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O'Brien steps down from Springfield Central boys hoop

After just one year at the helm of the boys basketball program, legendary coach Jack O'Brien is stepping down, principal Tad Tokarz confirmed to ESPNBoston.com.

The news was first reported by Thomas King of MassLive.com.

Over a span of two decades in stints at Charlestown and Salem, O'Brien built powerhouses, winning a combined six state champions and producing some of the most legendary names in Massachusetts high school basketball, from Rick Brunson to Scoonie Penn, Rashid Al-Kaleem, Ridley Johnson and Tony Lee. O'Brien's most recent state championship season, with Charlestown in 2004-05, was chronicled in a best-selling book, "The Assist".

O'Brien returned to coaching basketball after a seven-year hiatus when he accepted the Central job last September, taking over from Mike Labrie, a year and a half removed from the Golden Eagles' first Division 1 state title in two decades. The early returns were promising, but the Eagles sputtered to a 10-11 finish after a season-opening win over Amherst, finishing 10-11. That included two 30-point blowouts at the hands of archrival Putnam, which won its second straight MIAA Division 1 State Championship last March.

Compounding things were an extremely difficult commute for O'Brien, who maintained his residence in Medford and his job in the physical education department at West Roxbury High School; sometimes, his daily commute back and forth exceeded 200 miles.

"He did everything we asked, and we were extremely happy to have him," Tokarz said. "We knew coming in, the drive was going to be [difficult]...It was all contingent on him getting to Central. It was always a concern, but for us and him, it was too good not to try.

"We can say we tried. He tried, and he did fantastic job. But to do it over the long haul, from a sustainability standpoint -- especially with the winter this year -- it didn't seem feasible. I don't know if it could have continued much longer."

Tokarz said he will be posting the open position "immediately", with plans to have the new coach in place in time for the summer.