Final whistle for Red Devils’ soccer coach

After 27 years directing one of the best high school soccer programs in Suffolk County, Southold native Chris O’Brien has decided to hang up his coaching clipboard for good.

He will step down as Center Moriches boys soccer head coach at the end of the fall season.

O’Brien, 62, said the decision did not come easily.

“I just think 27 years is a long time,” he said Monday night after the Red Devils’ season-opening, non-league 1-0 win over visiting Mattituck. “I want to spend a little bit more time with my dad, who’s in his 90s.”

His father, Tuck O’Brien, is a former minor league baseball player and an elementary school science teacher in the Southold school district and will turn 92 in October. Tuck O’Brien played an important role in developing the St. Patrick’s CYO basketball program and the North Fork American Legion Baseball League. He also instilled the love of soccer into his sons, Greg, Doug, Tommy and Chris, who also starred in the sport at Southold High School. Greg still holds the county record for most career goals, with 111. 

“I put a lot of my heart and soul into this. I’m very passionate about this,” Chris O’Brien said. “I think that passion has spread to the kids and my assistant coaches. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what else is around the bend. I’m 62. I’m in good health. I’ve lost 25 pounds since last season. I walk about five miles a day and hopefully by next year, it’ll be seven.”

In 1997, O’Brien replaced Dom Perrier as the school’s third boys soccer coach since 1947. Under his direction, the Red Devils have won numerous county titles, in Class B and C, captured state championships in 2009 and 2017 and reached the finals in 2006 and 2019, while compiling a 309-136-26 record. Center Moriches’ main adversary has been Mattituck, in what turned into the longest and arguably best high school soccer rivalry in New York.

O’Brien has been both a player and a coach in those classic confrontations, graduating from Southold High School after a three-year varsity career as a forward under coaching legend Dick Osmer. He became a defender at Southern Connecticut State University, reaching four NCAA final fours.

In 2020, O’Brien retired as a social studies teacher at Center Moriches Junior High.

He thought about retiring as a coach after last season. But since Center Moriches was moved from Class B to Class A due to an increase in school population, O’Brien decided to stay for one more campaign. The Red Devils will play in League VI, instead of League VII, home to the Southold, Greenport and Mattituck squads.

“It’s a different challenge for us,” he said. “I was considering not coming back this year, but then when the opportunity to coach in the A division presented itself, I thought this was not the time to leave. I thought I should stick it out for one more year. My assistants have been loyal to me and it’s time to let them do the dirty work.

“I’ll be around the game in some facet,” he added. “It’s just been too much a part of my life not to be part of it.”