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Osborne Stays Calm Despite Winning Title : Nebraska Coach's Indifference About the Championship Has Surprised Few in the Know

August 20, 1995|DAVE ZELIO | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne doesn't go out of his way to stroll past the case that displays the national championship trophy, his first in 22 years as head coach.

There are dozens of awards on display at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., and Osborne has other things to do.

His indifference about the championship has surprised few who know him.

"You think in football to be a coach you have to be fiery, you've got to cuss and be loud and run up and down the sidelines like a lot of coaches do," said senior tight end Mark Gilman. "I guess you could just call him the old style of coach. Very calm, but he has unbelievable respect from the players.

"I don't know if he celebrated. And if he did, he did it in his own way. I've never seen a guy so calm after winning it."

Receivers coach Ron Brown said many people simply don't understand that football is not No. 1 for the deeply religious Osborne, a Methodist and son of a minister.

"He doesn't have a philosophy for life and a philosophy for athletics," Brown said. "He has a life philosophy that he applies to athletics, that he applies to his family, that he applies to his faith. That's the reason for the stability.

"Wherever your treasure is," Brown said, pointing upward, "there your heart will follow afterwards, to quote a Bible phrase. I don't think his treasure is, 'I've got to win this game or I'm a loser, I'm a failure.' I think his treasure is a little higher than that."

As Osborne puts together another good football team, he doesn't talk about another title or even about winning a 12th Big Eight Conference crown. He talks about practice and the first game.

"I'm sure there are people that expect it (another title) but my expectation is that we play well," Osborne said. "I think we're going to have a good team and I just hope we can put things together and have a great football team.

"But a national championship is kind of pie-in-the-sky right now. It's so far away."

It has been more than eight months since fans, sportscasters and even other coaches crossed their fingers for Osborne as the Cornhuskers took a seven-game bowl losing streak back to the Orange Bowl and faced the Miami Hurricanes.

Nebraska saw its demons exorcised with the 24-17 victory and the first title since the championships of 1970 and 1971.

"It was really nice to win that game," Osborne said, "but I didn't feel a whole lot different after that game than I did after a lot of other games that were important."

Osborne said his family, faith and players are all important to him.

"I don't want to prioritize one over the other--I think they're all very important. My faith is very important to me, my family, they're all intermingled," Osborne said.

"My profession is important, too. It just kind of depends on the time and the setting, but they're all things that give significance to my life and kind of hold it together. Winning and losing doesn't, fortunately."

Osborne has never liked the limelight. He looked uncomfortable, though pleased, as thousands of fans crowded Devaney Center to welcome the champions home in January. He later told 40,000 cheering fans at Memorial Stadium to settle down: He didn't want the celebration to take all night.

Handpicked by Bob Devaney to take over as coach in 1973, Osborne has led his teams to 11 conference titles and at least nine wins each year. His 219-47-3 record (.820) is second only to Texas A&M's R.C. Slocum (.823) among active NCAA Division I coaches.

Osborne has coached since 1962 at Nebraska. Before his coaching career, he played three seasons in the NFL. During one season with the San Francisco 49ers, Osborne's roommate was Jack Kemp, who later became a congressman.

Osborne admits he is very competitive. He had been a football, basketball and track star at Hastings College. The 58-year-old said he was shocked in 1984 when he learned he had to have heart-bypass surgery; he has turned to fruit, fish, even to fish oil pills to control his cholesterol.

He still jogs quietly after practice.

What makes Osborne happiest? He mentioned fishing--preferably alone and hopefully for trout--and his association with his players.

"And I really enjoy playing well. I'm always very happy after I feel like we've played well or played up to our capabilities," he said. "I enjoy my family very much, my children and my grandchildren, my wife. I value any time I can spend with them."

That time is slim during the season. Practice has started for Nebraska, ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll, and Osborne is patiently answering questions about who will start at quarterback Aug. 31 at Oklahoma State.

Osborne says he doesn't know yet--but he will soon. After all, it's nothing to get excited over.

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