Judging by the reactions of various coaches and administrators, Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne will be missed.
When the head of Husker athletics announced his intention to retire Jan. 1, 2013, it let loose a flood of praise for the longtime face of Nebraska. It’s safe to say he is a popular figure in the eyes of his staff.
“When you see Tom, you see integrity,” said Tim Miles, NU men’s basketball coach and an Osborne hire. “There’s a guy that does the right things and stands for the right things. Sometimes when you get to athletics at a high end, things don’t operate that way, but he always has and always will.”
Osborne was instrumental in the hire of three major Nebraska coaches. In his five years at the helm of Husker athletics, he brought in football coach Bo Pelini, baseball coach Darin Erstad and Miles.
“It was a definite honor when he asked me to do it,” Erstad said of the day Osborne hired him. “I can’t thank him enough for giving me the opportunity. Life’s full of opportunities, and when you get one you have to make the most of it.”
Those coaches will remain at Nebraska past the AD’s tenure and will likely end up defining part of his legacy. Former Husker football player and current Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez said Osborne has already cemented himself in the history books with his coaching career and guiding hand the past few years.
“Everyone knows about Tom’s football coaching legacy,” he said. “But he has really helped guide Nebraska through some significant challenges in recent years and he was, obviously, a key figure in the school’s transition to the Big Ten.”
In 2011 Osborne was a key figure in moving Nebraska from the Big 12 into the Big Ten, a conference that features its own television network and elite academic institutions.
Along with moving the Huskers into a new conference, Osborne made decisions regarding Husker facilities. Construction projects may be his biggest mark on the program, according to Miles.
“I thought in a certain way it was fitting that when he announced to our staff that he was going to retire, in the background you could see a crane and Pinnacle Bank Arena being built, and if you turned and looked at what he was seeing, you could see the East Stadium expansion,” Miles said.
Erstad had a similar idea of what might make up the AD’s legacy.
“I kind of felt like that was his final stamp to have all those facilities going up,” he said. “They are the best in the country, like they’ve always been, and I think he was on a mission to get everything set before he said ‘see you later.’”
The men’s basketball program struggled mightily under Osborne’s watch, but the new facilities and new coach have the AD satisfied with the direction of the program.
Miles said Osborne’s work is reason for optimism with his team.
“Look at the legacy he is going to leave to coaches and to student athletes alike upgrading programs across the board,” Miles said. “Of course, men’s basketball has benefited more greatly than anybody the last three years.”
Osborne’s announcement happened suddenly Wednesday morning, but it wasn’t a complete surprise to those in the organization.
“I’ve for sure thought about that possibility,” Erstad said. “Today is that day, and we are going to move on.”
Osborne didn’t give a discernible reason for choosing to leave the program at this point, but that’s not an issue, at least not to Erstad.
“He’s 75 years old. I don’t need a reason from him,” the coach said. “You want to go fishing every day? Knock your socks off.”