BY CHIP DAVIS
PHOTO PROVIDED BY TEXAS ATHLETICS
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This publication can credibly be accused of having a pro-Dave O’Neill bias. In our defense, I first met, and liked, him before I started Rowing News (now in its 29th year, I’m proud to note). Dave O and I both pursued Olympic dreams, training at Boston Rowing Center, coached by the great Liz O’Leary.
We both went on to race bicycles (not at the Olympics). Dave worked as a bike courier, took odd jobs, and volunteer-coached the women’s club crew at Boston College, his alma mater. In those days, he was so starved for funds that when a shell trailer crashed, Dave took the undamaged bow section from one eight and mated it with the stern section of another, and raced the “Franken-Shell.” So what if the two halves were different colors; it was better than anything they could afford at the time.
He also helped Rowing News in our early days, writing articles without pay and encouraging our development, with lots of positive feedback and only the very occasional constructive criticism (O’Neill is not a fan of oarsmen standing up in the boat).
O’Neill, as related in Ed Moran’s story beginning on page 38 in our print edition and published online over the weekend, went on to coach Cal to two NCAA national championships. He helped identify his successor, Al Acosta, who coached the Bears to another NCAA title when O’Neill went to Texas, where he’s currently preparing to defend the Longhorns’ first NCAA national championship.
Despite his successes at the highest level of American collegiate rowing, O’Neill has lost neither his appreciation for the value of rowing (“I believe the lessons you learn rowing can make the world a better place, and that’s what really matters”) nor his sense of fun— at the 2015 NCAA championships, his Texas crews began showing up at the podium wearing cowboy boots. At the 2018 NCAAs, they raced different hulls in the heats and finals—controversially and successfully—which is something men’s crews have done for decades. O’Neill also sets the standard for productive interaction with the media and public. He returns every phone call and inquiry and recently appeared on Alex DelSordo’s pioneering Finishline Live (check it out on YouTube), helping rowers understand what to expect from rowing on the Division I level.
Yes, we may very well be biased towards Dave O’Neill and the persistent professionalism and fun he brings to our sport.