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Nebraska Football Searches for the Next 'Pope' of the Huskers

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 17: Retiring Athletic Director and former coach Tom Osborne, along side Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Bo Pelini, lead the team onto the field to face the Minnesota Golden Gophers before their game at Memorial Stadium on November 17, 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska won 38-14. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images
Andrew SteierContributor IIIMarch 14, 2013

The Roman Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals has spoken, naming Jorge Bergoglio its new pope.  Yet as Pope Francis undertakes his first full day as the leader of the Catholic faith, Husker Nation is still waiting for white smoke to arise from the chimney of the University of Nebraska Athletic Department.

While every school has its iconic athletes and coaches, Nebraska is unique in that even above its Heisman winners and All-Americans it has always had a clear patriarch or godfather watching over the program.

Bob Devaney entered that role after dragging a forgotten Husker team, plagued by decades of futility, from the depths of mediocrity and apathy back to national prominence in the mid-'60s.  After his retirement, the torch was passed to the new “pope” of the Big Red when Tom Osborne continued that excellence for decades to come, first as head coach and eventually as athletic director.

But Osborne’s resignation from his post this past year has left a tangible vacancy in the athletic department and an emotional one in the hearts of the Husker faithful.  That's because the departure of Osborne as athletic director is more than just an occupational change.  It represents a clear transition into the post-Osborne era.

And the problem: Unlike Devaney’s retirement, Osborne’s leaves no clear successor.

Perhaps this is all just symbolic nonsense though.  Maybe having no pope, patriarch or guardian of the program will have few actual consequences.  But then again, it is certainly uncharted territory.

For half a century, Nebraska has enjoyed a godfather of Husker football, in whom fans could feel confident and sure.  But that feeling of security is gone.  And who can best restore it is anyone’s guess.

Bo Pelini looked the part at the beginning of his tenure in Lincoln, Neb.  But his teams’ struggles in recent years have raised questions regarding his ability to coach the team, nevertheless claim his spot in the pantheon of Nebraska football.

If not him, maybe one of the younger coaches will eventually rise through the ranks and provide that legendary leadership to which Husker fans are accustomed.  Maybe a former player even, like Joe Ganz if he continues his career in coaching.

But no matter who is named, it is all just wild speculation for the time being.  For without Tom Osborne working in the program and the team struggling to reach the upper echelon of college football, Husker Nation will see nothing but black smoke rising from the chimney of the athletic department every year at season’s end.

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