Each Game Day, we take a look at a former player or coach in Husker history. This week, it's John Melton, who coached Nebraska's linebackers under Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney.
To hear a full audio interview with Melton, go to Husker Extra Game Day and click on Husker Anthology.
When he coached at Nebraska: John Melton coached at Nebraska for 27 years. He was the last to arrive with Bob Devaney’s original Husker staff from Wyoming and coached through 1989. Always popular and funny, Melton coached Husker linebackers, from Jerry Murtaugh and Bob Terrio to Mike Knox, Tom Ruud, Bob Nelson, Marc Munford and Steve Damkroger. He also played host to “Big Red Wrapup” on NET for many years and later worked as a fundraiser for NU. He was named to the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
Getting to know John: A top fullback on the Wyoming team that played in the Gator Bowl in 1950, Melton joked, “I didn’t even make all-team.” He grew up in Burgettstown, Pa., served in the Army, and eventually became the head coach at Hot Springs High School in Thermopolis, Wyo. “The largest mineral-water hot springs in the world,” he said. From there, Devaney hired Melton at Wyoming in 1957. Melton become the freshman coach, track coach, wrestling coach and a recruiter.
With Devaney and Tom Osborne, Melton dabbled a bit with the offense, but returned to the defense and worked with Monte Kiffin, Lance VanZandt, who died recently, and later, Charlie McBride. “I always liked defense more,” Melton said. “Offensive coaches have to think a lot. As linebacker coach, I tell kids to hit. If you don’t hit you don’t play.
“I guess maybe I get along with linebackers because I’m half nuts, the way more good linebackers are.”
Melton won his share of recruiting battles, especially in Iowa, where he helped land Trev Alberts, Henry Waechter, Steve McWhirter, Roger Craig, Curtis Craig and Jamie Williams.
“Working with Bob was great because we knew he would make Nebraska a winner,” Melton said. “It was when we all thought we were such great coaches and busy telling everybody how good we were in 1967 and 1968 that we were 6-4 both years. We got off our duff and got to recruiting again.”
Then, back-to-back national championships in 1970 and 1971, showed the work was being done.
“We beat LSU for the national title and President Nixon called the locker room and asked for Bob. Devaney said, ‘I’m busy.’ He was hustled to the phone in a big hurry.”
Melton said working with Osborne was similar.
“He was in charge but we could all be heard, too,” Melton said. “Tom, a lot of people don’t know, knew an awful lot about defense. "
— Ken Hambleton