I've long intended to read a couple of Tom Osborne's books, with this day in mind.

Never got around to it.

Dadgummit, too late.

Osborne announced Wednesday he will retire as Nebraska athletic director effective Jan. 1. So, this is it. A glorious, indelible 45-year-run at the school soon ends. Asked what his legacy might be, Osborne deferred to writers.

Reflecting on Osborne's remarkable work at Nebraska, one word always comes to mind: Calm.

Amid the pressure and hysteria of high-profile college athletics, Osborne always seems to provide a sense of calm. Running the Nebraska football program can derail the toughest of coaches. Running an athletic department can be equally tiring and stressful — lots of hours, lots of weekends, handshakes, complaints. Osborne makes his way with a quiet confidence, a strong sense of dignity and respect.

So many brush fires — and a few raging storms — but so much calm.

He's like the grandfather a family leans on in tough times.

Now, we enter an anxious time. You don't really replace Tom Osborne. You won't find another person who provides such a level of stability. Good luck, Harvey Perlman, finding someone who can unify and galvanize an entire state.

Lest you feel overly uneasy, you can easily find reassurance. Look around you. Look outside your cubicle. Look at the guy next to you at the red light. Look at the grandmother in line at Wal-Mart. Husker fans are everywhere. In essence, they're what sustains the program, especially the five percent of the state's population that shows unyielding loyalty on football gamedays. Every gameday.

The 75-year-old Osborne is heading out the door. But fan loyalty endures.

Nebraska fans show loyalty through good hires and bad. The self-sustaining athletic department keeps chugging, largely because of a band of passionate and caring fans that will have it no other way.

Osborne, of course, is much of the reason for the loyalty. Most of the reason.

He won big as Nebraska's football coach, so big you know such dominance will never happen again at dear ol' NU. Times change. Recruiting changed. Our country's population shifted. That five-year run from 1993-97, when the Huskers were an astounding 60-3 with five straight 11-win seasons, seems almost fictional.

Osborne won with grace, humility and an intense fire that burned within, a fire you saw only in flashes. Interviewing Osborne is like interviewing, well, an esteemed congressman.

He wasn't perfect as a coach. Folks still bring up the Lawrence Phillips saga. It remains a stain. There were other players — including some program-changers — who seemed to easily find trouble.

Osborne came to Nebraska's rescue in October of 2007, taking over as interim athletic director. The Big Red family needed a steady hand, someone who had seen it all, done it all and won it all a few times. Once again, he came through.

In a sense, though, he returned to lead the cleanup of a mess he helped create. He handpicked Frank Solich as his successor after the 1997 season and did Solich no favors by strongly suggesting that Frank retain assistant coaches when new blood was needed. Osborne also recommended Steve Pederson for the AD position in 2002.

Pederson's hiring was greeted with toasts and cheers. His firing elicited the same reaction in most quarters.

Through the tumult, fan loyalty endured.

Now what? Perlman, the chancellor, says he will consider candidates within the athletic department as well as outside it. Perlman says Osborne "will play an important role in advising me" during the process. I hope that is indeed the case.

Osborne was right, though — this is Harvey's hire.

Pederson looked like a no-brainer but turned out miserably. Osborne worked out well. Now, Perlman, 70, gets another shot.

I've long believed Paul Meyers, NU associate athletic director for development, would be an excellent fit. A former Husker baseball standout, Meyers understands the culture of both the state and the athletic department. He connects well with people, most notably some very wealthy and influential folks in Omaha.

He also happens to connect very well with Bo Pelini. In that sense, the Husker football season just got more interesting. The more wins, the more clout.

Meyers obviously isn't the only good candidate. I'm hearing Jamie Williams, who this summer joined the Husker athletic program as associate AD, is a strong possibility.

For sure, I think the new athletic director absolutely should have strong ties to Nebraska. Our state is unique. The Husker athletic culture is complex and nuanced. The complexities can be hard for natives to understand, let alone someone unfamiliar with the territory.

One easy thing to grasp is Osborne's wide-ranging influence. You don't need to read one of his books to understand he is a sturdy part of our fabric. He is a treasure in the eyes of most.

He also is the athletic department's last high-profile link to an older generation of Husker athletes. Who will they call when Osborne leaves?

Yeah, it feels a bit uncomfortable.

Even so, the Big Red train will keep chugging. You'll make sure of it.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.