J.R. Reed looks at a coaching legend and the memories he shared with his dad.
My first memories of football are of watching Nebraska in the 1970’s. My parents were both raised in the Cornhusker state and I, along with my younger brother, was born there before moving to California in 1969.
These thoughts are on my mind today because when I looked at ESPN.com this morning I saw this.
Nebraska AD Osborne To Retire In January.
The man who patrolled the sidelines for twenty-five years before representing his home state for six years in the U.S. House of Representatives and then serving as the university’s Athletic Director since 2007 is finally calling it a career at age seventy-five.
Dr. Osborne (he has a PhD. In education) was a big part of my Saturday routine as my dad, brother and I either watched the games on TV or listened on the radio. My dad looked up to Osborne and I did as well.
Early in his career Osborne lived in the shadow of legendary coach Bob Devaney but he carved out his own legacy with epic matchups against archrival Oklahoma and their leader Barry Switzer. To me as a Nebraska fan it was good vs. evil. The Oklahoma wishbone against the Nebraska triple option, an offense Osborne created in his first year as offensive coordinator in 1969.
Osborne leaves behind a legacy that few in sports attain. His teams finished the season in the Top 15 in twenty-four of his twenty-five years at the helm. His Huskers never won fewer than nine games in any of his seasons and his 255-49-3 record and 83.6 winning percentage is amazing.
What do all these stats mean? They mean good memories with my dad most Saturday afternoons and only a handful of bad days. Back in the day the Friday after Thanksgiving wasn’t Black Friday, it was Nebraska vs. Oklahoma on TV and I don’t think we missed a game until my dad passed away ten years ago.
My dad’s favorite piece of clothing was a ragged and worn red windbreaker with a big white N on the back. He loved it so much that when we cremated him the jacket was there with him.
I remember how proud my dad was when my brother was asked to join the Huskers as a kicker in the late 80’s. He played for Coach Osborne and saw first hand what a good person he is.
Osborne put the player’s education before the team and there was a mandatory study hall every night after dinner and tutors were brought in to help those players struggling with a class.
The 1984 Orange Bowl proves that as a coach Osborne had balls. The Huskers came in with a 12-0 record and were playing the much-disliked Miami Hurricanes. Nebraska scored a late touchdown and trailed 31-30. Rather than kick an extra point and force overtime he went for two and watched his team’s national championship hope fall to the ground along with Turner Gil’s tipped pass in the end zone.
I remember asking my dad why Osborne wouldn’t force OT and he replied that the coach knew his players and what they could do. He never questioned Osborne’s decision even though it meant waiting until 1994 to win his first national championship as a head coach. He won again in 195 and is the only coach to have back-to-back undefeated seasons along with back-to back championships since the hated Oklahoma Sooners in 1955-56. My dad was so proud of Osborne and the Huskers and even more so when the coach retired after the 1997 season and the final of his three national championships.
My dad was a big fan and admirer of the coach though he was initially disappointed in the way he handled Lawrence Phillips, the running back who followed up a 206-yard, four touchdown game by assaulting his girlfriend and dragging her down the stairs by her hair.
Osborne took a lot of heat for suspending the player rather than kicking him off the team. The coach argued that Phillips needed the structure of the team and that kicking him off would do more harm to Phillips as a person than it would do good.
If my dad were still alive he would be saddened by the news that Osborne is retiring but would be proud of the job he did as coach, congressman and athletic director.
Coach Osborne has my thanks for the many great memories I have of the Huskers and of spending quality time with my dad for many years. Enjoy your retirement; it’s well deserved.
Photo of Cornhusker fans courtesy of Shutterstock.