Often overlooked, Dave O’Neill has big dreams for Texas rowing

Tyler Winter, Sports Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the March 8, 2022 flipbook.

For the first time in school history, Texas won the NACDA Directors’ Cup in 2021, an award given annually to the best overall athletics program in the country. While fans tend to focus on more prominent sports at Texas, like football, the Texas rowing team took home the national championship last year and was a key part of the Longhorns’ overall success as a program that led to the honor. 

Head coach Dave O’Neill came to Texas in 2014 with the goal of turning Texas into both a rowing school and a rowing state. After securing the school’s first rowing title, he has begun the transformation he dreamed of.

“I understand the assignment,” O’Neill said. “It’s been really satisfying to get this program to the point where we all thought it could be.”

O’Neill discovered the rowing scene during his freshman year at Boston College, where he helped found the rowing club. Following his graduation, he went on to coach at the school and earned a head coaching offer from the University of California in 1998. At Cal, O’Neill won eight Pac-12 Championships and two national titles.

“(To most), rowing is an East Coast sport, but it’s changed quite a bit,” O’Neill said. “Even just when you look at the last few NCAA champions, it’s not an Ivy League dominated sport anymore. It’s some of these big-time, traditionally football schools that have been doing quite well.”

The rowing scene has changed considerably, and now Texas is getting in on the action. During his seven-year tenure as Texas’ head coach, he has won six Big 12 championships, a national title and has twice been named the national coach of the year.

To O’Neill, of all those accolades, the one that matters most is his team’s national championship.

“We certainly came here with a goal in mind,” O’Neill said. “We expect a national championship.”

During his career as a Longhorn, O’Neill has seen international attention for the school grow. O’Neill often has conversations with rowing coaches from all over the world, who know of Texas despite not being an historic rowing program, he says. As an Olympic sport, international recruitment is unlike most other sports in its scope and competitiveness. There are currently eleven international student athletes on Texas’ roster. 

“They know the brand of our team, of our University,” O’Neill said. “As our team has gotten better, we’re recruiting kids from all over the world.”

O’Neill’s resume from his short stint at Texas is already a long one, but it is still growing. He has seen his students reach the Olympics, he has won numerous titles and he believes the greatest achievement is day-to-day improvement. With that in mind, he has his eyes on the big picture.

“Rowing can change the world,” O’Neill said. “There is no better place to be doing that than at Texas.”