Man who turned Notre Dame Rugby into powerhouse to lead Lopes into next decade
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
GCU Club Sports is proud to announce that they have hired former longtime University of Notre Dame coach Sean O’Leary as the Lopes’ Head Men’s Rugby Coach. O’Leary will also assist with the operations of the women’s rugby program at GCU. O’Leary becomes the third full-time head coach in GCU Men’s Rugby history.
“Today, GCU gets one of the top leaders and coaches in all of rugby,” said GCU Director of Club Sports Dan Nichols. “Students and staff are going to really enjoy being with him on campus. Coach “O” is a motivator who can elevate those around him.”
The native of Dublin, Ireland, comes to GCU hoping to create a storied tradition for Lopes’ Men’s Rugby, since that’s something he’s already done on the collegiate level. O’Leary began his coaching career nearly 20 years ago, and it took an ‘out-of-the-blue’ opportunity to establish him on the university level. A request just days before the 2003 USA Rugby Collegiate Division 1 National Tournament by coaches and players at Harvard University to help them in their tournament preps helped propel the Crimson from the second-lowest seed in the field to a berth in the championship match. The overwhelming success of that six-week assignment led to O’Leary spending four years building the program up at Northeastern University.
Then in 2007, O’Leary got the job that officially established his reputation on the collegiate level, leading the University of Notre Dame Men’s Rugby program from dormant to skyrocketing powerhouse. Under O’Leary’s leadership, USA Rugby asked the Fighting Irish to join the College Premier Division in 2010; and they became a mainstay at the Penn Mutual College Rugby 7s Championships from the tournament’s inception in 2010 to his departure in 2015. O’Leary also led Notre Dame to berths in United World Sports’ Varsity Cup, and even helped UND begin a women’s rugby program in 2009.
O’Leary then took his talents to the pro level, becoming the head coach of the new Denver Stampede of then then-expansion PRO Rugby North America league. While the league lasted just one season, O’Leary led the Stampede to the league title, and was celebrated in Colorado’s largest city for the way he helped develop interest in the league and the sport, and gave back to the community by stopping in to help Colorado State University’s men’s rugby team with their skills, established the Colorado Rugby Academy, signed on with the nationally respected Eagle Impact Rugby Academy and even became a consultant to Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora after the pro franchise folded. O’Leary has also worked with the USA 17s & U19s from 1999 through 2008, and continues to help develop high school players through his work with EIRA.
O’Leary’s coaching career actually began on the high school level at Boston College High School on the east coast, and it was O’Leary’s BCHS alums that moved on to Harvard that made that fateful call to him in 2003.
O’Leary inherits a Lopes’ Men’s Rugby team that has been a constant in the national spotlight for the last two years. The Lopes reached the D1A Rugby Playoffs Nationals Round of 16 for the second straight season last April, losing to eventual national championship runnerup St. Mary’s College of California. The Lopes finished among the top 15 teams in the final D1A Rugby Poll in both 2018 and 2019.
O’Leary’s first official day on the job will be Tuesday, September 3.