CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Former University of Miami rowing coach Joseph “Okie” O’Connor passed away Saturday in an accident on Tempe Town Lake in Arizona.
O’Connor, who was the first head rowing coach at the University of Miami, was the boating coordinator for the City of Tempe. The 56-year-old was on Tempe Town Lake when he accidentally fell into the water and drowned.
“Okie was certainly one of a kind and not only well-known, but well-loved, in the rowing community,” Miami head rowing coach Andrew Carter said. “There’s no doubt about his impact on rowing at the University of Miami. Anyone who knew him in his role here always smiles when his name is mentioned.”
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, O’Connor was a significant contributor to Miami’s rowing program. Named the team’s first coach in 1986, O’Connor guided the Canes to new heights as a program.
Originally a club sport, O’Connor built the rowing program from the ground up. Under his leadership, the Canes moved into the Ronald W. Shane Watersports Center in 1993. That same year, O’Connor was named the Southeast Collegiate Coach of the Year.
In 1996, the University of Miami officially recognized rowing as a varsity sport. O’Connor guided the program until August 2001. In 15 years at Miami, “Okie” made an impact on countless rowers and members of the University community.
“I’ve already heard from one of our alumnae who is organizing a reunion this fall and she’s let me know that the URowing Alumni group has been in contact over the past couple of days, sharing stories,” Carter said. “They want to include some time dedicated to Okie during their weekend, scheduled for the UF football weekend. I think this speaks volumes to the impact he had on the UM rowers.”