Part of me thinks that Nebraska fans wouldn’t have minded if Tom Osborne
actually came back to Nebraska as the Head Coach. But they’ll take him as the
Heck, the man has done just about everything else, and it’s not like the
position of A.D. is unfamiliar to him. As he said in yesterday’s press
conference, often times as the Associate Athletic Director under the late-Bob
Devaney, he would attend conference or even NCAA meetings in Devaney’s stead.
Osborne also said that toward the end of his career under Devaney, he was in
charge of scheduling.
But on to the scope of this little write-up, and it is indeed about the press
conference. But instead of just throwing in a few quotes here and there, I
figured I would break down all the quotes which I felt relevant to the
This entire press conference and the job itself, is, of course, about the
future. But it’s also about the past. And not so ironically, one of Nebraska ’s
greatest icons of that glorious past is back trying to make the future once
again, albeit in a different capacity.
The first quote comes from Chancellor Harvey Perlman, and it’s just three
words long, but says something about what the timeline could be in regard to how
long Osborne will hold the position of A.D. and when someone else will be
“Open ended capacity”
Let’s add four more:
“He needs the time.”
If anyone was assuming that Osborne was here to make staff changes and move
on, that would seem like it’s definitely not the case. But let’s be realistic
about this in that, when Tom Osborne left, you couldn’t count the number of
streaks Nebraska had, from the consecutive wins over conference foes to the
number of bowl appearances in a row. They just came off a five-year stint where
Osborne’s Huskers went 60-3, a feat which hasn’t been duplicated, much less
Almost all of those streaks are gone now, save for perhaps the most valued
one – the sellout streak which dates back to 1962.
And just in this season you have seen Nebraska lose games at home in ways
which haven’t been seen, at least by the margin of loss, in over 40 years.
There’s a lot of stuff that needs fixing at Nebraska , and Perlman said that
with the title of A.D., Osborne has the power to execute his duties at his
“I’m counting on him to do what needs to be done as HE believes it needs to
be done to move our program forward and make progress here,” he said.
The opinion of most Husker fans as to what Osborne should initially do is fix
what’s broke with the football team. A 4-3 record looks OK, but at Nebraska , OK
doesn’t cut it. It’s a winning record, and even Osborne remembers days in the
60s when the Devaney teams weren’t winning at the rate desired. Especially,
because that belief wasbased on what Devaney did shortly after he arrived in
1962, not the least of which was to take a much-maligned football team into the
“Big House” of Michigan and get Nebraska’s first marquee win in over 20 years.
Fans wouldn’t mind a marquee right now, current Head Coach Bill Callahan
still not having one which some would consider a real benchmark victory for the
program. Colorado Head Coach Dan Hawkins saw his Buffs lose to Division 1-AA
Montana State last year, but he has a victory this year over a top 10 Oklahoma
team. Ron Prince hasn’t won the division, but his Kansas State Wildcats have
beaten Texas two years in a row. Bill Callahan hasn’t had that identifiable win,
and he’s into year four of his reign, while the aforementioned duo are just in
year two of theirs.
But with all the emphasis on the football team and how much it means for this
sport to be a success within the state, Osborne said that the success of the
football program is a goal, but it’s not THE goal.
“If there is anything I can do, it’s going to be to try and unify the state,”
“I think there has been some divides, some splits, and that’s one of the
major jobs of an athletic director. Anyone associated with the university is to
get everyone to pull together. As you probably know, with the population base we
have here, if we are seriously divided, it isn’t going to work very well.”
The divide, of course, comes from what seems like an eternity ago when former
Athletic Director Steve Pederson fired then Head Coach Frank Solich. There was a
sizeable amount of the Husker faithful who felt that a coach with a 9-3 record
that year, shouldn’t be fired. He should be rewarded. He wasn’t, Pederson citing
that he didn’t see the program going in the direction he thought it should be
and that he would not let this football program dwindle into mediocrity, thereby
surrendering the conference to Oklahoma and Texas .
Ron Prince, who is generally hated by most Husker fans, is undefeated against
Texas and Nebraska hasn’t beaten them yet.
Osborne said that “One person can’t do that”, as he talked about what it’s
going to take to make that happen, but he recognized how important the football
program was to that.
“One thing I learned while I was here under Bob Devaney is that one thing
that tends to unify those 93 counties out there is athletics and the football
program in particular,” he said. “It has served to provide a sense of identity
to the state. It seems to fit the state in some part of the psyche and so, it’s
important that this thing does well.”
Osborne went onto say that he wasn’t concerned with just football, of course,
wanting to make sure everyone knew that he was here for all of the sports and
not just its bread n’ butter, but he, perhaps more than anyone else, knows just
what this particular sport means to this state.
The questions inevitably pointed toward the current coaching staff. Based on
this year’s record and the fashion in how some of the losses occurred,
panic-mode has set in around most of Husker Nation. The team has never lost at
home like this, as much as this and there doesn’t seem to be any silver lining
in the future.
Osborne said he has watched the games and said that being 4-3 isn’t all that
bad. But he did take note of something he saw which happened to be a trademark
of his teams from seasons past. “Naturally, we’d like to see the intensity level
and all of those things pick up somewhat to what we have grown accustomed too,”
One thing which was asked of Bill Callahan at the weekly press conference
held earlier that day, was concerning the timing of the firing of Pederson.
Coach Callahan said that it was definitely looming over his coaches right now.
“It is a distraction. It’s a huge, huge distraction right now,” he said.
Osborne didn’t necessarily agree.
“I think that if they choose to make it a factor or a problem, it could be,”
Osborne said. “But on the other hand, that playing field is a hundred yards
long, it’s 55 yards wide and there is 11 guys out there and 11 guys on each
side. So, hopefully you can go out and play with intensity and get the job
If they can get it done is the question. For some, or perhaps most, there’s
nothing Bill Callahan and company can do to stop what is perceived as the
countdown to his inevitable dismissal after this season is done. One would think
that at the very least, Coach Callahan would have to win out, starting with
Texas A&M this weekend, but some don’t even think that will save his job in
What might be worse is the basic kiss-of-death Callahan received from Osborne
himself. Not purposely, of course, because Osborne said what he had to say, to
at least bring some stability to the situation right now. But when it comes to
making or not making changes, these quotes have been heard and read before:
“That will not be evaluated in a serious manner until the end of the season.”
One particular set of quotes intrigued me. It had to do with recruiting.
Nebraska is currently sitting on a top 10 class, laden with superstar commits
like quarterback Blaine Gabbert and Nebraska ’s own, offensive lineman Baker
This staff needed linebackers and they went out and got some of the best.
They needed linemen on both sides, and have done a pretty impressive job there
too. Position after position, this staff has done what you have come to expect –
they went out and got a bunch of studs.
Keeping those all-everything-players in the fold is obviously a high
priority, and some would say that the only way to do that is to keep the current
staff intact. But Osborne didn’t really appear to be convinced of that either.
“The nuts and bolts of the program are still there – the facilities, the
academic counseling and the strength staff,” he said. “We’ll just have to see
how the rest of it goes. Signing day is still a long ways off. They (the
recruits) are going to know exactly what they lay of the land is before they
sign anything, but we hope they will hold tight. I think maybe I could help a
little bit in that regard.”
Sound like a ringing endorsement for these current coaches?
One knee-jerk reaction to this or statements like that would be to assume
that Osborne’s apparent disconnect with the University over the last four years,
means that he hasn’t been keeping track of just what has been going on. Despite
his time in Washington or doing the myriad of other projects he’s been involved
in, that kind of connection probably never truly dies.
He has kept an eye on the program and has seen some things, some perhaps
good, but also some things that as he put it are a little “out of whack.”
Now, I don’t assume to know exactly what he’s referring to, but let’s be
practical about exactly what is going on at NU.
The volleyball team is number one and has been number one for over 20 weeks
in a row. They have been in the last two national title games, winning one, and
are undefeated this year thus far.
Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams have about as much excitement
around them as they have had in years, Connie Yori doing an amazing job in
literally rebuilding her program into a conference contender, and in year two,
Doc Sadler still in the process of rebuilding his so that he can do the same
Paul Donahoe is going for back-to-back national titles in wrestling, the
women’s golf team just repeated as champs at the Bronco Invitational Tournament
in Kuna, Idaho, the swim team just won its fifth consecutive season-opener and
even Lil Red entered the Mascot Hall of Fame, while Nebraska Cheer Squad member
Anne Marie Rye is heading into the finals of the Athlon Spirit Contest, which
was voted on by you, the proud members of Husker Nation.
Yes, the baseball team had that deal with the baseball bats and sure, the
bowling team can’t win a national title every single year, but if you ask anyone
with any real degree of sports knowledge, 'what’s wrong with Nebraska?' , you
know what the answer will be.
We’re talking about football, man. We’re talking about football.
What does football NOT pay for when it comes to the rest of the sports at
Nebraska ? The volleyball team is probably self-supporting, but as of right now,
that’s about it. Because of Title IX, and the fact that it doesn’t take football
out of the equation, it forces Universities to create programs on the women’s
side to make up the difference in gender-participation.
That’s not a bad thing, but the reality is, the money has to come from
somewhere, and we know where the BIG money is being made.
There may be a ton of donors now flocking back to the University to donate,
whom all but left the program for dead after Steve Pederson arrived, but even
they can’t make up that difference every year.
The football team has to be good.
No, actually, the football team has to be better than that.
It’s not enough to sell out a stadium to keep a program going. It’s not
enough to keep going as you are. You know those facilities don’t pay for
themselves, and as much as you hope private donors can take care of a chunk, the
Athletic Department has plenty of bills to pay for above and beyond.
It’s about progress, not just in the development of facilities, but the
addition of staff, and oh yeah, there’s something which is particularly close to
Tom Osborne’s heart. It’s something he talked about at length in trying to
convey its importance in trying to compete year in and year out with the
so-called big boys.
“When I first started coaching and under Bob (Devaney), we had an initial
scholarship limit of 45, with no upper-limit. So, many years we had 150 guys on
scholarship,” he said. “So, in 1971 Nebraska was number one, Oklahoma was two,
Colorado was three. It wasn’t a total accident, because we had a lot of
“Then, of course, it began to get widdled down, “Osborne continued. “We went
to something like I think it was, 35 and 95 total and then down to what it is
now – 25 and 85 ,” he said of the scholarships allowed each academic year and in
total for the team, respectively. “And as that happened, we began to think
‘Well, here we are in a state of 1.7 million people and not very good weather
during recruiting and how are we going to keep up with all of these other people
who we are expected to keep up with?’.
“And so we began to think about the walk-on deal.”
Some would say it’s the walk-on program as if they are speaking of dinosaurs
which you only see in museums, reconstructed from fossilized remains, standing
there for all to gaze upon, thinking about what something like that would have
looked like in real life.
Of course, that’s not the reality, but as Osborne continued, he said that his
team’s make-up, both literally and figuratively, was a byproduct of those
“I was on an airplane with Doug Colman not long ago and Doug was a fairly
high-profile recruit out of New Jersey ,” Osborne said of the former the former
Husker linebacker, who played in the NFL for five years with three different
teams (New York Giants, 1996-97-98, Tennessee Titans, 1999, Oakland Raiders,
2000). “He said ‘You know the reason I came to Nebraska was because I wanted to
play at a nationally known program and because I was really interested in going
into the National Football League’.
“He said a funny thing happened while he was there. He said ‘I was around all
these guys who had paid such a great price to be on the scout team or maybe run
down on a kickoff.’ He said that was the thing that permeated the program – the
loyalty, the motivation level – the willingness to sacrifice. And that was the
culture that was established. So, that’s been important and it’s something we
want to make sure we keep track of – where we came from, what was good, what
wasn’t and so on.”
Osborne said even before this story of one of his many former players, that
over half of his team consisted of walk-ons. If they are going to reclaim that,
and bring in that many more players to perhaps bring back that idealistic, but
obviously productive venture, that’s going to take some revenue.
All of this comes back to money, but what we saw yesterday wasn’t about that.
So many people are worried that recruiting has essentially died, because coaches
who might not be here next year, can’t possibly recruit anymore. But this wasn’t
about that either.
Call it a little idealism combined with a few truisms of where we are at
The truth is in the fan base, and how divided it’s been since Tom Osborne
left and Steve Pederson arrived
The truth is in a football program which has seemingly lost its identity as
much as it has seemingly lost its will to play
The truth is in an athletic program, which some have compared to a fortress
for the few, rather than a program meant for many.
The idealism comes from believing that an icon can bring it all back to the
way it was.
We have beaten ourselves over the head with the idea that nothing stays the
same. We have watched, read and heard everything and then some, about how old
ways won’t work in a new world.
I seem to remember them saying that for the last five years of Osborne’s
tenure as the Nebraska Head Coach, the Nebraska native using that antiquated
offense in this ultra-modern world.
There’s no doubt that while Osborne would like anything but to be considered
that light at the end of the tunnel, it’s practical to think that all Husker
fans think of him as exactly that. But that’s good if that’s the case.
Not that they believe in something idealistic, but that they all believe the
same thing. We haven’t been able to say that in a long time, seemingly an
eternity wrapped up in just 10 years. It was odd one of Perlman’s last quotes,
but only odd because of how it was phrased.
“I think Nebraska will unify behind Tom,” he said.
Really? I’d say they already have.
Check out the full audio from yesterday's press conference
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