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O’Brien takes Emerson job

Ex-Eagle rejoins coaching ranks

JIM O’BRIEN Controversial departures JIM O’BRIEN
Controversial departures
By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / May 18, 2011

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Boston was home to Jim O’Brien 40 years ago when he was playing basketball for Boston College, and it was again when he coached the Eagles from 1986-97.

O’Brien hasn’t coached anywhere in seven years — after a controversial departure from Ohio State left him with a tarnished reputation — but he had said he wouldn’t mind getting back into the business if the situation were right.

O’Brien completed the circle yesterday when Emerson College announced that he has been hired as men’s basketball coach.

“We are extremely excited to have attracted someone with Jim’s talents and experience to Emerson,’’ said athletic director Kristin Parnell. “He will help the basketball team build on its many past successes.’’

“The more I thought about it, the more I thought it was something I wanted to do,’’ said O’Brien. “But if I got back into coaching, I wanted to stay in Boston. It fits into what I want to do in my life right now.’’

O’Brien has been out of coaching since being fired for recruiting violations at Ohio State in 2004. He wound up suing the school and winning a $2.4 million award for breach of contract.

“It bothered me a lot,’’ said O’Brien. “In 27 years in this profession, there was never one second of an issue with the NCAA about how we ran the program. And then all of a sudden this is how you get labeled. There was damage, and it really bothered me a lot.’’

Although Emerson has had success in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (conference titles in 1998 and 1999, and six other appearances in conference title games), the Division 3 school went 10-16 last season, and coach Hank Smith, according to a statement from the school, “decided to leave the college to pursue other interests’’ after 16 years.

O’Brien, who also coached at St. Bonaventure (1982-86), had been banned by the NCAA after the problems at Ohio State but was reinstated in 2008.

O’Brien’s departure from BC also was marked by controversy and acrimony involving recruits of his who were denied admission by the college. O’Brien ultimately sued BC for slander and breach of contract, a case that was settled out of court.

At Ohio State, O’Brien guided the Buckeyes to the Final Four in 1999, but there was another recruiting controversy. In September 1998, O’Brien was pursuing Alex Radojevic, a Yugoslavian who would never play at Ohio State or any other college. O’Brien sent a check for $6,000 to Radojevic’s mother, who was trying to support a family in a country torn apart by civil war.

Since Radojevic never played for Ohio State, O’Brien did not tell school administrators about the payment until six years later, when more violations occurred during the recruiting of another foreign player, Boban Savovic.

Ohio State was placed on probation and had its appearance in the 1999 Final Four vacated, among other penalties. O’Brien was terminated by the university but wound up winning his lawsuit. His coaching career had been in limbo until yesterday.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.