McHenry County Prep Sports

Marian Central grad Cody O’Neill returns as Hurricanes’ athletic director

Marian Central athletic director Cody O'Neill

Once Cody O’Neill finished playing college football and embarked upon a college coaching career, he could not have seen this day coming.

But life threw O’Neill one of the nastiest curveballs ever in 2020, one that completely refigured his career path. And on Monday, O’Neill, 20 months removed from heart transplant surgery, started his new job as Marian Central athletic director.

O’Neill and his wife Kelsey already had planned to move to Woodstock this summer, buying Kelsey’s parents’ house. As fortune would have it, former Hurricanes AD Curtis Price was leaving for the AD job 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 at Marian for an interview with superintendent Mike Shukis. He was officially hired two weeks ago.

“I never thought I’d be back here,” O’Neill said. “I thought I’d be in college athletics my entire life with the path that I was on, but obviously the fall of 2020 changed a lot of that for me. So after all that happened and [I] had conversations with my wife, coaching wasn’t totally out of the picture, but it was time to take away some of the things that took so much time away from my wife and kids.”

O’Neill is a 2009 Marian graduate; Kelsey also is a Marian alumnus. Her uncle, Brad Harding, notified O’Neill that the AD job was coming open.

O’Neill first met Shukis while attending St. Joseph Catholic School in Harvard in elementary school. Shukis was a counselor at St. Joseph.

“He was my counselor there and ended up being principal and continued to move up the ladder in his career,” O’Neill said. “That was a huge draw for me, to have that connection and knowing how great of a person he is and knowing 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 your students,” Shukis said. “Some are easier to believe in than others. Cody was one of the easy ones. 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 type of person he had become.

“He had very good prior experience. His work with large budgets, fundraising, scheduling and with coaches. He also has demonstrated very strong leadership skills in his prior experiences. All of this and more put him 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 strong career at FCS South Dakota, graduating in 2014, and had a tryout camp with the Minnesota Vikings. He worked as a student assistant coach for the 2014 spring season, moved to Montana State-Northern from 2014 through the spring of 2017, then took the offensive line coach at South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, O’Neill became ill, but not from the virus. After suffering through months not feeling well, it was diagnosed that O’Neill’s heart was functioning at about 20% of what it should have been.

By October that year, O’Neill was on a transplant list and he was moved to Northwestern Medical Center in Chicago in November to wait for a donor match.

On Nov. 18, O’Neill underwent 6 hours of surgery for the transplant. He did not rule out a return to coaching at that point, but felt he needed to slow down for a while.

O’Neill worked for the last year at South Dakota School of Mines as operations coordinator, which he said basically was an assistant athletic director position.

“I absolutely loved it, I enjoyed it every day,” he said. “A couple of the big things I did was working with the budget, handling money, making sure all the sports and daily operations are taken care of. That was one of the big things Mike Shukis hit on in my interview and that’s something I’ve done since the spring of 2021, working with the administrative assistant in the office on budget things and daily operations, events and travel, hotel accommodations were taken care of.”

It helped prepare O’Neill for his return home and his next job.

“As I said, Cody’s knowledge, skills, experience and leadership qualities were outstanding,” Shukis said. “However, it was his character that truly set him apart from any other candidate. We believe he is just an outstanding individual who fits in perfectly with Marian Central.”

Cody and Kelsey O’Neill have a daughter Emersyn (4) and a 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 from their house, so they sold to Cody and Kelsey and moved to a smaller house in Woodstock.

New Hurricanes football coach Liam Kirwan, who was four years behind O’Neill at Marian, sent some players over to help the O’Neills move in. The players received a bit of a history lesson while helping their new AD.

“They were talking about the George Harding (Marian’s football 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, ‘That’s my great-grandfather.’ They looked at her. It brought everything back home again.”