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September 26, 2012

Legendary Osborne announces his retirement

It was a day Nebraska fans knew was inevitably coming for the past five years, but that didn't change just how monumental of an occasion Wednesday morning's announcement at Memorial Stadium truly was.

After scheduling a press conference just two hours earlier, legendary former football coach and current interim athletic director Tom Osborne announced that he planned to step down from his position beginning Jan. 1, 2013.

Osborne, 75, said he originally planned to announce his retirement back in August, but with the several new coaching hires and facility construction projects going on throughout the athletic department, he decided to stick around for one final fall sports season.

"I guess this was really driven home for me at (men's basketball coach) Tim Miles' first press conference several months ago," Osborne said. "A lot of you were there, and I think maybe the third or fourth question Tim was asked was 'What's it like to work for a 75-year old A.D.?' Tim handled it pretty well, but that's part of the deal. At some point, whether you're able to function or not, just the perception that you're getting old can get in the way.

"I don't want to be one of those guys that everybody's walking around ringing their hands trying to figure out 'What are we going to do with him?' That sometimes happens. So the Chancellor and I have had some discussions, and so as of Jan. 1, I will step aside as athletic director."

Though Osborne will resign from his duties as athletic director at the end of the calendar year, he said he still plans on being a part of the department operation in some capacity through July 30, 2013, and likely even longer if he so chooses.

He said he did intend to help University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman and the university to pick his successor as well as offer any help he could in recruiting or other matters.

"Of course Harvey needs some time to go through the process of finding a new (A.D.), so that's why we're here today rather than wait until Dec. 31 to tell you, because obviously it's got to be an open process," Osborne said. "The decision will be his, and I'll support him any way I can. I plan to probably be around for six months or so after Jan. 1 to help in any way I can in the transition. There's always a few things maybe the new A.D. may not be aware of, so I'll try to help in the transition.

"Also I'll help in recruiting. I do a lot of that right now and meet with a lot of recruits, so if some of the coaches want me to do that, I'll do that. I'll make sure the building projects are completed, although they're pretty much on autopilot."

Perlman said he was forever indebted to Osborne for coming back to take over the job following the departure of former A.D. Steve Pederson five years ago, and the list of accomplishments Osborne accumulated in such a short time was nothing short of remarkable.

"It's been a real privilege to be able to work with Tom directly and closely over the last five years," Perlman said. "I think he's done an extraordinary job for athletics and for the university… He certainly stabilized the department. He's hired several very promising coaches. He's brought our facilities to a new level, and I think importantly the first facility that he moved on was Life Skills and Academic Counseling. That tells a little bit 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."

Osborne said his decision had nothing to do with any specific health issues, and it was more just a matter of feeling the time was right to move on.

"I'm probably healthier today than when I was a member of congress," he said. "That takes a big toll on you. But no, I'm fine. I have no special issues. Everybody knows I had a double bypass in 1985, so I've got a few wires in me and a few things internally that probably wish you didn't have, but I'm feeling good."

Perlman wouldn't go into too much detail about the search for Osborne's successor, though he did say Nebraska should be able to attract some of the elite candidates in the country. He said he doesn't plan to hold an open public search, and that details would remain in-house until a new athletic director was hired.

Perlman said he's already begun the search with a national consultant, Jed Hughes of Korn/Ferry International, who assisted in Michigan's hire of athletic director David Brandon as well as the Big 12 Conference's hire of new commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

The candidates for the position will be looked at both internally and externally, and Perlman said he's already interviewed a few candidates prior to Wednesday's announcement. Perlman added that he's also invited 12-15 individuals to help him in his search, including NU coaches, athletes, donors and members of the community.

"The search for a successor in this athletic department, given its visibility and its importance to the state of Nebraska, is not one that can be done easily and cannot be done in the public eye," Perlman said. "I think Nebraska is an important enough place in intercollegiate athletics that we should be able to attract the very best to this position."

Osborne said he felt good about the timing of his retirement because of the strong state the athletic department was in compared to where it was when he took over.

"You never know when you're on the inside exactly what the perception on the program is, but I feel that we're well positioned," Osborne said. "We've worked hard on the culture, and part of that has not just been internal. We've tried to link this place with the former players so they feel good about coming back. We've tried to make it a place where the fans are somewhat unified and supportive, and I would like to thank the fans, because whatever is accomplished here could not happen if we didn't have a very loyal and very unified fan base, which would probably be pretty hard to find one that would be equal to our fans around the country."

Osborne opted not to spend much time reminiscing about his time at Nebraska, both as interim athletic director and 25 years as head football coach.

He said his wife, Nancy, was very supportive of his decision, though he was sure his to-do list around the house was about to get a little longer with much more time soon to be on his hands.

"She's probably more approving than disapproving," Osborne said. "But 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 that are married understand those things."

To put Osborne's contributions both for Nebraska football and the athletic department as a whole into perspective is almost an impossible task, as arguably no other individual was more solely responsible for making the Huskers national contenders in numerous sports.

Being the humble personality he is, Osborne didn't want to get too nostalgic about his era at Nebraska officially coming to a close in three months. However, shortly before taking the podium to open the press conference, Osborne admitted he looked out from the press box window at the massive East stadium expansion project going on across the field bearing his name.

"I'm not nostalgic, particularly," Osborne said. "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 was kind of interesting to watch that and all the building that's happening."

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