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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 releasing Chasson Randle opens roster spot, possibilities

Wizards releasing Chasson Randle opens roster spot, possibilities

The Washington Wizards released guard Chasson Randle Monday, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Washington.

Head coach Scott Brooks briefly addressed the move ahead of Monday’s game against the Orlando Magic.

“He’s a terrific young man, a very good player,” Brooks said of Randle. “Just gives us more flexibility. Who knows what we might do with it. He’s definitely an NBA player.”

The additional space – the Wizards had one vacant roster slot even with Randle – brings up the question of which NBA player might join the roster next. For now, don’t expect a blockbuster move.

Randle, who Washington signed to the active roster on Oct. 30, likely clears waivers, and then would rejoin the Capital City Go-Go, Brooks said. It’s been a back-and-forth scenario for Randle between the Wizards and their G-League squad this season. The 6-foot-2 guard was on the Go-Go roster when Washington’s season tipped off, and assigned to the G-League squad at the time of Monday’s release. Randle scored 37 points in the Go-Go’s inaugural game. He did not enter a game for Washington.

The Wizards were forced to add a player by Oct. 30, a date that marked two weeks from the time the Washington traded Jodie Meeks to Milwaukee. League rules require a minimum of 14 players on the roster.

That two week timeline applies to the current scenario. For now, the Wizards save a bit on the luxury tax payment by waiving Randle, who was signed to a $1.24 million non-guaranteed contract. According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, adding Randle cost the Wizards $14,955.5 per day. Washington saved approximately $8 million by dealing Meeks.

As Brooks acknowledged, the open spots create greater flexibility.  In wake of the Timberwolves trading disgruntled All-Star Jimmy Butler to the 76ers, multiple reports at least tangentially mentioned the Wizards’ as part of the mix.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Washington balked at including Bradley Beal. SI.com’s Chris Mannix reported teams are keeping tabs on the 3-9 Wizards in case role players like Jeff Green, Markieff Morris or Kelly Oubre Jr. become available should the slow start continue.

Randle’s release limits Washington’s backcourt depth, but the top four options are healthy entering its five-game home-stand. In theory two-way contract player Jordan McRae could be recalled from Capital City, but the wing guard is dealing with a groin injury, according to a source. McRae should be available later in the week.

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Redskins fans and players can both be right about FedEx Field frustrations

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Redskins fans and players can both be right about FedEx Field frustrations

The Redskins moved to 6-3 on Sunday by beating the Buccaneers in Tampa, and now sit two games clear in first place in the NFC East. 

That should be the biggest football story inside the Beltway. But it isn't. 

The story has become that two of the most high-profile members of the Washington defense said that they prefer playing road games to being in their home stadium. Why? Because on the road they can hear better and focus more since they don't have fans booing them. 

Seriously. 

"Home games, that’s some of the worst things I’ve seen. I’ve played on four different teams, never seen it that bad, with other team’s jerseys in the stands, the boos, whatever it may be," Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger said during an appearance on 106.7 the Fan's Grant and Danny program on Monday. 

"I’ve never been a part of nothing like that."

This freight train started moving on Sunday, when after the win in Tampa, Josh Norman said he likes playing on the road. Why? Because there aren't any boos.

"We go into the homestands, and it’s like an open bubble,” Norman said. “Like the other team’s turf or something. You hear more of them than you do us. Then if something bad happens, they suck. They sit back in their seat, and they boo."

There's a lot to unpack here. 

Norman and Swearinger are right. There are always a lot of visiting fans at FedEx Field. Some of that might be that Washington is a transient city, but some of it is also because other fans have determined that it's easy to get tickets at FedEx Field. 

Why is it easy for visiting fans to get tickets? Well, there's not much sizzle at FedEx Field.

The area doesn't have shopping or restaurants around it like many newer NFL stadiums. The traffic, like much of life in the D.C. area, is awful. The stadium itself is underwhelming; old and lacking character. 

The Redskins are working hard to overhaul the game day experience, and some of the efforts are alrady working. But the problem is some fans have soured on the idea of spending the day at FedEx Field, and that will take time to fix. Probably years. 

One obvious fix? A new stadium, preferably back in downtown D.C. That is a long way off though. 

Plenty of fans are bothered by Swearinger and Norman's comments, and they have reason for that, too. 

To start with, there are tens of thousands of fans at every home game, cheering on their club. Lifelong, loyal fans that pay good money to watch the Burgundy and Gold. 

Do some boo? Certainly. But they only boo when the team is bad. Play good, no boos. It's fairly simple.

And the boos aren't only about a specific game, or even a specific season. Many Redskins fans are just frustrated with the franchise in general for a litany of reasons. Things have been stable under Jay Gruden, but for a long time, they weren't. 

What isn't fair for Norman and Swearinger is they played zero part in the multi-decade erosion of the Redskins fan base. And some would argue the fan base hasn't actually eroded, just that fewer fans want to make the trek to the stadium and commit to the full day that is attending an NFL game.

For 20 years, Washington has played plenty of bad football at home. During that time, some fans simply decided they'd rather watch on television, or go for a walk, or do yard work, or hang with their family. 

The toughest part is that both Norman and Swearinger can be right, but the fans that are upset with the comments can be right as well. 

Are there good fans? Absolutely. Are there lots of visiting fans? Yep. 

It won't be fixed overnight. Winning is the best cure, however, as old fans will return and new fans will be created. 

Play well and there won't be any booing. Keep winning games and there won't be anything but burgundy in the stands. 

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