Unified for the future

Unified for the future

Ahh, it's just like old times. You turn on any of the sports channels and there is Nebraska and there is T.O. Yep, it's like we never left. Of course, the illusion quickly disappears as reality sets in, but believe it or not, optimism has returned to Nebraska now that Tom Osborne is officially back into the fold.

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 interim A.D.

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 future. 

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 brought in:

"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 bettered since.

Osborne's late-career sucess is still
unprecedented

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 discretion.

"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," he said

"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.

Next?

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," he said.

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 done."

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 the end.

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." Osborne said.

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 Steinkuhler.

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 thing.

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 players.

"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 non-scholarship players.

"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."

Jared Tomich went from walk-on to all-american to starter
in the NFL.

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 right now:

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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