As athletic director, Osborne has presided over a $120 million building boom that, by the time it's completed next year, will leave NU with athletic facilities rivaling any in the country.
The iconic former football coach worked to restore a winning culture within a football program that had lost its way.
Amid an ever-shifting and perilous college sports landscape, he helped Nebraska secure membership in the Big Ten -- arguably the nation's most prestigious athletic conference.
But most of those who work with him say such things don't even rank as the most important achievement of his return engagement at NU. They recall how he arrived during a time of great internal anxiety and strife and quickly got everyone in and around the department again working as a team.
Along the way, Osborne restored and enhanced the department's unique culture, one he had a strong hand in shaping during a quarter-century leading the Husker football program. In fact, the core principles of that culture are something anyone who ever strapped on a helmet for Osborne would surely recognize: Doing things the right way. Putting the education and welfare of student-athletes first. Everyone pulling together as one, all for the good of that Big Red N.
"The best analogy I could give, if I could play football for Tom, I'd run through a wall for him," said John Cook, coach of Nebraska's powerhouse volleyball team. "That's the culture he's built here. It's awesome to be part of it."
Now as Tom Osborne on Jan. 1 is set to once again leave the university and slide into retirement, he leaves behind an athletic department that -- in ways both concrete and intangible -- stands strongly positioned for the future. For the inspired and steady leadership he has brought to NU athletics, The World-Herald today recognizes Osborne as its 2012 Midlander of the Year.
This is the third time the 75-year-old Osborne has been so honored, joining former Nebraska governor and U.S. senator J.J. Exon in that distinction.
Osborne's service to the state now spans a half-century, from the time in 1962 that the tall redhead from Hastings working toward a Ph.D. in educational psychology wrote a letter to Husker coach Bob Devaney asking to serve as a graduate assistant. He leaves a legacy that ranks with the most far-reaching and accomplished of anyone in the state's history:
›› Retiring in 1997 as one of the greatest coaches ever to walk a college football sideline, claiming three national championships and helping turn the Big Red into an enduring passion in Nebraska.
›› Serving three terms in Congress.
›› Founding, along with wife Nancy, a mentoring program that has touched the lives of thousands of at-risk youth.
›› Setting the future foundation for NU athletics.
"It's incredible how much he has accomplished and how much he has given of himself for others," said Mike Yanney, an Omaha businessman and friend of Osborne's. "He is one of the finest role models the state of Nebraska has seen -- in all aspects of life."
To Chancellor Harvey Perlman, Osborne's lifelong contributions to Nebraska go to the heart of the state's very aspirations: He's given Nebraskans the confidence to believe that a small-population state miles from either coast can muster the drive, resources and grit to compete with anyone in the country.
But what has always stood out about Osborne has not been so much what he's done, but the way he's done it -- with character, care, generosity, loyalty, faith and humanity. And, in typical Osborne fashion, he's been humble all the way.
keyboard shortcuts: V vote up article J next comment K previous comment