Tom Osborne is a Big Ten icon despite making his mark in two other leagues.
By Randy York
Harvey Perlman had an interesting observation Wednesday about a Hall-of-Fame coach who also served three Congressional terms and five years as NU’s athletic director. Perlman said Tom Osborne has “the kind of national respect and awe” and “reputation and position” that fascinates Nebraska’s chancellor, who has walked from one place to another in more than one “foreign stadium” with Osborne. “A walk that would usually take five minutes would take 20 because people want to stop for an autograph or just say hello,” Perlman said. “I think we probably don’t recognize in Nebraska the tremendous amount of respect nationally, not just in intercollegiate athletics, but in other venues as well.”
Perlman was right on. I will never forget the longest walk I’ve seen Osborne take – from the Nebraska locker room to the team bus after the Huskers lost a 28-25 decision at Texas in 2007. There was a Longhorn fan complimenting Osborne about every five or 10 yards in what seemed like a 20-minute walk. At the time, Osborne had been Nebraska’s interim athletic director for all of 11 days when he made that walk. I must say that every remark made that day showed nothing but genuine respect and in some cases, even a measure of awe that Perlman described. “You’re a legend, Coach!” one fan said. “Glad to have you back in the conference, Coach Osborne!” another said. “Every Longhorn I know respects you, Coach!” said another. “You and Coach Royal are my two favorite coaches of all-time!” said a fan wearing cowboy boots. There were about a dozen more compliments, but those were the only ones I wrote down.
“Tom Osborne is one of those rarities in college sports where a school’s identity is strongly tied to a singular figure,” Kansas City Star columnist Blair Kerkoff wrote following Osborne’s announcement to retire. “When you think of Alabama, Bear Bryant comes to mind. Florida State? Bobby Bowden. In today’s game, it’s Kansas State and Bill Snyder, Virginia Tech and Frank Beamer. But Osborne’s association with Nebraska runs deeper than any. He not only served as an assistant and head football coach but also athletic director for his university. And congressman for his state.”
ESPN.com Columnist Ivan Maisel said: “Tom Osborne had a tough standard to live up to as Nebraska athletic director – the one he set as the Huskers football coach for 25 years. Not only did Osborne stabilize a football program that had gone shaky under his predecessor, but he shepherded the university from the internecine battles of the Big 12 to the safe and financially secure harbor of the Big Ten. You’d have to say that when Osborne retires in January, he will have met that tough standard.”
Because he has measured up to Hall-of-Fame-like expectations as an athletic director as well, Osborne can expect more long walks in his retirement … in Nebraska and even across a country that has a deep and an abiding respect for all that he’s accomplished and everything he stands for.
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