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In His Own Quiet Way, Osborne Says Goodbye

Orange Bowl: After 25 years as Cornhusker coach he steps aside, letting players take the stage.

January 03, 1998|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI — This farewell business can be messy stuff, treacly gush and all.

Stuff that Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne dislikes about as much, if not more, than turnovers and undisciplined football.

Since he couldn't disappear from the national stage without warning, Osborne did the next best thing. He finished his remarkable head coaching career, a 25-year-long tour of service, exiting with a smile, a slight bow to his players and slipped off into the night.

Friday's final punctuation, the last footnote to his Cornhusker tenure:

Nebraska 42, Tennessee 17.

Typically, Osborne let his players do the talking, letting them loudly proclaim they deserved to be No. 1 after their Orange Bowl drubbing of Tennessee and Peyton Manning.

With Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost and company--the Spice Boys--sitting at the front table in the interview room, Osborne leaned gingerly toward the microphone and addressed the assembled media for the last time.

"Don't mean to butt in here on the players," he said, smiling slightly. "They're the guys who did it. I just kind of stood there. I'm very proud of our team."

But Osborne let a few glimpses sneak through to his players. His defensive players said he was more fired up than usual, exhorting them to keep it going, even in the third quarter.

"We knew we just couldn't win this football game," Nebraska center Matt Hoskinson said. "It had to be something more than that. Coach Osborne is usually not one to say things like that. And when he says that, we've got to take him seriously.

"He's a special man, but he knows how those polls work. And he knows how people vote. The media is in love with Michigan. The Charles Woodson thing. And we had the one bad game. And they [Michigan] beat a supposedly good Penn State team. The only thing I want is people to take a look at the two games. Review the film, do anything you want.

"It's all right there on the television. If you saw the game, you know what happened. You saw a squeaker yesterday and you saw a whupping today."

Hoskinson took a break from the No. 1 talk and turned back to Osborne.

"Coach is pretty good about hiding his emotions," he said. "There have been a few times where he talked to us and emotions have come to the surface. That's not like him and we haven't seen that. I'm sure there'll be more emotions in the locker room. It might be more difficult for him in there."

Osborne was keeping himself together afterward, however.

"One thing that will be very difficult in leaving coaching will be the relationships," he said. "The winning is nice, the rings and all that, they're OK. But the relationships will never be replaced. And the memories will never be replaced."

For Osborne, it wasn't an easy stay in Miami, the scene of his most vexing defeats and his greatest triumphs.

"I'm very aware of it, this has been a very difficult week," he said. "I would have much preferred to go away in the spring. The ideal scenario for me would have been to go through recruiting, spring ball and to disappear in May.

"The attention has been nice but it's something I'd really rather not have."

Osborne looked at his players, who were poised to start the No. 1 talk.

"They played. They did it and I'm really proud of you guys, thanks a lot," he said.

And he left the public stage, as a coach, for the last time.

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