Marian Central grad Cody O’Neill returns as Hurricanes athletic director – Shaw Local
Once Cody O’Neill finished playing college football and embarked on a college coaching career, he couldn’t have seen this day coming.
But life threw O’Neill one of the nastiest curve balls of all time in 2020, one that completely reshaped his career path. And on Monday, O’Neill, 20 months removed from heart transplant surgery, began his new job as athletic director of Marian Central.
O’Neill and his wife Kelsey had already planned to move to Woodstock this summer, buying Kelsey’s parents’ house. Luckily, former Hurricanes DA Curtis Price was leaving for the DA position at Chicago St. Rita, his alma mater.
When O’Neill was back in the Chicago area for a doctor’s appointment in early June, he also stopped by Marian for an interview with Superintendent Mike Shukis. He was officially hired two weeks ago.
“I never thought I would be back here,” O’Neill said. “I thought I would be in college athletics my whole life with the path I was on, but obviously the fall of 2020 has changed a lot for me. So after everything that’s happened and [I] had conversations with my wife, coaching wasn’t totally off the table, but it was time to take away some of the things that took my wife and kids so long.
O’Neill is a 2009 Marian graduate; Kelsey is also a Marian alumnus. His uncle, Brad Harding, informed O’Neill that the AD position was opening up.
O’Neill first met Shukis while attending St. Joseph’s Catholic School at Harvard in elementary school. Shukis was a councilor at St. Joseph.
“He was my adviser there and ended up being a manager and continued to work his way up the career ladder,” O’Neill said. “It was a huge draw for me, to have that connection and to know how great he is and to know that Marian is in good hands under him.”
Shukis remembered O’Neill well from their days at St. Joseph.
“As an administrator, you do your best to believe in all of your students,” Shukis said. “Some are easier to believe than others. Cody was one of the easiest. In some ways, I think it was harder for Cody because of our past relationship. I really took my time in his interview to see what kind of person he had become.
“He had very good previous experience. His work with big budgets, fundraisers, schedules and with coaches. He has also demonstrated very strong leadership skills in his previous experiences. All of this and more puts it at the top of our list.
O’Neill played on Marian’s 2006 Class 5A state runner-up football team on an offensive line that included future NFL player Bryan Bulaga and future Notre Dame defensive lineman Sean Cwynar.
O’Neill had a solid career at FCS South Dakota, graduating in 2014 and attending a tryout with the Minnesota Vikings. He worked as a student assistant coach for the spring 2014 season, moved to Montana North State from 2014 to spring 2017, then took offensive line coach at the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City. .
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, O’Neill fell ill, but not from the virus. After suffering for months without feeling well, O’Neill’s heart was diagnosed to be functioning at around 20% of what it should have been.
In October of that year, O’Neill was on a transplant list, and he was transferred to Northwestern Medical Center in Chicago in November to wait for a matching donor.
On November 18, O’Neill underwent 6 hours of surgery for the transplant. He didn’t rule out a return to training then, but felt he needed to slow down for a while.
O’Neill worked last year at the South Dakota School of Mines as an operations coordinator, which he says was basically an assistant athletic director position.
“I absolutely loved it, I enjoyed it every day,” he said. “Among the great things I did was working with the budget, managing the money, making sure all the sports and day-to-day operations were taken care of. This was one of the big things that Mike Shukis emphasized during my interview and it’s something I’ve been doing since the spring of 2021, working with the office administrative assistant on budget issues and daily operations, events and travel, hotel rooms were taken care of.
This helped prepare O’Neill for his return home and his next job.
“As I said, Cody’s knowledge, skills, experience and leadership qualities were exceptional,” Shukis said. “However, it’s his character that really sets him apart from any other candidate. We think he’s just an exceptional person who fits perfectly at Marian Central.
Cody and Kelsey O’Neill have daughter Emersyn (4) and son Lincoln (1 1/2). Kelsey was seven months pregnant with Lincoln when Cody had the transplant.
Kelsey’s parents, Andy and Jocelyn Harding, were looking to downsize their home, so they sold Cody and Kelsey and moved to a smaller home in Woodstock.
New Hurricanes football coach Liam Kirwan, who was four years behind O’Neill in Marian, sent players to help the O’Neills move in. Players received a history lesson while helping out their new AD.
“They were talking about George Harding (Marian’s soccer field), and Kelsey said, ‘Are you laughing or making fun of George Harding?’ “O’Neill said. “And they said, ‘No, that’s what we call the field.’ She said, ‘He’s my great-grandfather.’ They looked at her, it brought everything home.