Compiled by E. Sue Terhune
Nebraska Huskers Coach
Tom Osborne is famous in Nebraska because his Husker football teams won three National Championships. He was also Football Coach of the Year. He was the first athlete in Nebraska to win Nebraska Athlete of the Year honors in both High School and College. He is in the Nebraska Hall of Fame.
Tom was born on February 23, 1937 in Hastings, Nebraska. He is still alive. He was an outstanding high school athlete in Hastings in the mid-1950's and then became the star quarterback and basketball player for Hastings College. His Grandfather Osborne played for Hastings College at the turn of the century and Tom's dad, Charles, played there in the 1920s. Tom's Grandfather Osborne was a Presbyterian minister in western Nebraska, and although he died when Tom was only six, he had a powerful hold on his grandson's imagination. Grandfather Osborne had been a cowpuncher in his youth and Tom remembers him as being a tall, rugged man of strong faith and strong convictions, with a big laugh and a good sense of humor. Tom's father, Charles Osborne, wanted to prove he wasn't an overly pious preacher's son, so he became a bit of a roughneck. He let off steam playing football at Hastings College, and long after graduation he still couldn't get enough of the game. Charles Osborne's enthusiasm for football was infectious and his son, Tom, caught it.
During the week, while his father was on the road as a salesman, Tom's mother stayed home with him, teaching him the alphabet and nursery rhymes. By the time Tom was three he could read, and books were almost as much fun for him as football. But with the arrival of his baby brother, Jack, life for Tom -- at least in those early years -- was a lot less fun. With his dad home only on weekends, Tom became the man of the house and was treated like an adult. Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and everything changed in Tom's life. Charles was 35 and too old for the draft so he enlisted in the Army. For the first time in his life, Tom's mother wasn't at home. She was the breadwinner now, she worked in a munitions plant and taught school to keep food on the table.
Tom's Grandfather and Grandmother Welsh cared for him while his mother worked, and his Uncle Virgil became his surrogate dad. For five years he was a boy without a dad. In later years, this experience helped him relate to kids who'd grown up in family situations that were less than ideal. When Charles Osborne returned from the war, Tom was ten years old. Tom and his father played catch and tossed the football around. They turned on the outside lights and shot baskets until late at night, even when it was below freezing. Athletics became a real obsession, but Tom didn't always play because he enjoyed it. He played to gain his dad's approval. Soon, Tom came to idolize Charles. He couldn't get enough of his war stories and his football stories. Tom wanted to be just like his dad and didn't know how he'd ever gotten along without him.
Osborne has the unique honor of being the first athlete in Nebraska history to win Nebraska Athlete of the Year honors for both high school and college. Following graduation from Hastings College in 1959, he played two years with the Washington Redskins and a year with the San Francisco 49ers before returning to Nebraska. He came to the University of Nebraska to be a graduate assistant to Bob Devaney in 1962 where he met and married his wife, Nancy Tederman. Their first child was born in 1965 and with a family to provide for, Osborne had to make a difficult decision. Coach or teach. ( Tom and Nancy have a son, Mike, and two daughters, Ann and Suzi)
Tom earned his master's degree in 1963, and continued his dual role in education and football coaching. He gained his doctorate in education psychology in 1965, then decided to pursue coaching full-time in 1967. He became the Husker's receiver coach, and a key member of Devaney's staff. He was the primary organizer of the offensive units for the last six of his 11 years as a Devaney assistant. When Devaney announced his retirement from coaching in favor of a full-time athletic director in 1971, Osborne was his designated successor. Osborne then served as assistant head coach and director of recruiting in Devaney's final campaign in 1972.
1992 marked Osborne's 20th anniversary as head coach of Nebraska. Only eight coaches have won more games at a Division I school. He is 18th in all-time coaching victories. His teams have won or shared eight Big Eight titles, have been in national championship contention late in the season 10 times and have been ranked in 294 of 297 Associated Press Top 25 polls during his tenure. He also has had 40 All-Americans and 35 academic All-Americans.
At the end of the 1997 Football season Tom Osborne retired from coaching after 25 seasons as NU's head coach and 36 years with the program.A crowd of 43,197 turned out to honor the national champion Nebraska football field and rededicate Memorial Stadium to the Tom Osborne Field. Members of Osborne's family unveiled a covered portion of the sideline in the northeast corner of the field where red letters spelled out "Tom Osborne Field."
"First of all, I'd like to thank God for the chances I've had," Osborne said. "I've had the great opportunity to coach in one place for 36 years in my home state with people I care about and in front of people I care about." Osborne also thanked his players and coaching staff as well as his wife, Nancy, and his family for the support they provided during his coaching career. Even with all the victories, honors and national championships, Osborne said it's the relationships with people that he'll remember most.