Tom Osborne left an indelible mark on Nebraska football

Monday, December 31, 2012

He was once one loss away from being fired as Nebraska head coach, and he somehow lost a bid to become governor.

We endorsed his opponent, Dave Heineman, in that race, but not because we thought Osborne would not be good at the job.

After he spent three terms in Congress, we thought Tom Osborne deserved a break, and would be more effective championing family-friendly causes like his TeamMates mentoring program than engaging in what, even in Nebraska, can be the dirty world of politics.

As it turned out, the loss left Osborne free to rescue his first love, Nebraska football, from the Pedersen-Callahan dark ages, accepting interim athletic director duties and interim coaching titles so he could recruit players until Bo Pelini came on board. Osborne accepted the A.D. title in 2007, finally retiring Jan. 1, 2013.

A native of Hastings and outstanding high school and college athlete, Osborne played for the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins before accepting an unpaid assistant coaching job at UN-L on his way to a masters and doctorate in educational psychology.

Tom took over as head coach at 35 after revamping Bob Devaney's Husker offense to take national titles in 1970 and 1971, and his teams never won fewer than nine games in a season, including 1994 and 1995 outright national championships and a shared one in 1997.

Osborne was criticized for keeping a troubled player like Lawrence Phillips on the roster, but opposed his old boss when Devaney chose to stick with Johnny Rogers when similar problems arose.

But it was the 1984 Orange Bowl that showed Tom Osborne's true character as a coach and a man.

Rolling into the game 12-0 and ranked No. 1 for the entire season, Nebraska scored a late touchdown against the hometown No. 5 Miami Hurricanes to narrow the score to 31-30.

Now Coach Osborne could have opted for a near sure-thing extra point, a tie and the national championship, and few would have blamed him.

Instead he opted to try a 2-point conversion and a go for the win. As it turned out, Turner Gill's pass attempt was tipped away at the end of the game, giving Miami the game and championship.

"Backing in" to the title was never an option for a man like Tom Osborne, and his personal character set the tone for every aspect of his life.

It also set the tone for the Nebraska football program as it exists today. Let us hope and pray the right people step in to keep that tradition going.

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