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Dennis Leblanc, left, and former Husker Alvin Banks, right, present Tom Osborne with a...
Courtesy: NU Media Relations
          Release: 12/21/2012
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Huskers Count the Ways to Honor Their Leader

Randy York's N-Sider Blog

The Official Blog of the Huskers

Keith Zimmer gave Tom Osborne a giant resume Wednesday as a life skills symbol for post-retirement employment. Dan Floyd of computing services presented Nebraska’s Hall-of-Fame football coach with a box to protect his cell phone from water damage while fishing. NU baseball coach Darin Erstad pulled off a combination locker room speech/comedy routine so compelling that his tribute to Osborne deserves an N-Sider blog of its own on Friday.

In a moving, heartfelt way, 230 members of Nebraska’s Athletic Department turned the tables on their retiring athletic director. Normally, Osborne would share his thoughts and wisdom at the annual all-staff holiday luncheon, but workers planned their own tributes for this historic moment. Staffers were so secretive, no one knew what each other was doing, not even emcee Jeff Griesch, who wondered up front, with a wry smile, if a mini-roast might be on deck for everyone in the room.

Let the record show that an honorable host was indeed on the receiving end of more than one appropriately timed roast, but only when it included a toast right along with it. Dr. Lonnie Albers talked about Osborne’s “prescription” for retirement, and Jamie Vaughn developed a creative Osborne “mock violation” for compliance. Holly Adam and each member of NU’s Ticket Office team had clever nuggets of their own to salute Tom Osborne, making it Thanks T.O. from the T.O. Get it?

HuskerVision’s Shot Kleen got mileage from his second Osborne retirement experience in 40 years of supporting the Athletic Department. His gift the second time around? Pink frayed shoelaces for an iconic figure that always seemed to wear shorter ones. Dennis Leblanc presented Osborne with a “wedgie”, and you can only imagine the laughs that drew before the associate AD reached down inside the podium to pull out a wedge-shaped award given to everyone who works on the academic staff and then moves on. Osborne, of course, is in a league of his own because he was Nebraska’s first-ever academic counselor and a major force behind the Huskers’ NCAA record 302 Academic All-Americans. This time, the man who has presented Nebraska Male and Female Student-Athletes of the Year Awards for five straight years got one himself and his name was on it. The Wedgie may be one of the most unique awards ever to grace wherever Osborne puts his annual haul.

Nutrition’s Ruth Hood Sings Her Salute

Women’s gymnastics coach Dan Kendig paid tribute to Osborne’s role in the recruitment of student-athletes, and wrestling coach Mark Manning led the entourage of imaginative Devaney Center acknowledgements of Osborne. But the real show-stopper in the minds of almost everyone in the room was Ruth Hood, who takes great pride in maintaining an immaculate Training Table salad bar that student-athletes crave for lunch and dinner. Once, when the softball team could invite anyone outside the program for a free dinner at its postseason banquet, Hood was nominated by three different players, unbeknownst to all three nominators.

Hood not only skillfully outlined and described Osborne’s career as a football coach, a Congressman, an athletic director and the co-founder of TeamMates, but also saluted him in a fashion that put lumps in the throats and tears in the eyes of most in a banquet room that included Tom’s wife, children and their spouses.

A longtime minister’s wife, who moved to Lincoln from Maine six years ago with her husband, Hood finished her tribute by adding a twist to one of her favorite gospel songs. It was her way to thank Tom for coming back to Nebraska when the university needed him most. “I just really thought that was why everyone in the room was there – to say thanks to someone whose commitment to faith makes him the man he is,” Hood said Thursday.

“Others only hope to reach where Tom is, but the road of travel would appear to be much different,” Hood said. “He’s been the corporate leader of our athletic department. But he is not the stereotypical leader who will do whatever it takes to climb to the top. His personality is built on being a servant leader, and I think almost everything people said yesterday reflected that. Everybody honors and respects him so much. You could see the whole gamut of expressions, and they all fit like they’d been planned together, but they weren’t. They came from everyone’s hearts, and it was all done so tastefully.”

A Fitting Tribute to a Great Nebraska Leader

Chad Chiesa, an IT specialist, described the event as a perfect capstone to his term as chairperson of the staff recognition committee. “We gave everyone the same opportunity to thank Tom and have some fun doing it,” Chiesa said, “and that’s what everyone did – thanked a great leader and had a lot of fun doing it.”

In presenting Osborne with an over-sized resume “to get back in the game”, Zimmer reminded his retiring boss about the importance of references and not getting a second chance to make a good first impression. He talked about dress to impress, looking the part and not succumbing to peer pressure. Zimmer then flipped over Osborne’s giant resume that showed a large photo of T.O with his sleeves cut off from his dress shirt while talking with NU donor Larry the Cable Guy. That lighthearted moment merely preceded Osborne getting a Hero Leadership Award of his own in honor of the Life Skills program and student-athlete development – a cause he championed every bit as much as academics.

The luncheon started fast with a resounding version of Kool & The Gang’s Celebration, which encouraged everyone in the room to “come on and celebrate” because there was a party going on right there on the third floor of the West Stadium. So guess who brought their good times and their laughter so they could party with you, Tom Osborne, right there in front of the honored guest’s table, surrounded by his family?

There was Jamie Williams playing the role of Kool with a ‘70s strut while wearing a giant Afro, an open paisley shirt, a big medallion and blue jeans with pre-fabricated holes. He was also holding a boom box over his right shoulder for his rendition of Celebration – the No. 1 hit song released in 1980. That was the same year Williams was a sophomore backup tight end behind seniors Jeff Finn and Steve Davies before going on to become a two-time All-Big Eight receiver and a 12-year career in the NFL, capped by a Super Bowl Championship with the San Francisco 49ers.

Dancers: Boehm, Burton, Logsdon, Anderson

Marc Boehm, Nebraska’s executive associate AD, found some hair in a wig and wore a white suit. He danced his way into the room, along with senior associate AD Bob Burton, wearing a multi-colored Afro, and fellow associate AD’s Pat Logsdon and Chris Anderson, plus other central administration staffers dressed in ’70s attire. You had to be there to understand how their eclectic willingness to have fun and honor their boss set the tone for everyone else. Williams appropriately added “The Robot” to his moves and then popped the black power fist while posing for a quick pic with Dr. Osborne. It was hilarious. How quickly we forget the era in which Osborne coached.

The fast-moving program also ended with a flurry, and we’ll talk about that, too, but first we pause for some fun, facts and fanfare from employees who work at the Devaney Center and decided to spell out T-O-M  O-S-B-O-R-N-E by standing and holding up each letter they had personally decorated and then shouting out to everyone what it stood for. Track coach Gary Pepin used his “O” for Overrated. “Has Tom really accomplished that much?” he quipped. Pat Norris used his “S” for Suite. “Are you using it next season?” asked Nebraska’s assistant equipment manager. “R is for Red. Now you can buy another color jacket or shirt,” said women’s basketball coach Connie Yori. “N is for Nancy. Don’t forget about cleaning the garage, Coach, because Nancy hasn’t!” said men’s basketball coach Tim Miles. “E is for Everyone at the Devaney, including me, Santa Clause!” said plumber/pipefitter Ryan Donahoe, who dressed up like Jolly Old St. Nick so the last letter had holiday oomph.

Marketing the Cleanup Hitter in This Lineup

That little presentation came right in the middle of the program, and who else but Marketing would be chosen to end the holiday gala? Michael Stephens, assistant athletic director for Marketing and Licensing, confessed thinking about a good-natured spoof on the black helmets Nebraska wore in the throwback win over Wisconsin, but the more he thought about it, a better idea came into his head – let marketing director Ethan Rowley dazzle the crowd with his unique creativity.

Rowley did not disappoint. Since Osborne is retiring and losing benefits that include discounts at Huskers Authentic, he would receive a 10 percent off coupon good for life. “And we’ll also throw in a 50-percent-off discount on any Tom Osborne-autographed merchandise,” Rowley said.

Knowing Osborne’s distaste for social media, Rowley admitted that one of his goals before Tom retired was to get him signed up for a Twitter account. “When you announced your retirement in September, we thought we failed,” Rowley said. “But then we figured: ‘Hey, let’s just sign up for you. So we made a Twitter account. The log-in name is @HuskerFisherman7. Apparently, someone already has @HuskerFisherman and @HuskerFisherman1 through 6, so now you can follow them and become friends and fishing buddies. We just wanted to warn you that if you ever get a ‘follow’ from @FauxPelini or @NotTomOsborne, it’s probably just best to ignore them.”

Rowley and his Marketing teammates knocked themselves out to deliver more retirement benefits. Since there’s probably a good chance that Osborne will lose his all-sports staff pass when he loses full-time work status, Rowley said marketing interns have been collecting empty popcorn boxes to collect “Take 5” tickets. “So here’s a bundle so you and Nancy can continue to have Date Nights at such a romantic spot as the Devaney Center,” Rowley said.

More Money = More Prominence on Waitlist

Since those free admissions are not good for football, volleyball, men’s basketball or baseball, Marketing negotiated with the Ticket Office and the Huskers Athletic Fund.  “We have secured a prime spot for you on the general public waitlist,” said Lonna Kliment, NU’s director of Ticket Marketing. “Rest assured, Coach. We’ll be giving you a call to discuss donation levels and ticket packages.”

In another kind and generous gesture, Rowley said concession workers had been collecting extra kernels of popcorn from the Take 5 boxes. “We had them pour out what was left in each box into this giant bag, so you can still enjoy your favorite snack, Coach,” Rowley said. “And feel free to swing by any concession stand. Just tell ‘em Janell and Rox sent you, and we’ll refill the bag for ‘ya!”

Rowley then introduced the final presenter, Erynn Nicholson, head coach of the Spirit Squad. She told Osborne his influence for youth went beyond students, athletes and even the TeamMates he’s mentored.

Mr. and Mrs. Red Also Say ‘Thanks Tom’

“You’ve really made an impact in your role as athletic director, so on behalf of all young people, we have a special present from the parents of a special young person,” Nicholson said, calling up Mr. and Mrs. Red and introducing Osborne to both. “They have a giant thank you card and a small present for you, Coach.”

Nicholson read the card. “Coach, thank you so much for everything you’ve done for the little son we call Lil’. Dr. (Barbara) Hibner helped bring him to life over 20 years ago, and you were here when he arrived. Thanks Coach! Signed: The Reds.”

Mr. and Mrs. Red presented Osborne with a cap so big it covered his entire head. “As you can tell from their stature,” Nicholson said of the Red family, “the only store they shop is for big and tall people, so we’re hoping that it’s the thought that really counts.”

Nicholson said Mrs. Red has always had a crush on the red-headed Osborne. According to Nicholson, that’s why ‘Lil’s mom kept flicking her hair back, thinking she might get the chance to kiss her favorite athletic director on the cheek.

Through it all, Osborne was a good sport. He laughed at every corn-pone joke that came his way, and Mr. and Mrs. Red were no exception. “Needless to say, I’m underwhelmed,” Osborne quipped the second he stepped up to the microphone before thanking everyone in the room and particularly his family.

Key to Marriage Success, Osborne Style

Osborne drew more laughter when he voluntarily advised a captive audience on how to have a successful marriage.

“When we first got married, I told Nancy ‘Now, here’s how it’s going to be!” said Osborne, who couldn’t elaborate for the next six seconds because the room roared so loud in laughter that it would drown out any follow-up remarks.

Like the well-honed speaker he is, Osborne waited long enough for the room to soak it in and wait for more. “I told Nancy ‘I’ll take care of all the big decisions, and you make all the little decisions,’” Osborne said. “We’ve gotten along about as well as two people can because so far, there haven’t been any big decisions to make.”

When the luncheon ended, almost everyone stacked chairs and moved tables, so photographer Scott Bruhn could take the elevator up to the fourth floor and shoot a team photo of 230 proud athletic department employees who supported their leader at his last public event in Lincoln before retiring Jan. 1.

This ‘Little Decision’ Was Made Jointly

Like Ruth Hood sang, we were all thrilled that Tom Osborne decided to come back and restore the order of Nebraska Athletics. It was a big – actually, a gigantic – decision to make, and we all know that the one who makes all the little decisions in the Osborne family played a big part in that choice.

Therefore, having already thanked Tom dozens of times, the Athletic Department ends this N-Side tribute to perhaps “The Greatest Nebraskan Ever” with two words that would mean the most to him … Thanks Nancy!

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Another great article on “Huskers Count the Ways to Honor Their Leader.” It may be your best ever about “the best ever.” John Round, Lincoln, Nebraska

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