I would be neglecting a big part of my Nebraska residence if I failed to mention Tom Osborne. He’s almost as much of a legend in these parts as was Johnny Carson. To Nebraska college football fans, Osborne is a step above.
Currently, coach Osborne is athletic director emeritus at the University of Nebraska. Osborne has been an important fixture at the University and the entire state for four decades. Today, on his birthday, is a good time for me to give you a short profile of the man.
Osborne is a native Nebraskan who was born and raised in the south-central Nebraska town of Hastings. As a youth, he already had earned his stripes. He was a major player in football and basketball and had won the discus throw at the state tournament for Hastings High School. In 1955, Osborne was honored as Nebraska High School athlete of the Year by the Omaha World Herald newspaper.
He remained in his hometown after high school to attend Hastings College. Osborne was a member of the school’s basketball team and was quarterback on the football squad. In 1959, the Omaha newspaper awarded Osborne the Nebraska College Athlete of the Year honors.
After college, Osborne played professional football. He was drafted by the Washington Redskins. He was wide receiver for two seasons. Later, he played a season with the San Francisco 49ers before retiring from the NFL.
Osborne began his University of Nebraska career as offensive assistant to legendary head coach Bob Devaney in 1964. Finally, in 1969, Osborne was hired as offensive coordinator.
He completely reconfigured the Cornhusker offense which was a big part of the team’s 1970 national championship. Coach Devaney decided to relinquish his head coaching position and chose Tom Osborne as his successor. Osborn became legendary for his consistency. The Huskers always won at least nine games per season. The team finished in the top 15 in the final Associated Press polls 24 years out of 25.
Under Osborne’s coaching, the Huskers won national championships in 1994 and 1995, they shared the top spot in 1997. His teams won or shared twelve Big Eight titles and the top spot in one Big Twelve year. Osborne won 250 games more quickly than any other coach in Division 1-A history. He finished his career with a bowl record of 12 and 13.
Osborne became a member of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. The following year, he earned the Jim Thorpe Lifetime Achievement Award. ESPN named Osborne as “Coach of the Decade for the 1990s. He remained active athletic director afterwards.
His coaching career would be more than enough for most people, but Osborne expanded his horizons into politics. Due to his immense popularity, he easily won the Republican primary election for the Third District House of Representatives in 2000. He ran against a vastly underfunded, unknown Democrat. Osborne took the seat easily in the very conservative district. He again ran virtually unopposed and won reelection in 2002 and 2004.
Osborne’s political career came to a halt when he ran for Nebraska Governor against Dave Heineman and Dave Nabity in the Republican primary. Heineman won 49-percent to Osborne’s 45-percent and Nabity’s 6-percent.
Coach Osborne completed his third term in Congress and then returned to the University of Nebraska as a business ethics instructor and regained his athletic directorship of the school. He retired his active position at the end of last year.
In 1991, coach Osborne and his wife, Nancy, began the TeamMates mentoring program. 22 Cornhusker players met with middle school pupils in the Lincoln, Nebraska school system. The Osbornes believed that kids could benefit from a caring adult in their lives.
The TeamMates matches a pupil with an adult mentor for an hour per week during the school year. TeamMates expanded into a formal statewide program in Nebraska in 1998. There are twelve chapters and over 400 mentor/mentee partnerships.
Today, coach Osborne can look back on a successful career and fulfilling life. Happy Birthday, Tom Osborne.
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that coach Osborne was voted the greatest college football coach of all time by a 2007 ESPN poll.