The Five-Minute Interview: Tom O’Connor, Assistant Vice President and Director of Athletics

Posted: December 7, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

Tom O'Connor
Tom O’Connor

Athletics photo

Tom O’Connor was named Mason athletic director in 1994 and received the added title of assistant vice president in 1999. Under his leadership, the men’s indoor track and field team won the national championship in 1996; the Patriots ranked first among Division I-AAA (nonfootball) institutions in the 1995 and 1997 Sears Directors’ Cup; and last spring the men’s basketball team became the first school from the Colonial Athletic Association to advance to the NCAA Final Four.

O’Connor, a 1968 graduate of Assumption (Mass.) College, signed a contract extension in May that will keep him at Mason through 2012. On the NCAA level, he is vice chairman of the 10-member NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Committee. This season’s tournament has a $6 billion contract with CBS-TV.

He will become chairman for the 2008 championship, pending approval in February from the Division I Championships/Competition Cabinet. He will be the first chair from a nonfootball school.

The New Jersey native is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame at Assumption, where he was a four-year letterman in basketball. He was the head men’s basketball coach at Dartmouth College at the age of 25, and he was also the head coach of Loyola College in Baltimore. O’Connor was athletic director at Loyola, Santa Clara University and St. Bonaventure University before he came to Mason. He was honored with the New England Hall of Fame 2004 Pathfinder Award.

For the five-minute interview, we asked him to complete the sentences below.

If I wasn’t talking to you right now, I’d be … Let’s see, today is Tuesday. I would probably be at a meeting with some of my staff. This is the day we normally have our weekly coaches’ meeting. A typical day for me is to do a lot of constituent work. Many days I am out with business lunches.

The last movie I saw was … “The Departed,” with Jack Nicholson.

The book I’m reading is … “The Camel Club,” by David Baldacci. It’s a typical suspense (story) about the Washington, D.C., area. I think he is a pretty good writer.

My favorite kind of ice cream is … cherry vanilla.

My favorite television show is … “Boston Legal.”

My favorite thing about working at Mason is … the people. I have been at a number of universities. I just think there is a good sense of community here. People care about one another.

My philosophy of teamwork in management is … consensus building. And I try to do that by having open staff meetings and empowering (staff) to make decisions. That is important as well. If you develop consensus building, you can move forward in a powerful way.

My best memory of last year’s Final Four was … the expression on the Mason players’ faces, especially the three seniors (Lamar Butler, Jai Lewis and Tony Skinn). The world saw the expression of Lamar Butler on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I saw the expression all over the place – in practice, the locker room, all over the place. The other faces are just as important; the faces of the fans, the faces of the internal community and the external community. And on a personal note, the faces of my family: to see their faces light up was special for me. All of my family (wife, Barbara, four children and eight grandchildren) attended the Final Four.

My role as a member of the committee … is to administer the national basketball championship comprised of teams representing NCAA institutions. My role as chair will be to manage and run the various meetings during 2007-08 and be a media representative of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee.

My biggest challenge as a member of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Committee is … I feel there is a tremendous responsibility to get it right, to get it right for the players who deserve to be in the tournament. Since the first of November, outside of George Mason, I have seen 18 teams play already.

My thoughts on the support President Alan Merten and the Board of Visitors have given to Mason Athletics are … you have to have support at the top. If we didn’t have that support, we wouldn’t be able to do this. We all want to do it the right way. It is not my athletic program, it is the university’s program. It has to be a total team effort. We have that here.

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