Ian O'Brien is a man on the move.
O'Brien, who has served as Lakeridge High School's athletic director for the past two years, announced in April that he will leave the school and return to Warrenton High School (located west of Astoria in Northwest Oregon), where he worked from 2009-15.
In May, Terry Moore — a coach and head of the math department at Lakeridge — was selected as the Pacers' new athletic director.
Back to Warrenton
For O'Brien, 31, the decision to return to Warrenton was multifaceted. Part of that choice was based on his desire to return to coaching; in addition to serving as vice principal at Warrenton, O'Brien will also teach a couple weights classes and return to his previous role as the Warriors' head football coach.
"I missed coaching kids," he said. "I tell our coaches they have the best jobs in the world because they get their kids for two to three hours a day and the impact they have is enormous.
"Now, I get to put the coaching hat back on, run practices and then get fired up and coach on Friday nights."
O'Brien — who previously served as athletic director, teacher, football coach, boys basketball coach and boys golf coach at Warrenton — said that the variety of roles involved with his new position was also a draw for him, as was the flexibility it would allow his young family.
Along with his wife Danielle — a Warrenton native and registered nurse — O'Brien has three children, daughters London, 10, and Briar, 1, and son Madden, 3. The opportunity that his new schedule allows — including the chance to coach London's basketball team — was another draw that eventually swayed O'Brien's return to Warrenton.
"I'll miss being (athletic director), but there are some benefits to not doing it, too, especially with a wife and three kids," O'Brien said.
Gratitude and good memories
While O'Brien is already looking ahead to his new position and the upcoming 2017 football season — in his three years as head coach (2012-14), the Warriors went 15-14 overall — he has only gratitude and good memories from his time at Lakeridge.
"I loved that I got to do the AD side all day long," he said. "I worked with some great coaches with great minds for their sports, some real professionals."
While O'Brien leaves Lakeridge with good memories, he arrived at a time of great controversy for Lakeridge, much of it centered around the Pacers' football team, the end of longtime coach Tom Smythe's tenure and the problematic leadership of former coach Chad Carlson.
The football program was successful before O'Brien's arrival, reaching the Class 6A state quarterfinals in 2013 and the second playoff round in '14, but it was troubled too, with Smythe resigning during the 2013 playoffs and the Pacers gaining a reputation for unsportsmanlike behavior. Lakeridge's 2013 season famously ended with a 62-33 quarterfinal loss to Jesuit in which the Pacers drew 21 penalties for 229 yards and saw one player ejected.
Repairing and rebuilding
Right from the beginning, O'Brien knew that repairing and rebuilding the Pacers' brand would be one of his foremost responsibilities.
"Our teams, and how they behave when they travel, is often how your school is perceived," he said. "I think we've made some great strides as to how Lakeridge is perceived."
While the football program has yet to regain its footing in the Three Rivers League — the Pacers have gone 0-14 in league and 3-15 overall since Elvis Akpla took over as head coach in 2015 — the stormy seas surrounding the team have definitely calmed.
"Our biggest challenge is still how do we improve the perception; how do we change perception from the outside?" O'Brien asked. Answering his own question, O'Brien said "We needed to make a cognizant effort to improve. We needed to make the right choices in hiring coaches, not just to win but also hiring coaches with good character. It's all the little things you do that count on the way to wins and losses."
Beyond just trying to hire solid coaches, O'Brien has worked to establish systems that will ensure that Lakeridge coaches continue to operate with more than just wins and losses at the forefront of their efforts.
Putting systems in place
During his tenure at Lakeridge, O'Brien — with help from many others — has overseen creation of: the Student Athlete Advisory Council (a committee of student-athlete leaders that provides insight on the student-athlete experience): a student-athlete handbook (written with Lake Oswego AD Brigham Baker); and soon, a high school coaches handbook.
Further, O'Brien initiated monthly meetings with all his head coaches ("I was shocked at how many of them didn't know each other," he said), ensured that all Lakeridge's coaches were properly certified each year, instituted end-of-year evaluation of his head coaches, and also worked to make sure that bullying and hazing have no place in Lakeridge High School sports.
"We had to put a lot of systems in place over the last two years. We needed them," O'Brien said. "The goal was to leave (the school's athletic program) in better shape. I think we've put some things into practice that will help Lakeridge continue to take care of business."
Besides all that, there were competitive successes, too, notably the Lakeridge boys soccer team's state championship last fall, a state title by the Pacer girls ski team and a myriad of other state playoff berths.
More than just 'W's
As proud as he is of those big wins, O'Brien insisted that the victories are just a byproduct of doing things correctly along the way.
"I want to lead with high moral and ethical values," he said. "I'll always make the right choice, even if it's not the popular choice."
And for O'Brien, the right choice right now is a return to Warrenton and coaching.
"Sports have been my entire life since I could walk," he said. "I knew from when I was in middle school that I wanted to teach and coach."