Mickey O’Brien, former UT head trainer, began his career in high school, serving as trainer to the football, baseball, and basketball squads at Central High School in Chattanooga. In the spring of 1925, he captured the attention of UT alumnus Strang Nicklin, who was managing the Chattanooga baseball club of the Southern League. He served for three years as trainer of the Lookouts and attended the National School of Physo-Therapy [sic] in Chicago in the off-season. He worked for six years as a physo-therapist at a Chattanooga hospital, continuing his work with the Lookouts.
In 1928 and 1929, he served as trainer of the Birmingham Barons and, in 1930 and 1931, as trainer of the Atlanta Crackers. He then trained the Reading, Pennsylvania, club of the International League and later was trainer at Albany, New York. His collegiate training began at the University of Chattanooga (now UTC) in 1927. He continued to train baseball teams in the summer and UTC football during the football season. He joined the UT staff in 1938, serving as head trainer from 1938 to 1941 and from 1945 to 1972. While in the Navy (1941–45), he obtained a leave of absence to train the players of General Neyland’s Army East All-Stars. The All-Stars played a number of professional football clubs, once playing the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and Chicago Bears in a period of eight days.
O’Brien contributed designs for athletic equipment to equipment manufacturers throughout the country, specializing in designs for football protective gear. In 1977 he was designated as “trainer emeritus” at UT. Among his honors are induction into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame (1973) and National Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame (1964). The Tennessee Athletic Trainer’s Association annually gives the Eugene Smith/Mickey O’Brien College Trainer of the Year award.