Press Conference Transcript
Athletic Director Tom Osborne/Chancellor Harvey Perlman
Transcript of Osborne Retirement Announcement Press Conference
Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
Athletic Director Tom Osborne
"Thank you for coming. It's been kind of short notice this morning, but we appreciate you being here. The aging process is kind of interesting. I just talked to our whole staff and told them I heard about this guy not long ago who was kind of shriveled up with gray hair and looked like he's older than dirt. A reporter thought he'd go and talk to him and see what the secret to his longevity was. The guy said, 'It's pretty simple. I'm a very heavy drinker. I smoke three packs a day. I never exercise. I hate exercise. The only food I eat is deep fat fried. I want nothing to do with fruits and vegetables and stuff like that.' The young reporter was impressed and said, 'My goodness. How old are you actually?' The guy says 'Well I just turned 35 last week,' so I can relate to that somewhat. I've not really followed that guy's formula for aging, but it still happens.
Part of the deal, and you can't escape it, and I guess this was really driven home to me at Tim Miles' first press conference several months ago. A lot of you were there. I think the third or fourth question Tim was asked was 'What's it like working for a 75-year-old A.D.?' Tim handled it pretty well, but that's part of the deal. At some point, whether you are able to function or not, the perception of getting old can get in the way. I don't want to be one of those guys where people are ringing their hands wondering what they are going to do with him. That sometimes happens.
The Chancellor and I have had some discussions, and so as of Jan. 1, I will step aside as athletic director. Harvey (Perlman) needs some time to go through the process of finding a new one, so that's why we are here today rather than waiting until Dec. 31 to tell you, because obviously it has to be an open process. The decision will be his and I'll support him in any way I can. My plan is to probably be around for six months or so after Jan. 1 to help with the transition in any way I can. There's always a few things the new A.D. may not be aware of, so I'll try to help the transition. Also, I'll try to help the recruiting. I do a lot of that right now, meeting with a lot of recruits. So if the coaches want me to do that, I'll do that. I want to make sure the building projects are completed, although they are pretty much on autopilot. I don't know that there is a whole lot I can add to the process.
There are a few things over the next three months. The thing I'm concerned about when you're a lame duck is that things can really scatter. I've talked to the staff that we need to still stick together and there are a lot of things we need to do, so we'll continue to work on those issues. The last thing, let me just say this, you never know when you're on the inside what the perception of a program is, but I feel that we are well-positioned. We've worked hard on culture. Part of that has not just been internal. We've tried to make this a place where the former players feel good about coming back. We've tried to make it a place where the fans are somewhat unified and supported. I'd like to thank the fans, because whatever is accomplished here could not happen if we did not have a very loyal and unified fan base. It is probably pretty hard to find one that would be equal. It enables a program in a state of 1.8 million people to be more competitive with more densely populated areas. We've worked hard with our student-athletes. I think they've represented us well. I think our academics and facilities are as good as anywhere in the country. I really like the people we have in place. Administratively, support staff and then coaching staff, I feel good about them. Three or four years from now, a lot of great things will have happened and will continue to happen.
Lastly just allow me to say I've enjoyed working with Harvey (Perlman). He is probably as knowledgeable, if not more knowledgeable, as any university president regarding athletics and NCAA rules, so he's been really good to work with and very supportive of athletics. We certainly appreciate that. I'm honored that he would've asked me to do this job five years ago. At the time that he asked me I wasn't sure whether it was a good idea or not. Hopefully it's worked out well. I guess the next move is his and with that, I'll give the floor to Harvey and thanks again for coming."
University of Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman
"Thanks, Tom. It's been a real privilege to be able to work with Tom directly and closely over the last five years. I think he's done an extraordinary job for athletics and for the university. I'm not going to spend the time today to review all of his accomplishments. I think there will be plenty of opportunities to do that. He certainly stabilized the department. He's hired some very promising coaches. He's brought our facilities to a new level. I think it's important that the first facility he moved on with was Life Skills and academics. I think that tells us a little about his views and the culture of our athletic department. It was obviously fun to work with him in moving Nebraska to the Big Ten. It wouldn't have happened without his support, and that was a good time for both of us.
I've had the opportunity to travel with him and work with him and there are people who you can admire from a distance and when you get up close and see all the warts and everything else. That's not true with my experience with Tom. It's been really fun to interview head coaches with him and to see the kind of national respect and awe they have with his reputation and position in the coaching community. It's been great to see him and in some ways sympathetic to him to have to walk from one place in a foreign stadium to another. A walk that would usually take five minutes takes 20, because people want to stop for an autograph or to say hello. I think we probably don't recognize in Nebraska the tremendous amount of respect nationally, not just in intercollegiate athletics but in other venues as well. We should and we will celebrate his accomplishments in his over 40 years of service to the community.
We should respect his explanation for the decision he has made today. He of course has my personal thanks that he'll stay through the transition, and I know that he'll be an important part of this athletic department as long as he wants to be, because he is a real treasure.
To anticipate some of the questions you might ask, Tom and I have had a number of conversations about his interests in continuing and his interests in retiring. What I asked him was that he give me a couple months notice before the public announcement. He informed me in August that it was his intention to serve through this football season and to retire Jan. 1. As you can imagine more than most, the search for a successor in this athletic department, given its visibility and importance to the state of Nebraska, is not one that can be done easily and cannot be done in the public eye.
I think Nebraska is an important enough place in intercollegiate athletics that we should be able to attract the very best to this position. I can tell you that individuals who currently hold high positions in intercollegiate athletics will not participate in a public search. I do not intend to hold an open public search for this position. I think it would limit our opportunities, and it would limit the kinds of people that we could attract and have conversations with. I will tell you I have already begun the search. I have hired a nationally known search consultant, Jed Hughes, from Korn/Ferry International. He heads their international sports division. He was the search consultant that hired most recently the athletic director at Michigan and the new commissioner of the Big 12. He is knowledgeable about intercollegiate athletics, he is well-networked in intercollegiate athletics, more importantly with my conversations with him, I think he understood it is not just experience and credentials, it's a personality and a viewpoint that has to fit with Nebraska and our visions and what our culture is. I think he has an understanding of that. He has and is continuing to conduct an exhaustive search of credentials of people around the country who we might be interested in and who might fit in the Nebraska scene. He will look at the credentials of people within this department as well as external people. I will tell you that I have already interviewed candidates for the position. It very well may be that I will interview more. I say that only so that you can have the fun of following my car and tail numbers just to keep track of me, that way I know where I am. I have invited about 12 to 15 individuals to serve as my advisors in this search. They represent a broad segment of the constituents from coaches to former student-athletes to donors to members of the Lincoln and Nebraska communities. I have engaged in them about the credentials and things that we would want in successor. I can also assure you that Tom will play an important role in advising me in that selection as well. That's where we are. I hope that we will have a successor reasonably soon, but I don't intend to say anything more about the search until we have announcement. With that, Tom and I will open it up to questions."
Perlman on the circumstances that brought Tom to the position five years ago
"That's not exactly a time that I care to spend a lot of time reflecting on. It was unfortunate, but I think we are all fortunate that Tom agreed to step up. There was considerable anxiety among the fans and supporters of Husker athletics. I think the last five years have demonstrated Tom's ability to bring those constituents together."
Osborne: on the state of the department upon his hiring in October 2007
"First of all, I was very surprised. I think it was on a Sunday afternoon that Harvey gave me a call. I was teaching in the college of business. Life was good. I could have a long weekend when I wanted to. I enjoyed the students. I was very surprised to get that call. We thought about it. I talked to Nancy for a day or two and decided that athletics were important to the state and combined a lot of elements together and thought, if I can help, I should try. So on an interim basis, I came over here.
On the internal aspects of the athletic department, I may have told you this before, but when you get old you repeat yourself a lot, so bear with me. The first day that I was on the job, it was 8 o'clock in the morning and I walked into a meeting with the executive team and we had maybe two or three mental health counselors who were talking to them about stress reduction. I thought 'This is odd.' So I wouldn't say things were awful, but things were a little fragmented and some people quit and some were thinking about quitting. So it was kind of a difficult time, but people pulled together very quickly. Hopefully it's worked out well. I feel, as I said earlier, that the culture of the department is solid right now. That's about all I can remember about it."
Osborne: on if he has any health concerns that led to his decision
"I'm probably healthier today than I was when I was a member of congress. That takes a big toll on you. I'm fine. I have no special issues. As everybody knows, I had a double bypass in 1985, so I've got a few wires in me internally that I probably wish I didn't have. I'm feeling good."
Osborne on if he felt a sense of closure after Tim Miles' press conference
"No, not really. I thought maybe this summer that it was the time to retire. We had just hired Tim, Jamie Williams has recently been hired, Jamie Vaughn, our compliance director, has just recently been hired. I felt that it was important for me to stay on for a few months to get their feet on the ground. There were a few things I wanted to do. If you've been in athletics a long time, you are tempted to take one more grab at the brass ring with football and volleyball, so that's probably it too. Anyway, this seems to be the right time, so we'll hopefully make it work."
Osborne on his future plans and his legacy
"That legacy question is a tricky one. I'd rather you guys wrote it than me. I don't have any particular thoughts on that. As I told you, after Jan. 1, I will be here for a while. I'm not sure where. I just talked to George Sullivan down the hall. He's got about a 4 x 4 cubicle, so maybe George will share some space with me. But anyway, we'll find a place. Like I said, I want to be available for the completion of the facilities. We have a lot of things going on. John Ingram and others are very capable of getting that done. I will assist the new A.D. in any way that I can, but I'm also smart enough to know not to meddle. That guy may come in here and on day two decide he doesn't want me around. If that's the case, then I won't be around. I will be able to help student-athletes and anyone else. In July, I plan to ramp up my activities with Teammates. We'd like to go from 6,000 matches to 10,000 matches in the next three years. It's going to take a lot of effort, but I think we can do it. That's about it."
Osborne: on projected time frame as athletic director in 2007
"No, I didn't because at that time, as I mentioned, I worked at the pleasure of the chancellor and it was an interim appointment. After I'd been here for a few months, I told Harvey that it would be helpful to me to take that interim off because sometimes, people are saying, 'Well, you know, I'll go along with the guy, but he's not going to be here for very long, so whatever he thinks doesn't make any difference anyway.' So he was kind enough to say, 'Yeah, we'll take that off.' I didn't have any specific plan, but I suppose five years is probably about long enough. I had a grandfather who was a preacher, and he felt he should move about every five years because he felt like he made about as much contribution as he could within five years. Of course, I coached a lot longer than that. Many of you may have thought, well maybe I should have moved on after five years. Anyway, it's been enjoyable for me. I've enjoyed it."
Osborne: on if he's most proud of one accomplishment as athletic director
"Not really. I think that culture's the most important thing. People always look at facilities, you know? You've got to have this building and that building and finances. It's really the people that make it work. We had some pretty good things happening here without extravagant facilities for a long time. Most of that had to do with culture and I think that, at this point, we've got our former players behind us and involved. I think the fans are pretty well engaged, and I think that the people in the athletic department are working together. To me, that's probably the most significant thing. But there are a lot of other good things. I think the Big Ten move will be good, and of course I appreciate Harvey's role in that. It's been interesting. We'll see where it all goes."
Osborne: on what his wife Nancy thinks of his retirement
"She's probably more approving than disapproving. It leaves me with a great deal of fear and trepidation because she keeps reminding me that the garage has not been cleaned for about three years and I can see a whole list of things popping up. All of you who are married understand these things."
Osborne: on how he feels his accomplishments as athletic director rank against his accomplishments as coach, congressman
"It's like I said, I don't know. I feel good about where we are as a program. I hope it's a good situation for someone to come into. I like the trajectory. Nobody's really going to know how this all worked out for probably another three years, but I really like what I've seen from Tim Miles. I think he's doing a great job. I think Bo's (Pelini) doing very well. Of course, (Gary) Pepin is a known quantity. John Cook is a known quantity. Wrestling's going to be good and baseball, softball are going to be good. So we think we're going to do really well, and I feel good about the program."
Osborne on if he feels nostalgic
"Not really. I've got another three months here, eight months or whatever. I'm not nostalgic, particularly. It's been fun. I was sitting there, waiting for you guys to come and I was watching the crew working over across the way and it's kind of interesting to watch that, all the building that's happening."
Perlman: on characteristics in the next athletic director
"I think that ought to be clear and it almost becomes a cliché, but I think anytime you hire someone, there are risks associated with that. Anytime you hire someone, there are risks associated with that and a person comes into a job from their point of view, there are risks associated as well. I suppose ideally, someone with the kinds of experiences where you can make judgments about what their judgments are and what their skills are. But most importantly, I think they have to understand the rich tradition of this department and the culture of this department and what has made Nebraska Athletics so important to the state of Nebraska, what Nebraskans are proud of about this department. They have to convince me that they understand that and has to fit that model and will continue that culture."
Perlman: on the culture within the athletic department
"I'm not referring to the internal culture. I'm talking about the role that athletics plays in the state of Nebraska. I think it is the pride that Nebraskans have for not only winning and losing, but for the holistic view that we take for student-athletes - that Life Skills are important, that academic success is important. That these students are going to be out as adults and as part of the athletic department's goal, just like in the university, are real roles to train them to be successful. So I think that's a commitment. I think engagement of the fans. Fans play an important role here. Former student-athletes play an important role here, and I think you have to be open and embracing of all the constituents of athletics."