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Cross Country

UC Irvine's Vince O'Boyle Leaves Great Legacy


By Olivia Phelps

Thirty-two years ago when Vince O’Boyle first accepted a coaching position for the Cross Country and Track and Field programs at UC Irvine, he had big dreams of a top tier athletic program at a top tier university.  Now with a combined 19 Big West cross country titles (12 women, seven men) under his leadership, the 20-time Big West Coach of the Year is hanging up his hat, or perhaps his Hawaiian t-shirts, his staple attire in the office and on the field.

O’Boyle announced his retirement in September of this year to be effective December 31, 2013.  With the Big West Cross Country Championship on November 2, O’Boyle will coach his squad one last time as the Director of Men’s and Women’s Track and Field and Cross Country.

In coach O’Boyle fashion, the second-longest tenured head coach in UCI history said on his retirement, “I’m not dying.  I’m not disappearing.  I’m just going to step back a bit.”

In the midst of a love affair that began at the young age of 15 or 16 years old, O’Boyle’s passion for the sport still burns as bright as ever.

If there has ever been someone that makes the age-old statement true, it’s O’Boyle: “You can take the man out of coaching, but you can’t take the coach out of the man.”

After all, it was a coach some 50 plus years ago that influenced the then-high school sophomore to consider permanently trading in his football pads for track spikes.  At the time in O’Boyle’s mind, track was simply something athletes competed in during the spring in order to stay in shape for football in the fall.  It wasn’t until his track coach at Monrovia High Schooltook him aside and said, “You have more ability in track than you will in football.  It will take you further.”

“When he said that I kind of went, ‘How far am I going to go with this?’  Not knowing then that it was going to take me into the profession and help me get an education,” O’Boyle said.

“The high school coaches I had, were very influential.  I guess now looking back, I didn’t realize it then that the things they said stuck in my head. Not knowing years later they would be still stuck in my head.  That had a lot to do with how I decided to go into this.”

O’Boyle trusted his high school coach’s opinion and focused on track the remainder of his high school career.

As the son of “blue-collar Irish” parents, O’Boyle grew up in a home that stressed the importance of education, discipline and hard work. 

So when his father fell ill right around the time O’Boyle was making plans post high school graduation, he decided to stay close to home and attend community college.

O’Boyle continued running competitively and weighed his options after he completed his GED.  The sprinter made the decision again to remain close to his mother and decided to take his talents to Cal Poly Pomona where he transitioned from a sprinter to a middle distance runner.  There O’Boyle placed second in the Division II national cross country meet in 1968 and eighth in Division I in 1969.

Still determined to compete, O’Boyle trained as he pursued his M.A. degree in education from Azusa Pacific in 1973.

While training at Pasadena City College one day, the head coach at the time asked O’Boyle, “Have you ever thought of going into coaching?  Would you want to coach with me?”

“I don’t know anything about coaching,” said O’Boyle.

The athlete also seriously considered whether or not coaching would affect his own running, realizing that if he really wanted to immerse himself in mentoring and training other athletes, he would have to think about transitioning from running himself to teaching the sport that he loved.

“I still kept running, but I didn’t run with the guys anymore.”

O’Boyle was sold on the profession after agreeing to coach at Pasadena.

While teaching special education at Citrus Community College the school’s athletic director approached O’Boyle and offered him a coaching job.  

“I would take off my tie and head to the field after class.”

Coach O’Boyle remained at Citrus for 11 years after the athletic director transitioned the future Mt. SAC Relays Hall of Famer into the head coaching position.

The athletic director at Citrus moved onto UC Irvine and eventually inspired O’Boyle to join him in Orange County.  What essentially made up O’Boyle’s mind to come to UC Irvine was the idea that a student-athlete could compete while receiving the kind of education that a UC school has to offer.

“Students get the best education that you can get,” said O’Boyle on UC Irvine.

“The quality of students that come here, not just athletes but students, are class acts.  When I came [to Irvine] one of [Dan] Aldrich’s goals [the founding chancellor at UC Irvine] was to make this one of the top institutions in the United States.  So [I thought] if we’re going to have that philosophy, why can’t the cross country/track team have the same philosophy?”

It was this philosophy that attracted O’Boyle to UC Irvine, and it is the same philosophy that kept him on the same campus for 32 years.

O’Boyle has since taken the women’s cross country team to four NCAA Championships and in 1990 his squad placed fourth in the nation, the highest finish in program history.  O’Boyle has coached 25 NCAA All-Americans while at UCI and in 1984 his women’s cross country team scored a perfect team total of 15 points in the conference championship.

Lou Duesing, the assistant coach of the women’s cross-country team at Cornell, has enjoyed a long friendship with O’Boyle that began at the 1984 Olympic Trials.

“What is unique about Vince,” Duesing said, “is the passion he brings to the sport, his profession and in his love for UC Irvine.  In particular, he loves working with the young men and women he has coached throughout his time at UCI, whether they are All-Americans or simply hard working middle of the pack runners.  Not all coaches show that kind of devotion, especially in scholarship programs.”  

Irvine brought O’Boyle athletes like Buffy Rabbitt, whom he helped coach to five All- American honors and two NCAA Region 8 cross-country championships, as well as Charles Jock, who was crowned the NCAA Champion in the 800-meter final in 2012 and qualified for the Olympic trials that summer.

And O’Boyle’s reputation brought him an athlete like Ruth Wysocki, whose father approached the Irish coach when Ruth was just an underclassman in high school.  Wysocki’s father knocked on his door and asked O’Boyle to train his daughter.

“I thought, ‘I’ve never coached a girl in my life’,” said O’Boyle.

Years down the line in 1984, Wysocki and O’Boyle were still a team and the first girl the Irvine coach ever trained, became and remains to this day, the only female to ever to make the Olympic Finals in the 800 and the 1500-meter race.

“We always stayed together,” said O’Boyle on their relationship.  “We had a sort of ‘marriage’ and I think that was a reason she became an Olympian.”

O’Boyle has coached a number of athletes in his years and he tailors his training to the athletes’ specific needs.

Said Duesing, “Vince coaches the person, taking his or her strengths and helping to mold them into successful competitors.  In the end, I think he loves the young people he coaches, and loves the school at which he has worked.”  

Mark Conover at Cal Poly agrees.  When asked what makes coach O’Boyle unique, the Mustang cross-country and track head coach replied, “His ability to individualize specific training plans to fit the needs of each athlete. Along with this comes an obvious passion and caring for the student-athlete’s welfare.”

Not only has O’Boyle thoroughly decorated the track and cross-country programs at UC Irvine, he decorated the athletic department, and the campus, in yet another way.

Any Anteater will tell you that the UCI stack, the logo that sits atop just about every Irvine uniform, adorns almost every item of clothing in the bookstore.  The logo, it turns out, is the product of a collaborative effort between O’Boyle and a silver worker named Tony Smith.

The cross-country coach met Smith by happenstance at Alta Coffee in Newport Beach and visited Smith’s shop with a UCI sweatshirt in tow.  O’Boyle showed Smith a sweater that had UCI scrolled across the chest and asked if there would be a way to combine the three letters.  Smith grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and immediately began sketching, first drawing the “C” that was modeled after the Cincinnati Reds’ logo.  Shortly thereafter, the UCI stack appeared on the piece of paper and now, years down the line sits etched into a silver ring that the coach wears proudly and rarely takes off.

O’Boyle is immediately associated when a student or an athlete sports the UCI logo, in much the same way when his peers think about St. Patrick’s Day and Hawaiian t-shirts.

The legendary O’Boyle is ready to take a step back but UC Irvine will always be his home and coaching will always be his passion.

Track and field head coach Andy Sythe of Long Beach State shares, “Truly, Vince has been a leader in our sport.  He is a friend, a mentor, and a great coach.  It won’t be the same without him, but I will always have Vince to thank for the many times his words and actions have helped improve our sport.”

“He has always been a guiding hand and a voice of reason.”

“All of the awards are nice,” said Duesing, “but pale in value to what he has earned just grinding it out day after day, loving his work, loving the people with whom he works and just being at a great place like UCI.”

When asked what he is looking forward to come retirement O’Boyle wondered, “Other than coaching?”

The history buff looks forward to the opportunity to travel to Ireland someday and would love to visit the nation’s capitol.  However, his most enthusiastic reply came when he began talking about a high altitude training group in Mammoth with which he would love to be involved.

After all, O’Boyle said, “I may be retiring, but I’m not tired.”