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Retiring Osborne always kept cool under pressure

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Retiring Osborne always kept cool under pressure

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) It was homecoming 1991. Ninth-ranked Nebraska was favored by 35 points over Kansas State, still thought of as a woebegone program at the time and whose best days were still far on the horizon.

A quarterback named Paul Watson was shredding the Huskers' secondary, and the Wildcats led by a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Rob Zatechka, a redshirt freshman who later would play on Nebraska's famed ``Pipeline'' offensive line, remembers pandemonium on the sideline. Teammates were yelling at each other, assistant coaches were yelling at players and other assistants.

Then Zatechka caught sight of head coach Tom Osborne, the picture of calm as he chewed his Big Red gum and spoke through his headset, seemingly removed from the chaos around him.

``I was taken aback by it,'' Zatechka said. ``I thought, `He's not panicking. If he's not panicking, we shouldn't panic, either.'

``Someone asked Osborne why he never cut loose emotionally. I remember Osborne making the point that if the players see you losing emotional control, whether good or bad, they're going to lose emotional control, and that's where you see games spiral out of control.''

Nebraska won 38-31 thanks to a last-minute goal-line stand. More than the result that day, Zatechka remembers Osborne.

``Sometimes if you maintain an outward sense of control over a situation,'' Zatechka said, ``it has an amazing effect on the people around you.''

Osborne will retire as Nebraska's athletic director Jan. 1 and end an association with the university that began in 1962. He turns 76 in February and will stay at the school through July 31 as athletic director emeritus to ease the transition of new athletic director Shawn Eichorst.

Perhaps as much as anything, Osborne's 25-year Hall of Fame coaching career and five-year run as a can-do AD are characterized by his strong and steady leadership, often in difficult circumstances.

``No matter how crazy things were going on around him, you knew Coach was going to be calm,'' said Terry Connealy, who played defensive tackle on the 1994 national championship team. ``We weren't going to get caught up in the emotion of the moment. He's a calming influence. That's what the program needed when he came back as the athletic director, with all the perceived turmoil.''

Chancellor Harvey Perlman asked Osborne to return in 2007 to stabilize an athletic department whose flagship sport was in a free fall under coach Bill Callahan and whose staff was burdened by low morale under Steve Pederson.

Osborne's first acts were to fire Callahan and hire Bo Pelini, who has won no fewer than nine games in his five seasons and led the Huskers to three conference championship games, and mend fences with boosters and former players who felt alienated by Pederson.

In addition to guiding the school's move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten two years ago, Osborne saw through key building projects.

The Student Life Complex, which opened in 2010, houses the academic support arm of the athletic department and has been voted the best facility of its kind in college athletics.

The Hendricks Training Complex, which opened in 2011, is one of the nation's top basketball practice facilities. The men's and women's teams will play in the downtown Pinnacle Bank Arena beginning next fall after four decades in the Devaney Sports Center.

A Memorial Stadium expansion, to be completed for the 2013 season, will increase capacity to more than 90,000.

``In my mind, he took us to a whole new level,'' 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers said. ``He took us to the most prestigious conference, more television time than ever, which will help us in recruiting. And there are more academic dollars for university and more prestige.''

Trev Alberts, an All-America linebacker for the Huskers in the early 1990s and now the Nebraska-Omaha athletic director, said some people might be surprised at how much Osborne accomplished in his five years running the athletic department in Lincoln.

``It goes back to his experience as a coach,'' Alberts said. ``He recognized that if he had gone back with the plan to just be a caretaker, there would have been a significant slide. He loves to solve problems and move forward.''

Osborne, who was born in the south-central Nebraska town of Hastings, leaves the university as one of the most influential figures in the state's history.

Each of the 25 Nebraska football teams Osborne coached won at least nine games, and three of his last four teams won national championships. He left coaching after the 1997 season with a career record of 255-49-3, an .836 winning percentage that ranked fifth all-time among Division I coaches, and 13 conference titles.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

After two years away from coaching, voters in the western Nebraska district elected him to the House of Representatives in 2000, 2002 and 2004. In perhaps the greatest upset in Nebraska political history, Osborne lost to popular incumbent Dave Heineman in the 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary.

Osborne finished his third term in Congress and returned to the university to teach classes in leadership and business ethics before answering Perlman's call to steady the athletic department.

George Darlington, a longtime assistant coach under Osborne, said he knows Osborne was extremely disappointed to lose the gubernatorial race. But had Osborne won, Darlington pointed out, he wouldn't have been the athletic director.

``Who would be in place to have those facilities built?'' Darlington said. ``Steve Pederson, of course, had rubbed so many people wrong that I don't think he could have gotten it to completion. Someone from the outside wouldn't have had the clout.''

Osborne plans to devote more time to the TeamMates program that he and his wife, Nancy, founded in 1991. What started as a small youth mentoring program has grown to 120 communities serving more than 4,000 students in grades 4-12. The program matches a student with an adult volunteer mentor to provide one hour of individual mentoring each week during the school year.

He also will get to enjoy more time with his grandchildren and do the things he and Nancy put off during his years as a coach, congressman and athletic director.

``He'll be as busy as ever,'' Rodgers said. ``It's not like he's going to just go off and fish.''

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Wizards release united statement in response to the death of George Floyd

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Wizards release united statement in response to the death of George Floyd

While protests continue across the country following the death of George Floyd, the world's biggest sports figures, including Michael Jordan and LeBron James, have used their platforms to make it clear where they stand on the numerous social issues fueling the protests.

You can now add the Washington Wizards to that group. Early Monday morning, the Wizards posted a "united statement" on social media in response to Floyd's death and the protests that have followed.

Included in the post are four separate statements.

"We will no longer tolerate the assassination of people of color in this country."

"We will no longer accept the abuse of power from law enforcement."

"We will no longer accept ineffective government leaders who are tone-deaf, lack compassion or respect for communities of color."

"We will no longer shut up and dribble."

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura were among players to share the same statements on Instagram.

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What if the Nationals faced the Yankees, not the Astros, in the World Series?

What if the Nationals faced the Yankees, not the Astros, in the World Series?

This week, NBC Sports Washington is taking a look at some of the biggest “What If” questions in Nationals history. First up, Matt Weyrich and Jim Scibilia examine what the 2019 World Series would’ve looked like had the Yankees faced Washington instead of the Astros.

The Houston Astros had a pretty brutal last few months of 2019.

They closed out the month of October by blowing leads in both Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, handing the Nationals one of the biggest upset victories in MLB history. In November, they were exposed for carrying out an illegal sign-stealing scheme that prompted a two-month investigation. Then, just before Christmas, they lost star pitcher Gerrit Cole in free agency.

Perhaps the only thing that could’ve made it worse? Losing to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series to fall short of winning the AL pennant.

In another timeline, the Yankees came back against the Astros in Game 6 of the ALCS before taking them down in a win-or-go-home Game 7. The matchup would’ve posed a very different challenge for the Nationals, who swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS before waiting four days to find out who they would be facing in the World Series.

The Yankees would’ve made their 41st appearance in the Fall Classic, an MLB record. Meanwhile, the Nationals were embarking on their first World Series run in franchise history—and D.C.’s first appearance since 1933. Even though the Astros posed a juggernaut-type threat as well, the Yankees’ history would’ve made the uphill battle appear even more steep for Washington.

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D.C. doesn’t get a lot of credit nationally for being a sports town, but there’s no better way for a fanbase to get in the spotlight than by facing a New York City team in a championship. How does the Nationals Park crowd fare against the Yankee Stadium faithful? What is each city doing to support its team? Have mayors Bill de Blasio and Muriel Bowser made a friendly wager on the outcome of the series?

As for the games themselves, the Nationals entered the World Series on seven days’ rest while the Yankees would’ve only had two days to prepare following their ALCS Game 7 win. Even though many debated whether they would be rusty after the break from playing, the Nationals jumped out to a 2-0 series lead against Houston; they would've been fresh and ready to take on a tired Yankees team.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone planned to use Luis Severino in Game 7 of the ALCS had they made it, which would’ve lined up the following pitching matchups in the World Series:

Game 1 – Masahiro Tanaka vs. Max Scherzer (with Corbin available out of the bullpen)

Game 2 – James Paxton vs. Stephen Strasburg

Game 3 – Luis Severino vs. Aníbal Sánchez

Game 4 – Yankees’ bullpen vs. Patrick Corbin

Game 5 – Masahiro Tanaka vs. Joe Ross (Scherzer woke up that morning with neck spasms)

Game 6 – James Paxton vs. Stephen Strasburg

Game 7 – Luis Severino vs. Max Scherzer

Just like the real Game 1 with Scherzer and Cole on the mound, this version would’ve featured a fantastic pitching matchup with three-time Cy Young winner Scherzer facing Tanaka and his 1.76 career postseason ERA. However, there was no Justin Verlander behind Tanaka like the Astros had behind Cole, pushing the advantage in starting pitching much farther over in favor of Washington.

Paxton and Severino combined to make five playoff starts last October and only once did one of them advance past the fifth inning (Paxton went six in ALCS Game 5). Strasburg, who won World Series MVP, would’ve been the difference maker with two matchups against Paxton while Severino would’ve been tasked with besting NLCS star Sánchez and Scherzer.

The most intriguing matchup, however, might have been Game 4. The Yankees entered the playoffs with one of the best bullpens in the majors, making it an easy choice for Boone to use his relief corps rather than give J.A. Happ or CC Sabathia a chance to start. On the other side, the Nationals would've been starting prized offseason addition Corbin. The runner-up for his services in free agency? The Yankees.

On offense, New York boasted an elite combination of star power and depth much like the Astros. Giancarlo Stanton would’ve been a player to watch, as his 34 home runs against the Nationals from his time with the Miami Marlins are his second-highest total against any team. Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu, Edwin Encarnacion and Gary Sanchez all presented power threats in the box as well.

Perhaps the two most fun players to watch in the series, however, would’ve been Gleyber Torres and Juan Soto. Both young stars from Latin America play with a flair and level of self-confidence that make them must-watch TV every time they step to the plate. Although each player had already built up a national reputation on their own, facing off on the World Series stage would’ve been a treat for fans everywhere.

Of course, the Yankees didn’t make the World Series, so we’ll never know what the outcome would’ve been had the Nationals faced them instead. But there’s no doubt such a matchup would’ve presented plenty of intrigue—both on and off the field.

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