This chapter of the Tom Osborne story will soon end, but I know one thing, there's at least one more left before the conclusion.
At Dr. Osborne's press conference, he was asked about his legacy. This is what he said:
"That legacy question is a tricky one," Osborne told reporters. "I'd rather you guys [media] wrote it than me."
There is no question that Dr. Osborne has had a great impact on Nebraska athletics and the state of Nebraska. His on-field and off-field successes with Nebraska football have been and will be discussed for a long time, as will his brief political career and his five years as Nebraska's athletic steward.
But Dr. Osborne was more than just a man fulfilling a position in Nebraska.
And despite Harvey Perlman suggesting otherwise (**), I think all Nebraska fans know this.
The CN staff takes this opportunity to offer up their own thoughts on Osborne's legacy.
Salt Creek and Stadium:
I'm a young guy. Some of you might even have kids who have been fans of Nebraska longer than me. (2005) I wasn't around for those 25 years Osborne helmed Nebraska. I've never seen Nebraska celebrate a national title or even a conference title. FIVE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS is a joke to me, not a personal memento of my Nebraska fandom.
But I did see Osborne's steady hand come in to a school, and a state, that was fracturing as its identity was being dismantled by two men who were, quite simply, in over their heads.
Being a non-athlete, it was hard to notice in 2007 and 2008 that there was a new guy at the helm. I think the most excitement was during the coaching search when Nebraskans broke out their flight trackers. (I suspect a similar tactic will be employed this week.)
Really, I didn't notice Osborne's influence until 2009, with a return to the Big 12 championship game and a subsequent loss. People were mad at Texas again, at the Big 12, instead of at each other. It was a nice change.
And then in 2010, Osborne started making noise. Since then, Osborne has updated facilities for all of Nebraska's major sports, hired a few new coaches and, perhaps most importantly to the school, moved Nebraska's affiliations from the Big 12 to the Big Ten. Perhaps the only conference with a tradition of calm and patience to match that of Dr. Osborne's.
For me, in the last five years, Osborne has done more to help the University than he did as a football coach. While wins on the field are great and he had an excellent record with academics off the field, his influence only went so far. But by leveraging Nebraska's athletics into a Big Ten invite, Osborne has finally given something to the University and the State that will have a greater impact than three national titles - a stable and financially secure future in the 21st century.
Thanks, Dr. Osborne. Enjoy your retirement - for real this time. We'll try not to mess it up again.
I don't really remember the days before Tom Osborne; when he first took over as head coach, I was more interested in Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird than football. But it wasn't long before my fall Saturdays were spent around the radio listening to the Huskers. I remember the low points: The double whammy of losing to Missouri a week after upsetting Oklahoma, then having to play the Sooners again in a rematch. The two-point conversion in 1983 that failed. That feeling of hopelessness after that Citrus Bowl blowout by Georgia Tech. And oh, that 1993 Orange Bowl with the bad calls. I barely made it out of bed the next day.
But there were the high points: I was there for that 1995 Orange Bowl, where you slayed the Miami beast. The coronation in Tempe of the greatest college football team in history the next year. And that final game in Miami where the Huskers proved they were the best in 1997.
I didn't always agree with Osborne, but I always believed that he was trying to do the right thing. I disagreed with reinstating Lawrence Phillips after a six game suspension, but I never questioned his motives. When he ran for governor, I briefly thought about changing party registrations to add my support. (Wouldn't have made any difference, of course.) And whether it's hiring Bo Pelini or navigating the turbulent waters of conference realignment to find a solid anchor for the Huskers in the Big Ten, Osborne has continued to do the right thing as athletic director.
He definitely calmed the situation in 2007 and is leaving the athletic department better off than it was. We don't know what Osborne will do next, but I think it's safe to say he isn't going to spend his time fishing or cleaning out the garage. He'll find some other way to contribute to this great state, and we can only speculate how. This chapter of the Tom Osborne story will soon end, but I know one thing, there's at least one more left before the conclusion.
It's not difficult to guess that most people, Nebraskans or not, would define Tom Osborne's career by his most recognized accomplishments; being involved in all five of Nebraska's national titles in football, going 60-3 over the course of a five-year span in the 90s, and his consistency during his 25 years as a head coach.
However, there are a lot of great coaches - Paul "Bear" Bryant, Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno (even though his legacy has been tainted), Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler - the list could go on and we could argue over many beers about which one was the greatest and why.
What makes Osborne different than all of these other men is this: He accumulated more football Academic All-Americans in his 25 years of coaching than any other program in its entire history. Osborne kept the "student" in student-athlete through his actions, a trait that seems to have been forgotten in this day of escalating coaches salaries and a facilities arms race.
On a more personal level, Osborne's ability to stay even-tempered has amazed me for years. I've always had a moody, high-maintenance volatile personality and I've always wondered if the difference between us was in the DNA or maybe that Osborne doesn't have eight different voices in his head fighting for control of his mouth. I turned 50 in June. I thought maybe, just maybe I'd start settling down. It hasn't happened yet, but at least Osborne has given me a role model to admire from afar.
My first significant memory of Nebraska football was sitting on the phone during the Orange Bowl vs. Florida State giving my aunt a crude play-by-play while she was working as a nurse at which ever Omaha area hospital she was working at at the time. I would have been 12 years old at the time. I know I had watched other games before. That wasn't my introduction to Husker football, but it is my first memory of cheering for Big Red and it was then that was when I became a die-hard fan.
It was a good, no, that's not strong enough, it was an incredible time to start following a program, much less this program. I went to my first game during the 1995 season. I was a charmed fan. I didn't have to suffer through the ‘84 Orange Bowl, though my parents do tell a pretty great story of how I responded when they didn't complete the 2 point conversion. Let's say I wasn't awake before the play, and suddenly I was and I didn't like it very much. I was 2 at the time. I didn't have to suffer through a decade of Sooner Magic. I also didn't get to experience the Bob Devaney Era and the two championships he brought, but I punch a hole through my friends low ceiling tiles when Cory Schlesinger found the end zone for the second time.
My dad surprised me by making a trip to Lincoln during one of my baseball practices to stand in line at Nebraska Bookstore and have him sign a copy of his book "More Than Winning". There's no question I have a great admiration for the man, and coach, sure, but more so the man. For what he stood for. For what he accomplished. For how he publicly lived his life. His stated religious and personal beliefs are similar to mine, at least the ones I know about. I know those have rubbed a lot of the wrong way, especially his politics, but I have great admiration for what he stood for, just as much as I do for what he accomplished on the gridiron. The man was not perfect, he'd be the first to tell you that, I'm sure Mrs. Osborne wouldn't hesitate to confirm that.
I have a great admiration for how he handled a very difficult decision in 1995 with Lawrence Phillips. Again, a situation that not many agreed with, but he believed what he was doing was in the best interest of the player. Something he may have handled differently had he had the opportunity. He was not afraid to deal with difficult situations and topics. He stepped right in the middle of the political arena long before he ran for office, taking a stand on pornography, gambling and other hot button issues so many other public figures don't want to acknowledge exist. His work with the Teammates mentoring program has been extraordinary and should probably be his biggest legacy. He was not afraid to step into a situation where there was a great need for leadership at a program he had so much influence in building back in 2007. His most visible legacy will be the championships, but his impact goes so far beyond that.
It would be disingenuous of me to say he had a great impact on my life. He didn't. I only had a couple of interactions with the man, mostly before I was in high school and still had interest in gathering autographs. The comparisons with some of the other great coaches in history will be inevitable. Bowden and Paterno didn't exactly bow out gracefully. Osborne has now done that twice. He has, and will continue to represent the University and state of Nebraska gracefully and honorably.
My first REAL memory of Tom Osborne and Nebraska was the 1984 Orange Bowl against Miami. I think I was seven at the time. My parents had thrown a huge party for the game and I remember how absolutely defeated and devastated everyone felt after the game, especially when he just had to tie to win the National Title. He decided to go for two and well...everyone knows what happened next. It would be 10 years before he played for another one and 11 before he won his first. That to me defined what Tom Osborne is: determined, no compromises, and patient. He was kind, gracious, and giving. He transcended football. A true servant to his players, his students, the university and to the people of the state of Nebraska. That is what I will remember him for.
Thanks, Dr. Osborne. You are truly a role model, not just for athletics, not just for Nebraskans, but everyone. Enjoy your well-deserved and long-delayed retirement!