Nebraska Football: Tom Osborne Leaves as One of Sport's All-Time Greatest Men

Adam JacobiCorrespondent IIINovember 16, 2016

28 Oct 1995: Coach Tom Osborne of the Nebraska Cornhuskers stands around with his players during a game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado. Nebraska won the game 44-21.
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On Wednesday, Tom Osborne announced that he would be retiring as athletic director of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. It's not entirely surprising being that Osborne's 75, but it was unexpected all the same; the scheduling of Osborne's press conference was only announced hours earlier that morning.

Still, according to Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, Osborne made this decision back in August. So it wasn't done in haste, and there's no sense anything is untoward here. Here's more from the school's official release:

University of Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne today announced his plan to retire Jan. 1, 2013. At 75, Osborne - who retired as Nebraska's head football coach in 1998 and who has led the Husker athletic department for the past five years - will step down as athletic director.

On Jan. 1, 2013, Osborne will become athletic director emeritus. He will continue to be actively involved in Athletic Department operations through July 30, 2013.

"It has been a pleasure and an honor to work in the Athletic Department for the past five years," Osborne said. "I hope that there have been some good things that have been accomplished during that time.  I appreciate Chancellor Perlman giving me this opportunity. I've had the privilege of working with some outstanding people in the athletic department and have confidence that the trajectory of the athletic department is very good."

It's nice that this is a farewell and not a eulogy. Tom Osborne is a true giant of college football, quite possibly the last living coach of a true dynasty. And when he decided his coaching career was over, he served in the House of Representatives for six years before losing a governor's race.

So instead of running the state, he eventually took over Nebraska athletics. Osborne was named interim athletic director after the firing of Steve Pederson in October 2007; within roughly six weeks, he had fired Bill Callahan and hired Bo Pelini.

Osborne was also instrumental in getting Nebraska into the Big Ten, which was a boon for a football program in a conference with relatively low TV revenue and an uncertain future at the time. Now, Perlman's no figurehead—far from it—but there's a reason why Osborne was right up there with Jim Delany when it was time to make the announcement that Nebraska was on board.

And then the coaching career. Good lord, the coaching career.

In his 25 years as a head coach at Nebraska—the only place Osborne ever coached, even as an assistant—Osborne went 255-49-3, a staggering winning percentage of .836. He won three AP titles, all in his last four years as a head coach. He also finished in the AP Top 10 in 15 of his first 16 years; that lone year out was his first, where he finished tied for 11th.

He was a paragon of dominance in the Big 8. His teams won 12 conference titles in 23 years in that conference, then added a 13th once it became the Big 12. His conference winning percentage was a surreal .870. He never had a losing record in conference play (and he only went 4-3 once), and his teams went undefeated in Big 8/12 play 10 times.

Osborne has four former players in the College Football Hall of Fame already in center Dave Rimington (the namesake of the Rimington Trophy for best college center), Heisman-winning tailback Mike Rozier, Outland Trophy-winning tackle Will Shields and two-time unanimous All-American defensive end Grant Wistrom. More former players will undoubtedly be added to this list over the coming years; it's a travesty that QB Tommie Frazier isn't on it yet.

How dominant was Osborne's Nebraska program? Nearly everyone was running some sort of triple option at some point during Osborne's career (though the gradual phase-out came early). And yet still, ask any college football fan which team comes to mind when you think about a triple-option team in the '80s or '90s, and he'll say Nebraska without hesitation.

Osborne was not perfect. His sympathy toward and reinstatement of troubled tailback Lawrence Phillips is ample proof of that for most people. And "he needs football in his life" has become one of the most dubious quotes regarding player discipline in the sport today.

But of course Tom Osborne isn't a squeaky-clean superhero. No coach is. No player is. No person is. College football is an impure sport played by impure people and coached by impure people. That's not just the nature of the sport, it's the nature of humanity. And on balance, Tom Osborne's legacy far, far exceeds his lower moments in terms of overall positivity.