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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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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

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