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September 26, 2012

Husker coaches reflect on Osborne's legacy

When Tom Osborne took over as Nebraska's interim athletic director five years ago, the Huskers' football program was in utter disarray.

In November of 2007, shortly after NU had ended a 5-7 season under head coach Bill Callahan - who's record was just 27-22 in four years on the job - Osborne decided to pull the trigger and fire Callahan.

Less than two weeks later, Osborne made an equally important move by hiring an up-and-coming defensive coordinator named Bo Pelini as Nebraska's new head football coach. After just one season, the Huskers were back to respectability and competing for conference championships.

With Wednesday's news that Osborne plans to officially retire from his position as acting athletic director on Jan. 1, 2013, it was obviously a bit on an emotional day for Pelini. While the fifth-year coach has faced his share of criticism from a fan base desperate for success, Pelini said Osborne had shown nothing but complete support.

"It has been a great privilege to work under Coach Osborne," Pelini said in a statement. "Obviously, he trusted me to lead the football program here at Nebraska and he has been a valuable resource for me and our entire coaching staff the past five years. His leadership and vision has pushed our football program and our entire athletic department forward in many areas. To me personally, he has been a great leader, mentor and friend."

It goes without saying that coaching in the shadow of one of the greatest coaches in college football history has come with a unique set of pressures for Pelini, but he's said throughout his time in Lincoln that none of that ever came from Osborne himself.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman said Wednesday that the search for Osborne's successor was already well underway. Pelini said he had full trust in Perlman and university and athletic department officials to make the best hire possible.

Whoever does become Nebraska's next athletic director, Pelini said he doubted anyone could top what Osborne has done for Husker athletics.

"With everything he has done for this athletic department, University and the state of Nebraska, you don't replace a man like Tom Osborne," Pelini said. "But, I have complete confidence in Chancellor Perlman and the leadership of the University that they will find the right individual to lead this athletic department going forward."

Erstad reflects on long relationship with Osborne

Given the history he has with Osborne, baseball coach Darin Erstad can provide a unique reflection on the retiring athletic director's career in a way few others can. Erstad was a punter for Osborne's football teams in the early 1990s.

A two-sport player at NU and a Major League Baseball veteran of 14 years, Erstad was hired by Osborne to become latest Nebraska's baseball coach last June.

The coach's lasting memory of his mentor came after the Huskers won the Orange Bowl in 1994, giving the school its third national championship and first of the Osborne era.

"We're going absolutely bonkers and jumping all over everybody, and he gives the most boring speech that I've ever heard in the world after the game," Erstad said with a smile. "I'm like, 'One time, please, get excited.' He didn't, and I remember getting back to the hotel later with my parents and he's already got a scouting book out getting ready for the next year. He had his process and nothing was going to stop him no matter how much success he had."

Erstad found out Tuesday that his old coach would be retiring. Osborne came over to visit Erstad in the baseball office, and the news took the coach completely by surprise.

"I thought I did something wrong and he was going to yell at me about something," Erstad said. "I don't throw the word leader around very often, but if there ever was a leader, it's him. So much of what I do today and believe in came from him. I used that during my professional career and I use it now in coaching. He just stands for everything that's right. It's been a pleasure to play for him and work for him. It's definitely a day I'll never forget."

Osborne's actions left an imprint on Erstad and have shaped so much of what he does both as a coach and as a person. He said he has tried to pass those thoughts along to his current players now.

"You tell them the effect that people can have on you and being in positions as coaches and athletic directors to influence kids' lives," Erstad said. "I tell our guys too, they're in position to influence kids. Kids are in the stands looking for your autograph. They're going to watch how you go about your business. You might not even know that you're doing that, but you are. They want to be you. It's powerful to be in a position like that and what you choose to do with that is either positive or negative for the kid."

When Osborne hired Erstad, he didn't say how much longer he planned to keep his athletic director position, but he did say he wouldn't be around forever. Erstad got the feeling Osborne might be gearing up for retirement as he watched new athletic facilities pop up all over campus and in the surrounding areas.

"I always kind of felt that was his final stamp, leaving to have all the facilities in place, the best in the country like they've always been," Erstad said. "I think he was on a mission to get everything set before he said see you later.

"He's put his time in at this university. If he wants to go fishing every day, knock your socks off."

Miles determined to come through for Osborne

Nebraska men's basketball head coach Tim Miles has only worked under Osborne since April, but said it didn't take long to get a true appreciation and respect for Osborne's legacy both inside and outside the realm of Husker athletics.

Miles said he asked Osborne about his future plans during the interview process before he took the job, and said Osborne was very up front that he might not be around that far into Miles' tenure in Lincoln.

"I asked him, I said 'Hey Dr. Osborne, how long are you going to do this?'" Miles said. "And he said 'Not forever. You're going to outlast me.' And I said 'I hope so.' He was very transparent, but also, it's Tom Osborne - the cards are going to be pretty tight to his vest."

Obviously Miles one of the final pieces in Osborne's recent recommitment to the basketball program the past few years. With a state-of-the-art Hendricks Center practice facility and the coming Pinnacle Bank Arena, the Huskers can now compete with any program in the country in terms of facilities.

"I thought in a certain way it was fitting that when he announced to our (athletic department) 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 expansion on East stadium and what's going on there," Miles said. "It's amazing. He's not about bricks and mortar, of course, but you just look at the legacy that he's going to leave not only as a coach but as an influential figure to coaches and student-athletes alike, and of course upgrading programs across the board.

"I think men's basketball has benefited more greatly than anybody in the last three years, so it's a good time for me to be the coach. He wouldn't have had to have done that, but he did."

Miles likely now officially holds the title as the last coaching hire Osborne will have made during his time as Nebraska's athletic director. Considering all the support Osborne has shown towards rebuilding the basketball program into a winner and that he trusted Miles to do the job, Miles said there couldn't be more motivation to succeed.

"I just want to come through for him," Miles said. "He's a guy that saw what our vision is for Nebraska basketball and said 'You know what? I like that. I think this is going to work.' So I want to see that through… Just the fact that a guy with his legacy would say 'I trust you. I think you can do this,' is an amazingly humbling feeling."



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