Osborne's steady hand guided Huskers' progress

Staid and stoic. I can’t think of two words that better describe Tom Osborne. He also was very good at whatever he did, and he did plenty. First as a football coach. Later, as an athletic director. Now, the 75-year-old Osborne is retiring effective Jan. 1, making the announcement today in Lincoln.

“It has been a pleasure and an honor to work in the athletic department for the past five years,” Osborne said. “I hope that there have been some good things that have been accomplished during that time. I appreciate Chancellor (Harvey) Perlman giving me this opportunity. I’ve had the privilege of working with some outstanding people in the athletic department and have confidence that the trajectory of the athletic department is very good.”

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The trajectory is good because of Osborne, a man known affectionately as “Dr. Tom” to the 1.8 million denizens of the Cornhusker State who first fell in love with Tom Osborne, the football coach.

What wasn’t there not to love?

Osborne arrived in Lincoln as an assistant in 1964 and became offensive coordinator in 1969. He then followed legendary Bob Devaney as head coach in 1973 and over the next 25 years continued to build the Cornhusker dynasty.

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Osborne added to that rich tradition by winning national championships in 1994, 1995 and 1997. He also guided the Cornhuskers to 13 conference championships before stepping down after the 1997 season with a 255-49-3 record.

But that wasn’t the punctuation point on his career. Not by a long shot.

Tom Osborne
US PRESSWIRE

Osborne became “interim” athletic director in 2007 after Steve Pederson was fired. Well, the “interim” tag stuck, as Osborne has remained in charge for five years, adding to an already lush legacy. In fact, for all of the great Osborne did as a coach, perhaps his most enduring work has been done as athletic director.

When Osborne took over, the proud football program he had helped build was in disarray. A little over a month after assuming command, Osborne fired Bill Callahan as football coach. Soon thereafter, Osborne hired Bo Pelini. The football program has since stabilized and looks poised for big things in the fifth season under Pelini.

Osborne’s watch also has seen Nebraska move from the Big 12 to Big Ten, officially joining in July 2011. The conference affiliation switch brought more stability, enhanced exposure and improved revenues—helping the entire athletic department. And the university benefits from being in the same circle as Big Ten universities, all of which possess ample academic heft.

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The school also has seen athletic facilities improve with Osborne at the helm. A sparkling basketball palace is under construction, which will complement an already-plush training facility. Seats also are being added to venerable Memorial Stadium. And the building goes on.

So, you see: Osborne wasn’t just a football coach. He wasn’t just an athletic director. Osborne was an icon. And icons touch the lives and impact the world on many different levels, as Osborne’s has as a father, husband, coach, athletic director, Congressman and humanitarian.

But, he would never tell you that. It’s not his style. Remember: staid, stoic.

“The legacy question is a tricky one,” he said on Wednesday when asked about his legacy. “I’d rather you guys write that. I don’t really have any thoughts on that.”

Read on.

An entire state will forever be indebted to Osborne for its obsession with Husker football. He helped nurture and enhance a state-wide culture that worshiped on crisp, fall Saturday afternoons at Memorial Stadium.

From Scottsbluff to Grand Island, everyone in the state has a crush on Nebraska football. They loved the simplistic beauty of the brand of “line ‘em up, knock ‘em down” option football that became the Cornhusker brand. Like the Nebraska uniforms, it appeared to be bland. But the approach got the job done, and it became famous.

And fans especially loved the results, which often were devastatingly impressive and frequently left opponents buried in an avalanche of rushing yards and regret.

Quite an accomplishment for Osborne, who was a tall, angular former quarterback from tiny Hastings College who arrived in Lincoln as an unpaid assistant to start his coaching career.

But, T.O. wasn’t gonna take a bow for any of this on this day. Nope. Not his style. Remember: staid, stoic.

“Whatever was accomplished here wouldn’t have happened without a unified and loyal fan base,” he said. “It has been enjoyable for me. I have enjoyed it.”

Perfectly understated. Just like Osborne.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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6 Comments

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David Weaver on 9/26/2012 @ 2:24pm EDT Said:

Well said Mr Deinhart! I was one of many kids that grew up in Nebraska and cherished Nebraska football through the Bob Devaney era and then Tom Osborne. Quiet, hardworking people who live a life based on high moral and ethical values – that’s why all of Nebraska feels like they can relate to Dr. Tom – he was one of us. Brings me back to my childhood when myself and a bunch of friends would play football in the churchyard and bring a portable radio so we could stop playing in between the Husker play-by-play broadcast. We would hurry and run a play then all of us would run over to the radio to listen.

Simple – not complicated, just like Dr. Tom!!!!

Just a Husker fan. on 9/26/2012 @ 3:10pm EDT Said:

Nebraska got a bargain with Dr. Tom. Thanks for the fond memories and every thing you done for the University.

Brad Nelson on 9/26/2012 @ 3:32pm EDT Said:

I want to say, “Thank you,” to Dr. Tom Osborne for bringing Husker football back from the brink of something less than even mediocrity. I wish to add to what David Weaver just said. Many Saturday afternoons while hunting pheasants the “game” would come on the radio. during the game time those pheasants would be given a break from the hunting pressure while the State of Nebraska listened to the ‘play-by-play’. Many years have past and I now live in northern Minnesota. However, you can take the boy out of Husker-land, but you can’t take the Husker out of the boy. Go Big Red!

aroznowski on 9/26/2012 @ 6:05pm EDT Said:

Congratulations to Tom Osborne on his retirement, and I hope for nothing but the best for him. Like Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Woody Hayes, Joe Paterno, and Bo Schembechler, Osborne is a legend both on and off the field.

McFarlin on 9/26/2012 @ 6:26pm EDT Said:

Scottsbluff to Grand Island is only about half the state.

bob jones on 9/26/2012 @ 6:49pm EDT Said:

Pure class, not many like this guy. Great,great coach, an even better person. Thanks for everything Dr Tom.