New Raider coach moves up road for ‘dream come true’

By JOSEPH FANELLI
Herald Sports Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Ted O’Brien has been navigating the Pocket Athletic Conference his whole life.

O'Brien

The 2004 Heritage Hills High School graduate was a four-sport athlete for the Patriots and has made coaching stops at Gibson Southern and South Spencer. But in both his playing and coaching days, Huntingburg Memorial Gym was the one place he always enjoyed visiting the most.

Now the 28-year-old gets to call that gym home.

The Southwest Dubois School Board approved O’Brien as the next Southridge boys basketball coach Wednesday, replacing Jeremy Rauch, who coached the Raiders for four years before departing in May for the job at DeKalb High School in northeastern Indiana. O’Brien will also teach social studies at Southridge High School.

O’Brien spent his high school days in Lincoln City jetting from soccer to cross country to basketball to golf. After playing four years of golf at the University of Southern Indiana, he got his first basketball gig at Gibson Southern, coaching freshmen and then junior varsity team. He was named varsity coach at South Spencer in June 2013 and last winter led the Rebels to their first winning campaign since 2005-06.

The job opening at Southridge proved too much of an opportunity.

The Raiders are in his blood. O’Brien’s grandfather Fred O’Brien played for the Huntingburg Happy Hunters in the 1940s and great-uncle Danny O’Brien played for Southridge in the 1970s and holds records for most points in a game (38), most field goals made in a game (17), field goals made in a season (175) and career free throw percentage (86.3).

“I just have always grown up knowing the tradition,” said O’Brien, who currently lives in Evansville. “I have family from here and it’s just a great opportunity to help build that tradition in the future. Getting to coach at Memorial Gym every night is a dream come true.”

Southridge athletic director Brett Bardwell said the program received 20 to 25 applicants and interviewed six. While Bardwell said the board came away impressed with each interview, it was O’Brien who offered an array of talent.

“When you hire coaches, you look for someone who has the complete package, and I think he has the potential to be really outstanding,” Bardwell said. “He’s a good coach, teacher and person.”

O’Brien joins a Southridge program fresh off a pair of 17-win season and back-to-back PAC championships. The Raiders will return three starters from last year’s squad, which lost to Washington in the first round of the Class 3A sectional and graduated leading scorers Cody Thompson and Chad O’Bryan, a pair O’Brien knows well beyond just game-planning against. He coached the two recent graduates for two years with Team Central, an AAU club featuring players from southern Indiana.

Southridge fans who have become accustomed to a gritty strand of Raider basketball won’t need to expect any dramatic changes in style.

“I was a blue-collar player. Kind of do the little things and be a role player; do the dirty work,” O’Brien said. “So we’ll be very physical defensively and offensively. We’ll play an attacking style that we want to start from the inside-out, working at the basket, whether that’s posting up or making hard drives.”

After Rauch’s departure, Bardwell emphasized finding a coach who could continue Rauch’s cohesion in the program from the very youngest of Raider players all the way to the varsity. O’Brien will look to expand that program-wide continuity.

“I worked extremely hard at my last two schools and it’s something I plan to do,” O’Brien said of strengthening the Raider feeder program. “It’s maybe one of my biggest projects to do here at Southridge. ... I want to put positive people who understand the game of basketball in the right positions and empower them to run the feeder system, but also all of us be on the same page.

“A head coaching job is bigger than just showing up and coaching a varsity team. You have to have a vision for the entire program for it to last for a long time.”

O’Brien emphasized his quick departure after one season from South Spencer had nothing to do with the school and was purely for personal reasons. He said most of his friends and family live in Dubois County, and the move made the most sense for him, his wife Brandy (Ricken), a Tecumseh High School graduate, and his 11-month-old son, Cooper.

O’Brien wants to meet with his new team as soon as possible and before next week’s annual moratorium week, which bans coaches from organizing team activities.

“The way I approach it, we’re going to attack winning championships and (have) that be the expectation,” O’Brien said. “A lot of people say that loosely, and my philosophy is you’ve got to attack that by attacking daily goals. So our job, our players’ goal every day, will be to come in and get better and work on the specific things that are going to help us win championships.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli at jfanelli@dcherald.com.




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