Tom Osborne’s retirement made some people squirm.
“It's funny, he came by the baseball offices yesterday. I was behind my desk and he was in the guest chair in my office. There’s uncomfortable for you," NU baseball coach Darin Erstad said Wednesday. "He said he was retiring and I got pretty emotional. He doesn’t get emotional. I thought he was there to yell at me about something."
Erstad was the punter on Osborne’s first national championship team, in 1994.
“When you’re 75, you don’t need a reason to retire,” Erstad said. “If he wants to go fishing every day, knock your socks off. You see buildings going up. All the best facilities in the country. He made it a mission to make sure Nebraska had the best in the country.”
Former Husker football player Mitch Krenk said the most important thing Osborne did as athletic director was to bring the football players and the other former athletes together.
“We felt like we had a friend, a friendly face, a home when we came back to campus when Coach Osborne came back,” he said.
The prestige of joining the Big Ten Conference and building new facilities are Osborne's legacies, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers said.
“Bob Devaney brought us to new heights and Tom took it a step further. Tom went on to build it better, make it better and he did it all from coaching, to politics, to athletic administration.”
Dr. Jack Stark, who was NU's team psychologist during Osborne's coaching tenure, said Osborne has sacrificed enough to the team, the school and the state and retirement is due.
“He didn’t have the best CEO skills, but he knew more about psychology -- he got his doctorate when it was really hard -- developed trust and got everything done he wanted done,” Stark said. “He made it so people didn’t want to disappoint him.”
Charlie McBride, Osborne’s defensive coordinator, said he knew Nebraska needed Osborne as athletic director.
“Who better than Tom?” McBride said. “This is what Tom wanted all along. The best athletic department in the country. He went out and got it. He worked to get us back where we should be. Not everybody could do that. Tom did. You can’t walk far on the campus and not run into a building he didn’t build or run into a person he didn’t have a positive effect on.”
Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said Osborne told him he wanted to return NU to the top.
“He made the football program the best in the country and when he left they kind of hit the skids, and I think he felt an obligation to straighten things out,” he said.
Former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer said he admired Osborne as a coach and as an athletic director.
“He did it for 25 years on the field and I did it for 16, and those last nine years he kept coaching, his teams were dominant like no other in college history.
“I hope he gives me a call to go fishing. We’re both in the fourth quarter of life and want to keep calling the plays, and maybe get some overtime.”
Husker associate athletic director Jamie Williams, who played for Osborne, said Osborne is part of the foundation of the state.
“He’s organic, a visceral part of the state, the university and the people of Nebraska,” said Williams, who played for Osborne from 1979 to 1982. “His elevated principles, his selfless performance, his ability to recognize what’s going on, made him the key to repairing the cracks in the foundation and build from there.”
Grant Wistrom said Osborne restored pride in Husker football and all athletics. Wistrom, an All-America defensive end, said, “No. 1, you could trust Tom Osborne. That’s why he got people to open their pocketbooks more than anybody before him. People think the world of Tom Osborne as a coach and learned he was the same man as an administrator.”
Former fullback Cory Schlesinger added, "Tom Osborne is Nebraska tradition. He went back to the roots and we can celebrate his work and our benefits because of his efforts."