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More than likely, Rich Fisher will survey the crowd and talk mostly about his players when Nebraska’s second-year wide receivers coach addresses the monthly Huskers Athletics Fund Luncheon Friday at Lincoln’s Downtown Embassy Suites Hotel.
Whatever Fisher communicates will be insightful, but it probably won’t cover his life story, and that’s unfortunate. To appreciate how a one-time Colorado Buffalo linebacker, whose team won one national championship and came close to another, ended up at Nebraska, we go all the way back to Fisher growing up on a small farm near Williamsburg, Kansas.
“When you look at where I started and where I am now, I have to say I had a pretty unique childhood growing up,” Fisher said. “I was the product of a divorced family, and I was in rural Kansas until I was about 10 years old.”
He remembers getting up early and doing farm chores before catching the bus to school. “I was feeding the pigs, giving hay to the horses and getting eggs out of the chicken coop,” Fisher recalled. “It’s kind of funny. I was with my mom on the farm before going to live with my dad. He and his whole family come from a military background, so I went immediately from that rural environment to a very strict military environment. I got planted in Tulsa for a while and ended up in Houston.”
Going from the farm to living in America’s fourth largest city behind New York, LA and Chicago would be a tough transition for anyone, but looking back, Fisher sees how the experience helped him learn the value of hard work and accountability at a very young age – traits that were critical in Bo Pelini hiring him. “When you’re in charge of livestock, it teaches you a certain amount of discipline, even when you’re very young,” Fisher said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but it laid the foundation for what I was to become.”
The Impact of Sports Was Chapter Two
After attending four elementary schools, Fisher was ready to write the next chapter in his life – immersing himself into the full-measure impact of sports. “Once I started playing organized sports, my background allowed me to be a good team player, and at the same time, use the values I had – hard work, teamwork, dedication, commitment ... all of those things kind of came naturally for me. Like most young kids, I fell in love with sports, but most kids my age hadn’t been exposed to the kind of experiences I had.”
When his dad kept a promise allowing him to spend all four years at the same high school, Fisher excelled enough to earn a scholarship at Colorado. He could not have arrived at a more opportune time, lettering in 1989-90-91-92. “My first two years there were arguably the best time in the history of the program,” Fisher said. “We went 22-1, won one national championship and two Big Eight titles.
“It is funny how people always talked about the Nebraska-Colorado rivalry,” Fisher said. “Rivalries happen because of the competitive nature of two programs and the way they go back and forth. At CU, we wanted to create a rivalry with Nebraska, but Nebraska didn’t look at us that way because Colorado never beat Nebraska. Once the tide started to turn there for a span, the series became a lot more critical and took on a lot more meaning than it had in previous years.
“There’s no doubt that Nebraska was the king of the class and the benchmark for what we wanted to become,” Fisher said. “Now that we’re in separate conferences, that rivalry is kind of broken apart. But I can tell you this. The Colorado family has always respected what the Huskers were about – the legacy and the winning tradition – because we wanted to become what the Huskers already were.”
Pelini almost hired Fisher as his linebacker coach when Bo became Frank Solich’s defensive coordinator in 2003. “Bo and I have known each other for 15 years,” Fisher said. “When he coached (ex-Buff) Ted Johnson with the New England Patriots, we immediately hit it off. He was a lifeline to call and talk football when I got out of coaching. Our families became close. We always talked about the opportunity to work together, but the timing was never right for whatever reason. I believe God has a plan for your mission in life. Fortunately, I was much more prepared to take this job in 2011 than I was in 2003.”
Nebraska Embraced Ex-Buff McBride
Fisher is well aware that Charlie McBride, another former Colorado football player, became a legendary coach at Nebraska, where he enjoyed a long and distinguished career as Tom Osborne’s defensive coordinator.
“It’s kind of ironic now being here on the inside and seeing and feeling all the support that comes with the Nebraska fan base. This really is a special place,” Fisher said. “When you see it on the outside like I did playing at Colorado and then coaching at Oklahoma State and Idaho, you know that there is no place – and I mean no place – like this place in terms of the backing the program gets, the expectations the program has and the support of the administration and all the fans. Once you get here and see everything on the inside, you know why this whole state rallies around this football program. This season will be 50 consecutive years of home-game sellouts ... unbelievable ... truly unbelievable.”
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