Tom Osborne at the Little Rock Touchdown Club Part 6

Tom Osborne at the Little Rock Touchdown Club Part 6

Big Ten Icons: Tom Osborne

Uploaded on Oct 31, 2011

Tom Osborne was Nebraska’s head football coach for 25 seasons (1973-1997), the longest tenure in school history. Under Osborne’s direction, the Cornhuskers amassed a 255-49-3 record. (Big Ten Icons)


Jim Rascoe when he introduced Tom Osborne at the Little Rock Touchdown Club on 9-9-13 said that in his last game as head coach of the Nebraska Corn huskers was able to take on a 11-1 Tennessee Vol team with Peyton Manning leading it and early in the 2nd half they took a 35-3 lead. David Bazzel noted that never in the 25 years he coached did he lose over 3 games in a single year and the last 5 years he coached he had a 60-3 record. Take a look at this record:

Head coaching record

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs Coaches# AP°
Nebraska Cornhuskers (Big Eight Conference) (1973–1995)
1973[7] Nebraska 9–2–1 4–2–1 T-2nd W Cotton 11T 7
1974 Nebraska 9–3 5–2 T-2nd W Sugar 9 8
1975 Nebraska 10–2 6–1 T-1st L Fiesta 9 9
1976 Nebraska 9–3–1 4–3 T-4th W Bluebonnet 7 9
1977 Nebraska 9–3 5–2 T-2nd W Liberty 10 12
1978 Nebraska 9–3 6–1 T-1st L Orange 8 8
1979 Nebraska 10–2 6–1 2nd L Cotton 7 9
1980[8] Nebraska 10–2 6–1 2nd W Sun 7 7
1981 Nebraska 9–3 7–0 1st L Orange 9 11
1982 Nebraska 12–1 7–0 1st W Orange 3 3
1983 Nebraska 12–1 7–0 1st L Orange 2 2
1984 Nebraska 10–2 6–1 T-1st W Sugar 3 4
1985 Nebraska 9–3 6–1 2nd L Fiesta 10 11
1986 Nebraska 10–2 5–2 3rd W Sugar 4 5
1987 Nebraska 10–2 6–1 2nd L Fiesta 6 6
1988 Nebraska 11–2 7–0 1st L Orange 10 10
1989 Nebraska 10–2 6–1 2nd L Fiesta 12 11
1990[9] Nebraska 9–3 5–2 3rd L Citrus 17T 24
1991 Nebraska 9–2–1 6–0–1 T-1st L Orange 16 15
1992 Nebraska 9–3 6–1 1st L Orange 14 14
1993 Nebraska 11–1 7–0 1st L Orange 3 3
1994 Nebraska 13–0 7–0 1st W Orange 1 1
1995 Nebraska 12–0 7–0 1st W Fiesta 1 1
Nebraska Cornhuskers (Big 12 Conference) (1996–1997)
1996 Nebraska 11–2 8–0 1st (North) W Orange 6 6
1997 Nebraska 13–0 8–0 1st (North) W Orange 1 2
Nebraska: 255–49–3 (.836) 160–23–2 (.870)
Total: 255–49–3 (.836)
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title


Here is a good story on Osborne’s last game as coach:

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Nebraska beat Peyton Manning and Tennessee to secure the 1997 title, its third in four years.
Nebraska beat Peyton Manning and Tennessee to secure the 1997 title, its third in four years.
Bill Frakes/SI

Four years of winning began with a loss. Propelled by an errant kick that went wide left, but struck the Nebraska Cornhuskers square in the gut.

When the Cornhuskers trudged off the field at the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1994, they had just come up a field goal short of winning the 1993 national championship. Despite being 17-point underdogs to a Charlie Ward-led Florida State team, Nebraska had held the lead with less than two minutes to play and nearly pulled off a major upset, losing 18-16.

Something happened that New Year’s night that transformed the Cornhuskers. A resolve was reached. A pact was made by those returning for the following season. Even though the program had a rich history of success, it had been more than two decades since the Cornhuskers had won a national championship. They literally were inches away from changing that in the 1993 season. They were determined to erase that gap entirely in 1994, and beyond.

“Everybody came back to campus about two weeks later, and you could just tell there was this commitment among the team,” recalled Jason Peter, a defensive tackle who was a redshirt freshman in 1994. “You were either getting on the boat that was going 100 miles per hour, or we’re going to leave you behind. That was it. You had to make the decision whether you were going to commit yourself fully.”

That boat roared off and barely slowed down over the next four years. From 1994 through 1997, Nebraska went 49-2 and won three national championships. The 1994 and ’95 titles were won outright, while the ’97 championship in the pre-BCS era was shared with Michigan (the Coaches’ Poll gave the crown to 13-0 Nebraska, but the media went with the 12-0 Wolverines). In 1996 the Cornhuskers had to settle for an 11-2 record and a No. 6 national ranking.

It remains one of the greatest four-year runs in college football history — and one that the Alabama Crimson Tide are threatening to challenge this season. Alabama is 36-4 with two national championships over the past three seasons, and the Tide figure to be in serious contention for a third title this year.

The lack of a three-peat in college football since World War II has been well documented. But winning three national championships in a four-year span is almost as rare. In fact, Nebraska is the only team to have pulled it off. Alabama captured three titles in five years from 1961-65, and Miami did the same from 1987-91. Some of the premier programs in college football — Oklahoma, Ohio State, Texas, USC — have come close. Florida had a chance in 2009 but lost to Alabama in the SEC championship game.

So how were those mid-1990s Cornhuskers able to do it? Former head coach Tom Osborne and several players who were there for all three championships said the 1993 Orange Bowl loss truly was the catalyst for the ensuing four-year run. That game prompted Nebraska to adopt the phrase “Unfinished Business” as its slogan for the ’94 season.

“The Florida State game proved to us that we were capable of taking this thing to another level, and the way we lost it gave everybody the motivation we needed to do it,” offensive tackle Eric Anderson said. “That game was probably about as important to that four-year run as any of them. It essentially laid the foundation for the next four years.”

That foundation was then topped with a degree of commitment and unselfishness by the players that Osborne said was as strong as any he witnessed during his 25 years as the team’s head coach.

“We had very strong team leaders, guys who were willing to sacrifice their personal goals for the team, and the rest of the players followed their lead,” said Osborne, who retired as head coach after the ’97 season and currently is the Nebraska athletic director. “The level of team unity that we had was really exceptional during that stretch. It was probably the best of all the teams I had.”

Osborne helped foster that sense of solidarity by creating a group he called the Unity Council. Each segment of the team (offensive line, running backs, linebackers, etc.) elected two players to represent it on the council. Those 16 players were responsible for a considerable amount of the day-to-day handling of team issues. This amplified the feeling among the players that they were personally accountable for the success or failure of the team.

“Guys took ownership of the program, because Coach Osborne made us feel like it was ours,” said defensive end Grant Wistrom, who won the 1997 Lombardi Award and played in the NFL for nine years. “When you feel like you have a stake in something, you’re going to work a little bit harder for it.

“I fully believe that’s why we had the success that we had, because we felt like it was our team. There’s a whole different level of commitment when you feel like it’s your blood on the line. You’re not just a cog in the wheel. You’re the engine that drives it.”

Even one of the most controversial periods of this four-year stretch could not fracture the Cornhuskers’ feeling of unity. If anything, it might have strengthened it. Early in the 1995 season following a 50-10 thrashing of Michigan State — which, ironically, was led by current Alabama head coach Nick Saban — star running back Lawrence Phillips was arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend. Phillips was suspended from the team but Osborne eventually reinstated him, a move that was met with widespread criticism. None of that slowed down the Cornhuskers, who throttled their opponents that season by an average score of 53-15.

“I think the intense scrutiny actually brought the team together more,” Anderson said. “We rallied around that and had an us-against-the-world mentality.”

Of course, being unified doesn’t accomplish much if everybody is doing the same thing incorrectly. The Cornhuskers of the mid 1990s had an almost obsessive desire to work on every minute detail of their game in a never-ending quest for perfection.

“We had over 100 scripted plays that we ran during practice,” offensive guard Jon Zatechka said. “The repetition made it almost second-nature when you were out there during the game. And if you didn’t take a proper step, if you were just 6 inches off, you’d get yelled at. It’s amazing how specific our coaching staff was on how we had to do things and how perfect they wanted us to be. But that paid off during games.”

That sounds a lot like the current coaching staff in Tuscaloosa. Saban is known for being a strict taskmaster who likes to talk about the “process” of building a team. More than once he has screamed at a backup player during the final minutes of a blowout victory, expecting nothing less than the best regardless of the situation on the field. Peter said the Cornhuskers of the mid-’90s had a similar mindset.

“It’s easy to focus on the big things; that will get you eight or nine wins a year,” Peter said. “But to get 13 or 14 of them and win a championship, you have to do the little things right. That’s why Saban has been so successful. He’s a master of the attention to detail. It’s fun to watch those guys. They’re a lot like we were.”

Sure, there was some good fortune along the way. Nebraska did not have many major injuries during those years (though quarterback Tommie Frazier missed much of the 1994 season with a blood clot in his leg). And then there was the famous “kicked ball” game in 1997, in which the Cornhuskers drove 67 yards in the final minute for a tying touchdown that was scored when what appeared to be a game-ending incompletion bounced off the foot of Nebraska’s Shevin Wiggins and was caught in the end zone by Matt Davison. The Cornhuskers won in overtime and went on to beat Tennessee and Peyton Manning for their third championship in four years.

“Good luck plays a role in any championship run, much less three out of four,” Wistrom said. “But there was also something special about those teams. We felt like we had the tools and the determination and the commitment that it didn’t matter what happened, we were going to win.

“Nobody put themselves above the team. Nobody worried about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. The only thing that mattered was what you’re doing today. If you can get guys to buy into that, then you have something special.
Read More:

Adams: Mannings a treat to SEC’s fans

My hairline is receding and my hair is graying, so I hardly need ESPN to remind me how old I am.

Yet there I was this spring in a local hotel ballroom being interviewed by a producer from ESPN Classic. The subject was former University of Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, the son of a player I once covered.

Peyton is not even 30 and about to become a classic. It makes you wonder if the show will feature Peyton’s brother, Eli, before he’s 25.

The Peyton Manning biography is scheduled to air this month. That’s about 12 years too early for me.

I’m still reflecting on what Archie did.

He made the cover of Sports Illustrated, inspired “The Ballad of Archie Who?,” and played the game with such flair and prowess that even opposing fans sang his praises. Archie’s college football legacy isn’t just about Archie. It’s also about Peyton and Eli, the two sons who combined with their father to make the Mannings the first family of college football.

The first family will be missed this fall. For only the second time in 11 years, Archie Manning’s family won’t be represented by a quarterback on an SEC roster. The family’s college career ended in the Cotton Bowl when Eli played his last game for Ole Miss.

The Mannings’ college statistics are staggering. They passed for 26,073 yards and 201 touchdowns while winning over NFL scouts as well as fans. Archie was the second player taken in the 1971 NFL draft. Peyton (1998) and Eli (this spring) were the first players drafted.

“We’ve been blessed,” Archie said. “I’ve always felt very fortunate to have a chance to play SEC football. Then to have two sons accomplish what they did, I’m pretty shocked.”

The Mannings didn’t just excel in college football. They became legends. It was a matter of talent and timing.

When Archie became the starting quarterback as a sophomore at Ole Miss in 1968, the Rebels were no longer competing for national championships as they did in the late 1950s and early 60s under coach Johnny Vaught. Archie didn’t bring back the glory days, but on certain Saturdays he made Ole Miss as good and exciting as any team in the country.

Peyton’s place in UT lore was assured before his senior season. By then, he was already an All-American and surefire first-round draft pick. But when he chose to postpone his pro career and return for his senior season, he became the most popular player in UT history.

So much was made of Peyton not beating Florida and not winning the Heisman Trophy, it obscured how much he did win. With him at quarterback, the Vols finished in the top 10 for three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1950-52.

Peyton also turned the Alabama rivalry in UT’s favor. After failing to beat Alabama for nine consecutive years, the Vols beat Alabama three consecutive times with Manning at quarterback. Since his freshman season, UT is 8-1 against the Tide.

Peyton finished his career as the SEC’s all-time leader in passing yardage. His brother, Eli, is in third place although he didn’t start until his sophomore season.

Like his father, Eli succeeded in reviving Ole Miss football. Last year, the Rebels won 10 games for the first time in 32 years and came agonizingly close to winning their first West Division title since the conference began divisional play in 1992.

Before he ever won a game, Eli engendered newfound hope and optimism among Ole Miss fans, many of whom were disheartened, even resentful, when Peyton eschewed his father’s alma mater in favor of UT.

“It broke their hearts,” said Bo Ball, a longtime friend of Archie’s who played for the Rebels from 1958-60. “It broke my momma’s heart. They couldn’t believe it. But when Eli went there, the whole thing changed.”

Although it worked out beautifully, Archie had concerns about Eli going to Ole Miss.

“It scared me a little bit because I thought the expectations would be for Eli to go there and do what Peyton did at Tennessee,” Archie said. ” But I was proud of him. I thought it was kind of a courageous move for him to go there.

“Now, five years later, he’s had a wonderful college experience. And I wouldn’t take anything for Peyton’s four years at Tennessee. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

After Peyton went to UT, Archie remained a prominent fundraiser and booster for Ole Miss. With Eli at quarterback, Archie was back in the stands, as the television cameras invariably pointed out the last few years.

“He could have sat in a luxury box,” Ball said. “But he likes to be with the people.”

The people watching at home could see Eli on the field and Archie in the stands. The next day, they could see Peyton playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL.

For those old enough to remember Archie as a player, it was a classic sports weekend.

John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or

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