MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Dan O’Brien was an assistant coach with the Minnesota Gophers football team for Tracy Claeys, and an associate athletic director for Jerry Kill.

He has also been a head coach and athletic director at both Concordia-St Paul and Hamline.

But O’Brien is now getting back in the high school game.

“It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a high school setting,” O’Brien said.

Twenty years, in fact, since O’Brien roamed a high school football sideline. He started at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, then Lakeville, then Bemidji, before jumping on the college ladder and starting his climb.

Concordia-St. Paul to Hamline to the Gophers — as an assistant coach in the Big Ten.

Dan O’Brien (credit: CBS)

But when the Gophers changed coaches, O’Brien changed careers, and last fall he found himself helping out at St. Agnes for fun. It re-stoked the fires.

“My first time there, you know, we were having a meeting and we were installing the defense, and I said, ‘Hey now, we’re gonna slant to the right, and your fit is gonna be here, and your fit is gonna be here, and your fit’s here,’ and a kid kind of raised his hand after I had talked for about five minutes about fits, and he said, ‘What’s a fit?’ And I said, ‘Oh man, I gotta retool this thing a little bit here and we got to get back to square one.”

That is when he remembered how much he enjoyed teaching the game. That is how he knew he belonged back in high school. He says St. Thomas is the perfect fit.

“It really has brought me back to the fundamentals and the basics of football, which I think is good for every coach every once in a while, just to take a step back and say, ‘Hey, let’s ground ourselves, these are the things that got us going in the first place,'” O’Brien said. “When you start as a high school guy and you’re young, your deal is, ‘Hey, I wanna climb, I wanna get to the highest level I wanna possibly can.’ And, you know, when you’re in your 20s, I want to get there as fast as I can. But the opportunity to go and to have those experiences, I kind of always knew I would end up back in high school. You know, it’s in its very purest form. There aren’t scholarships, there’s not training tables. you know, it’s kids just love playing football. And probably the biggest thing is you have a chance to impact a kid’s life.”

He has been to the top of the mountain, and boy did he sure enjoy it. But he’s awfully excited about having that impact.

“My vision for this place, for St. Thomas Academy, is to build better men and to build better leaders, and we do that through the game of football. Now obviously there’s other pieces that go along with that, and I’m incredibly competitive, and when Friday night rolls around, I’m going to feel much better if we win those more than we lose those. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is … are we getting them to be better men? Are they going to be better husbands? They’re going to be better fathers? Are we making them better sons and better brothers?” O’Brien said. “And I look forward to that, I embrace that, and that’s one of the reasons I’m back at this level and really looking forward to it.”