Published Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 8:38 pm / Updated at 9:36 pm
Q&A: Former Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne

Tom Osborne's official last day with the Nebraska athletic department is Sunday, but because of vacation time his last day in the office was Thursday. Osborne retired as NU athletic director on Jan. 6, but he has been putting in nine-hour days in an athletic director emeritus role to help with the transition to A.D. Shawn Eichorst.

Randy York, senior writer and director of creative services for the NU athletic department, posted an Osborne Q&A at on the former football coach's last day on campus. Here is an excerpt:

Q: As you take on your next challenge, where will your office be located?

A: TeamMates has an office in Union Bank on East O Street, so that's where I'll be.

Q: What's the best advice you can give to the student-athletes at Nebraska?

A: Athletics is a complex endeavor now. There's the demand to win and there's a financial demand. At the core of it all is turning people out of here who are much better for the experience and are well prepared to be productive citizens with certain values that are important to society. It takes time and effort to accomplish that, but as long as I've been around here, the focus has always been on the student-athlete, the academics, the coaches, the health, the life skills and all of those things, so I would assume that will continue to be the focus. You never want the athletic department to be an embarrassment or an albatross to the university as a whole. I think, for the most part, that athletics has carried its own weight over the years, and we expect that it will continue to do that.

Q: What's your greatest example of Nebraska athletics pride?

A: The student-athlete part of the experience. I don't know if we're doing better than everyone in the country, but I think we've certainly done well meeting the needs of the student-athletes who have come here, and we're doing it at least as well as the very best.

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Q: What about Bob Devaney hiring you and choosing you to succeed him?

A: I wasn't here before Bob came here, but we arrived on the campus within a matter of a couple of weeks of each other. I played a very, very minor role at the time he arrived. I was a grad assistant to begin with, but what Bob contributed most was a mindset. He always thought he could and should win, and his staff thought they could win, too. I think the previous mindset was more along the lines of, “We might win occasionally, but we're not expected to win.” That's what Bob brought, and we were fortunate that there were some really good players here when he came. Bob changed the culture of the football team, and, of course, as the football team grew and became more successful, we added seats in the stadium and attendance grew. That made it possible to do a lot more for all the other sports here. Women's sports started to take off in the late '60s and early '70s because Bob was always very open to seeing the women's sports and the Olympic sports do well. His support of our women's programs is a part of his legacy that probably doesn't get the attention it deserves.

Q: If Bob's mindset was expecting to win, what was yours?

A: We had an emphasis on fundamentals, and we also had an identity. I think every successful organization has an identity. Ours was probably built on physical and mental toughness. It was the way we practiced for every game. The idea was that every game is a test of wills. When you watch games in the first quarter, it's hard to tell what team is going to prevail. As the game progresses, eventually one team will begin to assert itself more and more. By the fourth quarter, one team or the other is basically superior. We tried to play each game hard in such a way in the first three quarters that we would prevail in the fourth. Our receivers blocked on every play. Our quarterback didn't slide and didn't run out of bounds. The quarterback was a football player just like every other guy on the field, and that was our identity. Our players understood it. Our coaches understood it, and our fans observed it. Some understood it more than others.

Q: Do you plan to continue to come and watch Husker events?

A: I will try to come to as many games and events as I can. I'll continue to come to the football games and plan to see as many basketball and baseball games as I can. Plus, I want to see some of our other sports whenever possible.

Q: Harvey Perlman and you helped Nebraska land in the Big Ten Conference. Can we revisit that decision and put it into context?

A: The situation we were in with the Big 12 was somewhat untenable. We had several schools openly talking about leaving and reading between the lines, there may have been an agreement between those schools and another major conference. They hit a stumbling block and it fell apart, but we didn't know it was going to fall apart.

Q: What became the bottom line that made that decision so easy to make?

A: The Big Ten represented stability and academic excellence, so I don't think there was a whole lot of choice concerning the option to go to the Big Ten. We weren't going to stand around and watch a conference disappear with nowhere to go. I'm not sure all of our fans appreciated how important academics was in that decision, even though the decision also was predicated on a certain level of athletic accomplishment over the years as well. The move was made. I think it is a good fit, and I think we'll know more as time moves forward.

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Q: You see members of the Legends Poll as a good fit for the format that will replace the BCS in 2014. Do you have any interest in serving in that capacity?

A: I've had some casual conversations with people, but nothing formal.

Q: Lincoln is in a renaissance period with all kinds of construction and cranes filling the skyline. How would you describe what you're seeing?

A: There's a very healthy dynamic in Lincoln right now. Lincoln has a great group of young leaders who are very progressive. I see good things happening here. I think Innovation Campus, the new arena and the whole Haymarket area will be keys to growth. The schools are good and unemployment is relatively low. The future looks bright, and I think the University of Nebraska athletics is a significant part of that.

Q: As you move on, will you fish and hunt more than you already do?

A: I will certainly have more flexibility with my time; I don't know if I'll fish a lot more than I do now, but at least I'll have the opportunity. I'll probably put in 40 hours or more each week to do what we need to do with TeamMates. That will be a high priority.

Q: How do you view Shawn Eichorst succeeding you as A.D.?

A: He's thoughtful, he's organized, and he has plans for the athletic department. He's not driven by ego and uses those around him well. He wants to get the job done, and he'll do fine here.

Find York's entire Q&A with Osborne at



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