Osborne's retirement was honored at Memorial Stadium during the Minnesota game in 2012
Photo by Kelly Mosier

How a Legendary Coach Inspired a World-Class Athlete

By NU Athletic Communications

Tom Osborne: A Legacy Beyond the Game

Tom Osborne Tribute on NET (Central Time)

Monday, Aug 7 at 1 p.m. on NET World

Tuesday, Aug 8 at 7 p.m. on NET

Wednesday, Aug 9 at 8 p.m. on NET World

Friday, Aug 11 at 9 a.m. on NET World

Randy York N-Sider

The starting flanker on Nebraska’s first two national football championship teams in 1970 and '71 did not watch Tom Osborne’s debut documentary Sunday night on NET, but don’t worry about Woody Cox. The retired 66-year-old world-class athlete, who still competes against Olympic bikers, will find time to tune into what every Husker fan should watch – a definitive film to honor T.O.'s legacy.

“I’m sure it typifies Coach Osborne’s pursuit of excellence and his relentless search for just the right fit,” Cox told me this past weekend. “To this day, I marvel how he found me when I was a junior college player at New Mexico Military Institute. I went there first because I had a nomination for the Naval Academy, and it was a prep school for the Academy.”

Somehow, in the grand scheme of things, Osborne saw game film and put Cox on his radar. “He saw me again the next year and offered me a scholarship,” Cox remembers. “I was absolutely astounded that Nebraska wanted to recruit this little flanker from this little junior college. I don’t know how he found me in New Mexico, but I know this: he was in charge of filling in the blanks to shore up our team and help Bob Devaney win a national title.”  

A native of Grosse Pointe, Mich., outside of Detroit, Cox chose the junior college route over a chance to play at Western Michigan. “I thought it was unrealistic to play at a bigger school, but I was motivated by Coach Osborne’s sincerity, honesty and character," Cox said. "I thought it was an honor just to have a chance to play for him. I never envisioned being a starter, let alone playing on two national championship teams. That was more than enough for me. It was the attitude I went in with – to do whatever it takes to help the team. Whatever came my way was great, but I didn’t expect any of it at all.

“Coach Osborne was an incredible offensive coordinator,” Cox said.  “He was recruiting all the junior college players at that time. That was his responsibility. He was brilliant because he was relentless. I played 18 college-level games before I went to Nebraska. That experience helped me mature, and the same applied to all of the other junior college players he recruited. Thanks to Coach Osborne, we had a bunch of junior college transfers who helped build those back-to-back national championship teams. We had Bob Newton, Bob Terrio, Keith Wortman, Carl Johnson, and they're just off the top of my head.”

Osborne’s Approach Measured Transfers’ High Expectance Ratio

“Coach Osborne found all of them and was responsible for bringing them to Nebraska,” Cox pointed out. “It was a unique approach at the time and more challenging than most recruiters could handle. Coach Osborne was able to look at the character of JC transfers and realize that the expectance ratio was awfully high.”

After college, Cox worked a year for American Airlines in a management position, then went to Hawaii, bought a sailboat and actually competed professionally with Ted Turner and others from all over the world for a number of years. “I’ve been racing sailboats my whole life,” said Cox, who now lives near Seattle.

A longtime health club owner, Cox played racquetball professionally. He spent 21 years working in Hawaii, California and Washington and was senior vice president for Pro Sports Club in Redman, Wash., the largest health club in the world. “We provided services for Microsoft, Nintendo, Google, all the corporate computer science corporations in the Northwest. It was a huge club with 50,000 members in 300,000 square feet,” he said. “It was just a monster.”

Through multiple journeys, Cox’s favorite is bicycle racing. A 19-time world masters’ champion on the Veledrome and a 34-time national champion, Cox is still racing. “I’m really into mountain bike racing,” he said. “That’s my primary activity. I still compete in certain categories. I have to compete with the Olympians and all the young kids despite my age because of the results. I do it because it keeps me going, and I can actually say that I’m in better shape right now than I ever was in college.”

Cox’s drive, however, still traces to what he learned playing for Osborne. “That goes back quite a bit to Coach,” he said. “I remember him running every morning and sometimes, he was running with athletes who had disciplinary problems. They had to meet Coach Osborne at 6 a.m. and run with him in the field house. His dedication to his own personal health and activity was impressive to me as a young student-athlete and other college students who knew coach well and respected everything he did."

Osborne Remembers the Details While Recruiting Thousands of Players

“Coach Osborne’s strength of character was impressive and still is to this day,” Cox said. “His faith was incredible. What you saw was what he really was. There was no façade whatsoever. He is so caring about everyone around him. He remembers everybody. When he recruited me in New Mexico, it was special. When you think of the thousands of players that he recruited and coached, he remembers almost all the details about all of us. It is absolutely mind boggling and so impressive when you stop and think about what he knew, how he learned and how he led virtually everybody.

“His dedication, commitment, caring, honesty and sincerity were all part of who he was,” Cox said. “I never heard him swear, and I don’t think any of our teammates did either. If you got a ‘gosh darn it’ out of him, that was considered impressive. He had such tremendous character. I think every guy who played for Coach Osborne knows and understands what he did and the way he did it. He was in the office until midnight but still made it to church and completed the game plan on Sunday. He wanted all of us to be up and ready to take the next step.

“Coach Osborne does not know how to do anything part way. All he knows is how to do it the right way, the ethical way, and the big picture way,” Cox said. “When he decides to do something, he’s all in. That’s why he studied film at midnight because that’s what it takes to do it right. He had to be one of the first coaches in the nation who broke new ground. I still recall the way he scheduled quarterbacks and receivers meetings at lunchtime.

“I think he borrowed computers at the bank, so he could crunch numbers and figure out statistical advantages and percentages,” Cox said. “He knew if Oklahoma was in a certain defense, he had a great idea of what they were going to do, based on downs and yard lines. Depending on the defense, he would have five offensive plays that would be the best one to run or pass. That was way back in 1970 and 1971. He was making decisions when almost everyone else had no clue. Teaching himself how to analyze with computers kept him ahead of others.

“Coach Osborne (pictured below as a U.S. Congressman) was way ahead of his time,” Cox said. “He just doesn’t know any other way to do things than to do them the right way. It’s no surprise to anyone because he was always all in in everything he did. It did not surprise me at all that Coach Osborne got out of politics because of the frustration that didn’t allow him to do things the right way. There was too much compromise for someone who wanted to do it right. I was glad to see him keep his roots.”

Other Former Huskers Share Their Memories of Tom Osborne

“I would love to share the impact that Coach Osborne had on me regarding the way I conducted myself while at the University of Nebraska by stressing the ‘student’ before the ‘athlete’ side. That and the way he carried himself daily had a major effect on me spiritually while I was at the University! Osborne was and is still instrumental in my life today. He is still there to help guide me on the path that I am now on. It started day one when I stepped on the field and really got a chance to see Coach Osborne for the amazing man that he is!”  Willie Miller

“In coach’s first game (at UCLA on Sept. 8, 1973), I was the primary punt returner after spending my sophomore and junior years as the up man for Johnny Rodgers. Pepper Rodgers, the head coach of UCLA, said it would be easier to prepare for Nebraska because the Jet had graduated and they would not have to worry about punting to Nebraska. First punt of the game, I returned it 77 yards for a touchdown. (Husker Assistant Coach) Monte Kiffin was half way across yelling at Pepper after the return, asking him if he got a good look at the return. – Randy Borg

“Coach Osborne was probably THE MOST impactful part of my decision to choose Nebraska as my home for 5 1/2 years of my college career. He sat me in his office on my recruiting visit at the Texas game in 2010. My stepdad had tears in his eyes when he shook his hand...it was the best moment of my life.” – Kevin Williams

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