Former Pallotti softball coach reaches goal of college-level coaching [Commentary]

There is something comforting when a person reaches his or her goals, however modest that goal is. That is true especially when a person does things the right way, through persistence and hard work, to achieve their goals.

Paul O'Brien, as a successful softball coach at St. Vincent Pallotti High School, dreamed of one day becoming a college coach. "I kept my eyes on NCAA jobs that would be a good fit," he said.

His goal was not to become necessarily a famous college coach or even one at the Division I level, the highest level in the NCAA. He simply desired to be a college softball coach.

"It has been my goal for a long time. I certainly enjoyed coaching at Pallotti; that was a dream come true. I just felt college coaching was a full-time position," said O'Brien, who taught religion for 20 years at Pallotti while juggling coaching gigs. "I wanted to be around softball full time."

That goal became reality this past academic year as he became a first-year head women's softball coach at Seton Hill, a Division II program in Greensburg, Pa., located southeast of Pittsburgh. Once he got the job, he resigned his teaching post at Pallotti and headed to western Pennsylvania.

"Seton Hill reminded me so much of Pallotti, a small Catholic school with a family atmosphere," said O'Brien, who graduated from Borromeo College of Ohio, another small school, in 1987.

The Griffins were 13-21 this past spring and had a record of 12-14 in conference games under O'Brien.

Before he got the head job at Seton Hill, O'Brien spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Shippensburg (Pa.) University, also a Division II program. He worked under Bob Brookens, a veteran head coach. O'Brien, still teaching at Pallotti, made the nearly two-hour drive several times a week from Pallotti to Shippensburg for practice and games before heading back to his Silver Spring home.

"It was so worth it. I went through a couple of cars," said O'Brien, with a laugh.

Yet O'Brien's first season as a head college coach included a brush with tragedy.

A bus carrying the Seton Hill women's lacrosse team was hit by another vehicle on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Carlisle, Pa., in March and head coach Kristie Quigley was killed, along with her unborn son and the bus driver.

"It was tragic," O'Brien said of the Seton Hill accident. "It is such a small school; you know everyone. I met coach Quigley very early and sat next to her when I was taking an NCAA test" required of coaches.

While O'Brien and Seton Hill will never forget — scholarship has been set up for Gavin Quigley, the coach's son — the former Pallotti coach is looking ahead to next season when the school will move to the more competitive Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.

That means Seton Hill will be in the same conference as Shippensburg, where O'Brien landed for his first college assistant post after coaching at Pallotti and Archbishop Spalding, a softball power in Anne Arundel County.

O'Brien has been with winning programs his whole life, and I don't think it will take long until Seton Hill is winning more games than it loses.

"Without question he will be very successful," Brookens said. "He was able to deal with a lot of different people at Shippensburg."

O'Brien was an assistant coach at Pallotti under Dan Hogan from 1994-99 and was the head coach from 2000-06 and again during the 2009 season. He posted a mark of 139-73 as the Pallotti head coach.

Under the leadership of Hogan and O'Brien, several Pallotti grads played at the college level, including former Division I pitchers Andi Miller (Hartford) and Amy Salkeld (Maryland, Baltimore County).

Shippensburg won 63 games in the three years O'Brien assisted the program and they advanced to the 2011 NCAA regionals — a worthy goal for O'Brien at his new school, where he has no problems being at the Division II level.

"As the motto goes, I chose Division II. I love that philosophy of academics," O'Brien said.

David Driver is a former Laurel Leader sports editor.

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