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Andy Means is more like Tom Osborne than Jason Peter, but he’s used a bit of both to help guide his Millard South football team into a Class A state championship game Friday night against Millard West.
A humble, unassuming, highly disciplined and organized coach, Means says Osborne is “the model for how to treat players, set goals and communicate values.”
But Means also has his master’s degree, teaches psychology and listens whenever he can to Peter, a Lincoln radio sports talk show host who believes the best motivation is and always will be initiated by the players themselves.
The more Means listened to Peter, the more he wanted his players to hear what the All-America defensive lineman had to say about the Huskers’ mindset when they won back-to-back national championships in 1994 and ’95.
So the week before school ended last May, Means invited Peter to drive to Omaha and speak to his team. “You could have a heard a pin drop in that room,” Means recalled. “They still remember why Jason thought those teams were so successful – because the coaches didn’t have to yell and scream at them . . . they motivated themselves.”
He Arrived Looking Like He Didn’t Belong, but Beat the Odds
Means is proof that intrinsic motivation is always the best motivation.
“Andy was a few years ahead of me,” Tony Felici said. “He was this red-headed, freckle-faced kid who was like so many of us who dreamed of wearing a Blackshirt. He wasn’t big, and he wasn’t fast, so he really took to weight training to show people that he belonged with everyone else. Because of his incredible work ethic, he did what Boyd Epley wanted everyone to do – get bigger, stronger and faster.”
Osborne recalls the journey taken by Means, who was among a handful of incoming freshmen who never missed an open Saturday in the weight room.
“He wasn’t a very heavily recruited walk-on,” said Nebraska’s Hall of Fame coach and current athletic director. “Andy was probably 6-foot and 170 pounds, and I remember he ran a 4.9 in the 40. When he got his 40 time down to 4.5 and his weight up to 180, he probably came about as far athletically as anybody I can remember. He was a long ways from a Big Eight Conference football player when he got here, but he worked hard in the weight room, kept improving and ended up starting for us three years at corner.”
Felici, another former walk-on who was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame this fall, calls Means a great coach. “Andy focuses more on the process than the outcome,” Felici said. “He has incredible work ethic, and his players love him. He doesn’t get all riled up, and he doesn’t believe in profanity. He goes by the rules, and he disciplines his players who don’t. He reminds me of Coach Osborne.”
Mitch Krenk, a legendary Husker walk-on tight end who owns a Chicago Bear 1985 Super Bowl ring, also sees similarities to Osborne.
“Every summer, Andy and his staff help us with the Dave Rimington-Boomer Esiason Football Camp,” Krenk said. “Andy is so unassuming and so dedicated. All he wants to do is coach and do things right. He doesn’t say much, but he’s a great guy and a real leader. Every year, we have to drag him to get his picture taken because he’s always over in the corner hiding. He must coach kind of like he played – for everyone but himself.”
As much as he appreciates the compliments, Means is uncomfortable with any comparisons to Osborne.
“I probably yelled a little more this year than Coach Osborne ever did,” Means said. “I’ve had to step back more than once and ask myself, ‘What would Coach Osborne do in a similar situation?’ I’m 50 years old, and I still don’t have the reasoning or the sense of calm he showed us, day in and day out, year in and year out.”
Means admits he envisioned coaching a state championship team last spring. In fact, the month after Peter addressed his team, Millard South came to Lincoln. “Bellevue West beat us at the very end of the 7-on-7 competition in the Nebraska Football Camp,” he said. “I wanted our players to experience Memorial Stadium. We all wanted to come back, and here we are.”
Millard West AD: Means Was the Epitome of a Nebraska Walk-on
Here they are playing a West team that beat South, 15-12, during the regular season. “This has been a great week for Millard and a great week for high school football. These two teams playing for the championship have nothing but a healthy respect for each other,” said Millard West Athletic Director Steve Joekel, who grew up in Lincoln and remembers watching Means play for the Huskers.
“I was a big fan of Andy Means. He’s the epitome of a Nebraska football walk-on,” Joekel said. “He and his staff are like our staff – first-class in everything they do. We all think this is the first time ever that two Millard teams have met in a state championship game – not just in football, but in any sport. No matter what happens in this game, we’ve all had great seasons, and we’re all champions. This is what high school sports should be all about – play as hard as you possibly can and respect the outcome. I would expect nothing less from either school.”
For Means, who 30 years ago almost to the weekend helped shut down No. 1 Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy-winning Billy Sims, Friday night’s lights are a chance for the same kind of storybook ending he experienced as a player.
“I still remember opening the ‘78 season at night against Alabama in Birmingham on national TV,” Means recalled. “I was a sophomore starting my first game, and Coach Osborne and (the late) Coach (Lance) Van Zandt explained how I needed to block everything out and just play football. That’s all I’m trying to communicate to these young men – to forget about the seats, the stadium and the turf and just do what they’ve been taught to do.”
Early in the season, Means admits he lost some self-control. “We lost three games by a total of 14 points, and, all of a sudden, I decided I needed to be a little bit like Knute Rockne,” he said.
Even though Millard South wasn’t getting blown out, Means started over-analyzing and yes, against his better judgment, he pleads guilty to the unthinkable charge of over-motivating.
“That’s when the leaders on this team took the reins and told me to cut the Rockne speeches, and they’d take it from here,” Means related. “I always knew this team had that kind of leadership, but they didn’t know whether they should do it or not. Finally, probably remembering what Jason Peter told them about self-driven motivation, they took the bull by the horns and really went after it.”
When the state playoff brackets were announced, Millard South had the unlikely opportunity to avenge all three regular-season losses if the right teams won and kept advancing. That’s exactly what’s happened as South beat Elkhorn in the quarterfinals and defeated previously unbeaten Omaha Creighton Prep in the semifinals. The only roadblock left is unbeaten, arch-rival Millard West in the state championship game.
Once on the Brink of Death, Means Keeps Football in Perspective
Win or lose, Means will keep a healthy outlook. While football pushed him to personal heights that were difficult to imagine, he still tries to keep the game in perspective, especially after contracting bacterial meningitis eight years ago. For eight days, he was on life support and in a coma.
“I was on the brink of death,” he recalled. “I believe there’s a reason why I lived. I don’t feel the plan God had for me had been accomplished, and I want to fulfill that plan to the best of my abilities. I want to help develop young men into productive citizens. I want them to work hard and give great effort every game. I want them to understand what I learned as a player – that loyalty, dedication and teamwork are the keys to success in any endeavor in life.”
Growing up in Holdrege, Nebraska, Means learned to dream big. His father, the late Dr. Arden Means, lettered four times in football at Nebraska in the 1940s, then watched his son become that long shot, success story as a walk-on.
“His dad had a lot of interest in Andy as an athlete. He gave him a lot of support, but Andy’s the one who showed the discipline, focus and work ethic to become a very good player,” Osborne said. “It was quite a transitional process. Andy was an overachiever – no question about it. I’m very proud of what he did as a player and what he’s done as a coach.”
The ‘78 win over Oklahoma not only clinched a Big Eight championship for Nebraska, but also marked Osborne’s first win over the Sooners and Barry Switzer, his nemesis who had beaten Nebraska in five consecutive seasons. In all, Means started on teams that won 29 games and lost 7. He was the ABC Player of the Game when the Huskers dropped a 17-14 decision at OU in '79, and he finished his career as an Academic All-Big Eight selection in 1980.
When Means played at Nebraska, “I learned to be on time, work hard, be organized and stay positive,” he said. “I also learned to serve people to the best of your ability and to stay positive and faithful even when things don’t look good.”
He also understands the value of a simple phone call. “I haven’t talked to Jason since he talked to our team,” Means said. “I owe him another call no matter what. He told it like it was and how it should be. Every one of our kids listened to him.”
And, fortunately, so did their coach.