Most everyone knew two of the "guest coaches" on Nebraska’s sideline last Saturday.
Milt Tenopir, the architect who helped build three decades of the Huskers’ "pipeline," a.k.a. the offensive line, waved graciously when his name was announced.
Charlie McBride, the defensive coordinator for all three of Tom Osborne’s national championship teams, couldn’t resist having a little fun when his name was called. The second he pulled his arms in and crossed them, another sell-out crowd chuckled at the same time they cheered. McBride’s skull-and-bones tribute to the Blackshirts couldn’t have been timed any better.
There they stood on the East sideline, shoulder-to-shoulder – two coaches whose No. 1 units pounded on each other like Golden Glove boxers inside a tight ring on an almost daily basis for years and years and years. Tenopir and McBride smiled broadly into HuskerVision cameras, which sent their familiar mugs to the big screens above.
"I’m not big on hoopla or much for the public eye," mumbled Tenopir.
"Milt and I neither one thrive on notoriety because there are so many others who’ve done this before we did," McBride said. "Plus, we know the players are the ones who made it happen. If it wasn’t for them, no one would be honoring anyone."
The Huskers’ other two guest coaches got to do the same thing Tenopir and McBride did – eat with the team, hear Bo Pelini’s pregame, halftime and postgame talks, participate in the first Pelini-led Tunnel Walk and be recognized on the big screens just like Milt and Charlie.
The more anonymous duo – Omaha business owners Paul Hogan and Peter McCann – were so engrossed in their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity they couldn’t stop shaking their heads every time Cody Glenn’s arms and legs came flying by their up-close and personal view from the sideline.
Milt and Charlie still criss-cross the country together giving hundreds of offensive and defensive linemen skilled instruction, but they both skipped Saturday’s postgame press conference. Hogan, the founder and CEO of Homeinstead Senior Care, and McCann, who owns a company called Ideal Images, weren’t about to miss anything, even though Hogan had to catch a Sunday morning business flight from Omaha to Switzerland and then on to Italy.
Pelini’s Ultimate Game-Day Experience Honors Tradition
All four guest coaches were the first to participate in Bo’s "Ultimate Game-Day Experience," a program Pelini and (assistant athletic director of football operations) Jeff Jamrog designed to honor those who are helping the Huskers restore their rich football tradition.
The game-day experience is not a program tailored just for major donors. It’s the coaches’ way to thank all kinds of individuals helping them to accelerate a culture change based on respect and mutual trust.
"I just met Bo last February at a Bruce Springsteen Concert in Omaha. It was the first gathering put together for all the coaches and their wives, and their first chance to get away for something other than just football," said Hogan, who graduated from Nebraska when Turner Gill, Mike Rozier and Irving Fryar were elevating "The Scoring Explosion" to new heights in the early 1980s.
Hogan, who owns more than 800 non-medical senior care franchises across the country, purposely did not talk football when he first met Pelini. But he couldn’t get enough of it Saturday. "Bo is about as clear as you can get," he said. "It seems to me that he’s a terrific communicator. He’s able to get across a message with very few words."
Getting inside the locker room helped Hogan understand why he thought the coaches’ energy level far exceeded his expectations when he watched practice last spring. "Bo communicates so well, instruction comes naturally," he said. "He’s such a fire-up kind of guy. When he gave his speech, he talked about doing what they’ve been trained to do and focusing on the techniques they’ve been working on every day. He’s very clearly ready to lead this team, and he really ignited the players."
A successful businessman sees the makings for a highly successful head football coach. "The principles for business are planning, execution and measurement, and it seems to me like these coaches have the details down," Hogan said. "They know where they are, and I think they have a formula for great success."
McCann described Pelini’s pregame speech as both motivating and inspiring. "It was exactly what I think people would envision a Bo speech to be like," he said. "Without a doubt, he had the full attention of the players and the coaches. You could have heard a pin drop in the locker room before he started to speak. I personally enjoyed hearing him talk about our tradition of being a hard-hitting, smash-mouth football team. It’s obvious college players really relate to Bo. What I really like about him is he doesn’t go overboard. You don’t have to when you’re so genuine and command so much respect. Bo picks his spots. He’s fairly mesmerizing really. Some people just have it. Not many do, but he sure does."
Memorial Stadium Was ‘About as Loud as Ever’
The biggest highlight for McCann was Nebraska’s defense shutting down Western Michigan’s first drive. "I’ve been watching Nebraska football since I was 6 or 7 and Johnny Rodgers played, and that was about as loud as I’ve ever heard the stadium," McCann said. "Without a doubt, this was a day I will never forget. I’ve been to bowl games and championship games, but I was as excited for this day as any day ever.
"Part of the reason for my excitement was realizing how hard these kids have worked and really how much they’ve been beaten down in the past. They went through so much last year. The good thing is they know what these coaches are all about. The integrity, the passion and the caring this staff has for these young men is incredible. After eight months of teaching and nurturing, it was time to play the game.
"They had something to prove. Obviously, they still have a long ways to go, but when you’re down on the field, you can see how hard they play. It was bone-chilling to hear that crowd . . . numbing really. It was hard to believe we were watching so many of the same players who played last year. These kids are not pro athletes. They’re not getting paid to play, but you can tell how much they want to play for these coaches. When you spend a day inside the program, you really see the gift that Bo has to command the kind of respect he gets."
Hogan pointed out that Nebraska played in a Big 12 championship game two years ago. "Some of these players – in fact many of them – were here at the time," he said. "We have good players. Now that they’re matched up with the appropriate coaching and the Nebraska DNA, it can all come together again."
Tenopir and McBride know it’s probably more complicated than that, but they don’t discount the optimism.
Tradition of Winning Was Built on Supreme Confidence
"I try to talk to the linemen about the history of our program when I get them to myself," Tenopir said. "This game is not all X’s and O’s. Charlie and I were fortunate to coach kids who had a little fire in their bellies and many of the games we won on the field were because they didn’t have any doubts in their minds. I guess they invited us here to help these players get in touch with the past a little bit. There’s nothing we can do to make them play harder. Tradition is a trite word, but it’s important. Very few people outside this program know what it meant to walk on this field. When you strap it on and put that N on your helmet, it means something.
"Nebraska is not just another place to play. There are so many things that enter into it. You can’t put it into words, but I’ll try," Tenopir said. "Tradition means the people who have gone before you. It means they helped teach us what tradition is, and it’s our responsibility to pass that tradition on to others. They need to understand how hard Dave Rimington and Dean Steinkuhler worked to win three straight Outland Trophies. When you play inside Memorial Stadium, there’s a pride factor like nowhere else. It means something to play here. It meant something for me to coach here. There truly isn’t a better place than Nebraska. We all had opportunities to leave here and go somewhere else, but when you look at the other side of the fence, you realize how good and how special this place really is."
McBride has coached at Colorado, Arizona State, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Even though he’s a CU grad and now lives in Arizona, where almost all of his family resides, his best memories are from his days on the Husker staff.
"Milt and I are friends, but we used to argue with each other almost every day on the field about who was holding and who wasn’t," McBride recalled. "Kids would get excited about us getting mad at each other, but our players really formed a great bond and a mutual respect with each other. Over the years, there were only a few real tussles, and everyone knew that when we really went at each other, it made all of us better. There were never any hard feelings. Ask the Blackshirts who they wanted to hang out with when they had some free time – the offensive linemen. Our team chemistry was so good as a result of that one-on-one stuff, the defensive guys would invite the offensive line to their parties."
McBride thought about fending off Pelini’s and Jamrog’s invitation to be a guest coach for the season opener. But deep down, he appreciated the honor.
"It’s amazing they even think about you," he said. "Usually, when you’re gone, you’re gone. They give you a watch and ‘adios, we’ll see you all later.’ At least that’s the way most people do it. I think it all goes back to Bob Devaney. I’ll never forget him coming into my office the first day I moved here. He told me he wanted to give me my first lesson about Nebraska. I told him I didn’t know anything about Nebraska, so I’m all ears. Of course, he came from Michigan, so he looked me right in the eye and said: ‘Never kick a cow chip on a hot day!’ I don’t know why, but I always remembered that."
What They Had There Was a Failure to Communicate
McBride also remembered Tom Osborne assigning him one of his first tasks on the coaching staff. "I was put in charge of our projectors, which were so old they kept breaking down," he recalled. "We were spending more time cutting film up and repairing projectors than we were watching film. We didn’t have viewers; we didn’t have splicers; and we didn’t have enough projectors to go around. I complained to Bob. I told him we weren’t being very productive or cost effective with our projectors. I also told him Coach Osborne had put me in charge of the problem, so Bob told me to take care of it."
A week later, Charlie was summoned into Devaney’s office. "I told you to take care of the problem. I didn’t give you permission to buy 15 projectors," Devaney said.
"How many projectors did you think I was going to buy?" McBride asked.
"One," Devaney replied.
"Coach," McBride said, "I got one for every coach and every person who needs one. They’ll help us coach better, so we can win more football games."
Devaney turned around and with some resignation said, "Oh, I guess that’s okay then."
McBride reached a conclusion that day. "I never coached for Bob Devaney, but he was always there for you, and he would never get in your way if something had to get done," McBride said. "He built the tradition we all enjoy here, and he built it one game and one season at a time. I think it’s safe to say we’re all grateful for that."