkable.

Let's also keep in mind that the AUSD School Board put on a fine theatrical display of unanimity prior to the O'Brien hearing, Every vote was 5-0 in favor of whatever. In case anybody was watching.

Jim's firing quickly became a national issue—appearing on Yahoo Sports, and TrailRunner did an excellent write-up on the story.

At this time [July 30, 2013] the verdict is uncertain. I am not optimistic about Jim's chances. The school board is bunkered in, and in this siege, time is on their side. Their opponents have to flail and charge, they sit and wait. Updates will be posted when relevant.


After reading some of your articles on Jim O'Brien, I wrote a profile on him and his coaching methods on the Italian trail running magazine Spirito Trail (www.spiritotrail.it): he was obviously unknown to most of the readers, but immediately after the article being published, I received several e-mails with questions and enthusiatic response for the article, which shows Jim method are spanning interest also this part of the Ocean.

It's a kind of a shock to hear about this all, but it's great to see he has loads of people behind him.

Looking forward to come to AC100 one day and have the opportunity to meet Jim and talk about what he's been doing incredibly well in the last 30 years: running and helping others to achieve great results.

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