MSU assistant football coach appears on meth charges

MSU assistant football coach appears on meth charges

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Associated Press

HELENA — Montana State assistant head football coach Joe O'Brien, who was arrested Friday on drug charges, made an initial court appearance in Townsend Monday.

The arrest is the second run-in with the law for O'Brien — considered one of head coach Mike Kramer's closest confidants — since he came to MSU.

O'Brien did not enter a plea and bail was set at $15,000 in Justice Court. Another hearing was scheduled for Oct. 3 in District Court.

O'Brien is charged with one count of possessing methamphetamine and one count of possessing the drug with the intent to distribute. The distribution charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, while the possession charge carries a maximum sentence of five years.

County Attorney John Flynn said he did not have details about what led to Friday's arrest.

"It just happened that the parties were able to make contact on cell phones and ended up that the rendezvous point ended up being Broadwater County," Flynn said. "Broadwater County was the location of delivery on the fly."

Bozeman Police Detective Greg Megargel, a member of the Missouri River Drug Task Force, said authorities suspected for months that O'Brien was involved in drug deals.

"This individual has been being looked at for several months," he said. "We had information on that individual ongoing for several months — information we are receiving from various sources."

Montana State suspended O'Brien with pay following his arrest Friday. Kramer was out of town Monday morning and not available for comment.

In May 2000, O'Brien was charged with misdemeanor assault after police said he pushed and injured a woman.

Another assistant coach, Rob Christoff, also was involved in that altercation. Christoff was charged with drunken driving and driving with a revoked license.

At the time, MSU officials said O'Brien was warned he would be fired if he got into trouble with the law again.

Athletic Director Peter Fields, who came on board after the 2000 incident, said Monday he is looking into exactly what type of warning was given to O'Brien. Also, he said the school still has very little information about O'Brien's arrest.

"We have to find out what it is we are approaching," Fields said. "Once we find that out, we will make some decisions and go forward."

Since the misdemeanor assault charge in 2000, O'Brien, 30, has climbed the coaching ladder at MSU. Earlier this year, when O'Brien was promoted from defensive line coach to assistant head coach, Kramer called him "an outstanding representative of this program."

A native of northern California, O'Brien was an All-America defensive lineman at Boise State in 1994, and that same year was voted the Big Sky Conference defensive player of the year.

The football team, 1-1 on the season and coming off one of its most successful campaigns in years after winning a share of the Big Sky conference title, is preparing this week for a game against Cal Poly.

The Bobcats are currently ranked No. 13 in Division I-AA.

Montana State sports information director Bill Lamberty said the team has not had a chance to determine how the arrest changes coaching duties this week.

"We haven't really thought that far ahead," Lamberty said.

In addition to the 2000 arrest of O'Brien and Christoff, former MSU assistant John Rushing was arrested in 2001 after a woman accused him of throwing her to the floor and breaking her arm during an argument in her apartment.

Even though Rushing was eventually found innocent, MSU was criticized in its handling of that affair. The Bozeman Business and Professional Women's organization complained that Rushing had not been suspended while his case was being investigated.

Rushing now coaches at Utah State University.

Fields said the football program will make it through the latest incident.

"We have a lot of good people associated with our program," he said. "We'll have ups and downs and the good people will rise to the top."

Copyright © 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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