I had the TV on last night when the 10 o’clock news came on and was surprised when they jumped head-first into the interviews with Tom Osborne’s former players about how they would run through a wall for him. I wasn’t quite sure a recap of Osborne’s fifty-some years serving the University of Nebraska was needed in the opening news segment after he ended his five-year run as athletic director. This is only the official end of his tenure at Nebraska, and his accomplishments as athletic director are outstanding on their own merits.
In a world where former coaches aren’t equipped to lead entire athletic departments (ask Mike Bellotti), Osborne took over an athletic department that was fraying and a football program that was loosing its way. He mended fences and found the right football coach, but those were the easy parts. In addition to restoring people’s confidence in the Husker athletics, Osborne took up a list of building projects that had started to grow under Bill Byrne and Steve Pederson couldn’t raise money for due to the animosity he’d incurred over Frank Solich’s firing and the lavish football facility he’d built. In a frugal state and during a economic downturn, Osborne got first-rate basketball and volleyball practice facilities, and soon will have basketball arena, a newly remodeled palace for one of the nation’s best volleyball programs, and an expanded Memorial Stadium.
But his greatest accomplishment was securing Nebraska’s future in the Big 10, a feat that rivals his National Titles for his greatest career feat. As John Elway recruited Peyton Manning to Denver with his start quarterback gravitas, Osborne’s status as an old-school icon trumped other school’s glitz-and-glamor presentations. Being able to overcome Nebraska’s lack of a major market for TV and recruiting shows just how valuable Dr. Tom’s quite leadership is.
One does wonder how Joe Paterno’s scandal breaking, followed by his untimely death, affected Osborne’s thinking. Relationships with coaches may be overstated, but Osborne was himself the anti-Paterno, leaving while he still had coaching years left and finding a second act as mentor, congressman, and athletic director. It’s not fair to speculate, but someone as thoughtful as Osborne likely has considered Paterno’s inability to walk away.
Past and Future
Much like when he was when he was a coach, Osborne seems to be leaving at the right time. His building projects are all close to fruition. He’s got his guys leading the basketball and baseball programs, and if Tim Miles and Darin Erstad work out, it will only add to Osborne’s AD legacy. In the next five years, the odds are a new football coach will need to be hired (whether Bo Pelini leaves under his only volition or not remains to be seen), and who could really blame Osborne for not wanting to do the whole coaching search thing all over again.
This isn’t as a huge an event as everyone’s making it out to be. Osborne may be cleaning out his office, but he’s going to keep his influence at Nebraska.
Second note: Believe it not, you won last Saturday, Husker fan. Yes, Idaho State and Nebraska played like it was the Pro Bowl, players quitting as soon as a runner got to the second level. But against Arkansas State the week prior, Nebraska (and the rest of college football) made no progress in getting body bag games off their schedule. They struggled for a stretch of third against the Red Wolves, but beat them soundly, justifying giving such a team a check
There’s a reason last week Jeff Jamrog and crew told the Lincoln Journal-Star that Idaho State was scheduled because another team reneged on a verbal agreement that had been in place for months. Coaches knew this would be 70-0 affair and wanted to say “Hey, we tried to get a better team in here.” Let’s be honest: while good FCS teams can compete against average FBS teams (witness the Dakota schools and UNI at times), the bottom of the FCS is embarrassing
If an opponent is so bad that players wouldn’t even try, then there’s a real reason to look for change. Arkansas State and Southern Miss got Nebraska ready to play Big 10 teams, Idaho State did nothing. With what happened Saturday, Jamrong and company will have to look for way to change their scheduling, and I’ll go back to the idea I floated a the end of last week: 16 team super-conference, four games, play everyone but one team. You get your seven home games, and don’t have to bother with non-conference scheduling.
Final point: I thought that Nebraska would be fighting a team at the end of the season who was looking for that sixth win to get bowl eligible. I just didn’t think that team would be Iowa. Don’t laugh, Husker fans, the Hawkeyes have two month to get better. Do you remember Colorado in 2008? The last thing you want is to go play a 5-6 Iowa team, who’s going to get a bounce when they get to play Penn State, at Northwestern, Purdue, and at Indiana all in a row.