AMHERST, Mass. – University of Massachusetts director of track and field and cross country Ken O'Brien has been named Coach Emeritus, Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford announced Friday morning. After 50 years leading UMass, O'Brien will be succeeded by associate head coach, David Jackson. Jackson will now serve as director of men's track and field and cross country.
“In grateful recognition of 50-plus years of service as a UMass student-athlete and coach, we are proud to announce Ken as the first-ever Coach Emeritus for UMass Athletics,” said Bamford. “Ken's dedication to UMass is simply remarkable,” Bamford added. “His many lasting contributions to the academic and competitive success of our student-athletes and the countless men and women he has positively affected through his teaching and coaching is a profound legacy. We are happy to have Ken remain involved in our program as Coach Emeritus.”
Jackson enters his ninth year working with the program and has played a pivotal role in the development of student-athletes competing in sprints, hurdles, field events and multi-events during that span.
“David is the perfect candidate to continue the success that the UMass men's track and field and cross country programs have seen under Coach O'Brien,” said Bamford. “As associate head coach, David has been involved in every aspect of our men's and women's programs and is ready to step in to this prominent leadership role. We look forward to working with David and women's director Julie LaFreniere as they build championship-caliber programs at UMass.”
A member of the University's Athletic Hall of Fame, O'Brien has been synonymous with UMass cross country and track and field over the last 50 years.
“I am honored to become the first Coach Emeritus for the University of Massachusetts,” said O'Brien. “I'm looking forward to continuing to help our cross country and track and field teams in every way that I can. Coaching, for me, has been made special by all the relationships developed over the years with our student-athletes. I've found great fulfillment in this profession by working with them during their collegiate years and then continuing that bond as they progress through life.“
Jackson, just the fifth men's director/head coach in program history, will take over for his mentor on July 1.
“I'd like to thank both Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford and Coach O'Brien for this opportunity to build upon the great tradition here at UMass,” said Jackson. “The privilege of being mentored by Coach O'Brien over the past eight years has provided lessons and experiences that will serve us all well in my new role. My goal will be to continue fostering a culture of mentorship for our outstanding student-athletes as we compete for prominence at the conference, regional and national levels.”
O'Brien won six letters in cross country and track from 1959-63 at UMass. An outstanding competitor in track and field, his 1:52:70 conference half-mile record remained unbroken for 10 years. O'Brien, the co-recipient of the ECAC Merit Award in 1963 given to the outstanding student-athlete at UMass, graduated with honors from the school of physical education in the same year.
As the UMass men's coach since 1966, O'Brien led UMass to 19 conference titles, three New England cross country championships, and two IC4A cross country crowns during his tenure. He is a two-time Atlantic 10 Cross Country Coach of the Year (1995 and 2008), coached six teams to NCAA cross country championship appearances, and 13 individual NCAA qualifiers and six All-Americans. Under his watch, the UMass men's track and field program produced 20 NCAA qualifiers and 1999 javelin All-American, Vic Morency.
O'Brien was also instrumental in the founding of the UMass women's cross country and track and field programs and served as head coach of those from their inception in 1975-76 to 1987. He was tabbed the New England Coach of the Year for cross country and track and field four times each and was the NCAA District 1 Coach of the Year for Cross Country in 1973 and the NCAA District 1 Coach of the Year for Track and Field in 1998 and 1999.
O'Brien has an expansive “coaching tree” of former student-athletes, graduate assistant coaches, and assistant coaches who learned under him at UMass and have gone on to coach at various levels in the sport. There are dozens of successful high school and collegiate coaches who gained their experience under O'Brien, including UMass women's director of track and field and cross country, Julie LaFreniere, and new men's director David Jackson.
Under Jackson's tutelage during the past eight years, the Minutewomen and Minutemen have seen numerous top-five all-time performances in field events, multi-events, short sprints and hurdles.
Members of the men's programs have collected 10 Atlantic 10 gold medals under Jackson's guidance, including Kris Horn who repeated as A-10 decathlon champion this spring and won a New England title in the event, as well, smashing program, facility, A-10 and New England records in the process. Jackson coached his first New England champion, Zach Koncki, to the indoor long jump title in 2011.
Jackson's work with the women's squad produced five NCAA East Region and Preliminary Championships qualifiers, nine Atlantic 10 champions and 12 New England champions, most recently with Kelsey Crawford capturing her third and fourth shot put gold medals in 2017. He also coached A-10 2017 Outdoor Most Outstanding Rookie Performer Jada Harris to A-10 and New England titles in the 100 meter hurdles.
Prior to his arrival in Amherst in 2009, Jackson previously coached at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2007-09) and Roberts Wesleyan College (2004-07).
A standout discus thrower and sprinter in high school, Jackson went on to compete for Susquehanna University where he received all-conference accolades and earned a trip to the NCAA Division III national championship as a part of the school's 400m relay team in 1994. He graduated from SUNY Buffalo in 1998 and holds a graduate degree from SUNY Brockport.
National searches for a head coach of men's cross country and two full-time assistant coaches for the men's and women's programs, collectively, are in progress.