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Tom Osborne had two public retirement celebrations as Nebraska’s athletic director. The first was glitzy and glamorous and attended by 1,800 loyal Husker fans who were willing to pay from $250 to $1,000 a person to honor a legend at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center. It was a fun, entertaining, memorable evening that netted nearly $400,000 to benefit two causes Osborne devoutly supports – 1) Nebraska’s Expand Their Experience campaign to help Husker student-athletes gain the ultimate competitive advantage, and 2) the TeamMates Mentoring Program that Tom and wife Nancy Osborne co-founded in 1991.
Osborne enjoyed the Omaha gala that included Miami-based dancers and Vegas-like celebrity impersonators who are included in a DVD bundle that would make an affordable Father’s Day gift for $19.95. The Hall-of-Fame football coach and three-term U.S. Congressman, however, felt much more comfortable joining 500 former players, coaches and athletic department staff members at his second retirement celebration at Lincoln’s Downtown Embassy Suites Hotel. There was no singing, dancing, acrobatics or live interviews with Barry Switzer, Barry Alvarez or Bill Snyder and no remembrances from Nebraska’s Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier or Irving Fryar. But longtime assistants Charlie McBride and Milt Tenopir, the only two speakers besides Osborne at his second celebration, shared some poignant memories.
This N-Sider focuses on McBride, the defensive coordinator for Osborne’s three national championship teams. At the smaller, but close-knit retirement celebration, McBride found unique ways to define the essence of a head coach who won 255 games, lost 49 and tied 3 in a quarter century of excellence that never included a season with fewer than nine wins. The fiery McBride will never forget one of Osborne’s standard lines before his well-prepared teams would take the field. “Fellas, we don’t have to win this game,” McBride said, quoting Osborne for an audience that came to honor him. “I had just come from Wisconsin, and we didn’t win many games there,” McBride said. “I thought to myself: ‘We’re going to do this again?’”
McBride Knew T.O. Was about More than Winning
McBride’s pause drew a quick laugh before he went on to complete the first Osborne pregame speech he witnessed at Nebraska. “Fellas, we don’t have to win this game, but what we have to do is play every play as hard as we can play, and the score will take care of itself,” McBride said, quoting Osborne. “Coach then went on to say if we do get beat when we play as hard as we can every play, then you get beat by a better team and you have nothing to be ashamed of. Now, I don’t know if that was exactly how Tom worded it, but it’s pretty close. I know, and you know that we worked with and played for someone pretty special.”
A few minutes later, McBride choked up a bit after sharing the dichotomy of Osborne and Switzer, who became friends and had mutual respect for each others’ programs. “I know this, and maybe you guys don’t know this,” McBride said. “Tom took time every day to have a devotion period and have meditation. When Tom prayed for the team in the morning, he prayed for every player by name. To me, that was just astounding that he took the time for every player to be known to the good Lord. So we’re all blessed here to have a person that cared that much for all of you.
“That was the main thing about Tom,” McBride said. “Winning is great and so is all that other stuff, but I think it was the access that all of you guys had with Coach that meant more to him than anything else in the world. He may not say it all the time, but it really does mean so much to him. He cares a lot. He cares a lot about all of us.”
McBride Praises Nancy Osborne’s Impact on T.O.
McBride made sure everyone understood the power, the love and the positive influence that Nancy Osborne had on her husband. Then he mentioned how “a lot of us here in this room have made mistakes, but Tom always stayed with us,” McBride said. “Coach stayed with us the whole time. He never wavered one bit. So on behalf of all the guys here, Coach, they love you. They care, too, and I think if every guy had a chance to come up here, they’d say the same thing … that playing here at Nebraska was so special in every life in this room.”
It was special because Osborne taught, modeled and lived everything he shared with his players and coaches. He knew how the world saw winning, but the scoreboard was not how he measured success. He would always dig deeper, care more and lead every player in the program in a silent but spiritual way … by name, not by position on the depth chart.
McBride knew early on what made Osborne tick, and through the years, he understood why his boss viewed football differently than the vast majority of head coaches. More Than Winning was not just a title on one of Tom Osborne’s books. “Tom lived and coached that way every day,” McBride said.
Husker All-American Trev Alberts, the emcee of Osborne’s final retirement banquet, may have put it best at the end. “Coach, you’ve been a faithful servant,” he said. “You sought God’s purpose in your life and sought to perform it as best you could, and you did it the right way … with integrity. There’s no doubt you brought honor and glory to the God you served, and everyone in this room benefited because Coach was a faithful servant, and we thank him.”
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Voices from Husker Nation
Thank you for the piece on Charlie McBride's triubte to Tom Osborne. I thought Trev Alberts' comments summed it all up. John A. Risolvato, Ft. Worth, Texas