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SI FOR KIDS
Tom Osborne and His Staff
by Mark Bechtel
From: SI Presents 1995 Nebraska Special Issue
It sounds like the plotline of an X-Files episode. A sleepy, unsuspecting town in the nation's heartland is apparently overcome by a supernatural force, one possibly lurking in the outlying cornfields. Like a siren, the force draws giftedand only giftedcollege football coaches to town and does not let them leave.
Yes, something strange is going on in Nebraska, where grown men have made a rare commitment. At a time when most relationships between a head coach and his lieutenants last as long as Liz Taylor's with her husbands, the Cornhusker assistants remain steadfast. Of the nine full-timers on the staff, seven have been around Lincoln for nine years or more.
But on closer examination it turns out that this phenomenon is far from paranormal; indeed, these assistants choose to stay of their own free will. And the force that keeps them around is about as unusual as white bread: It's head coach Tom Osborne. "Coach Osborne is a man of great integrity, and he treats us very well," says Ron Brown, the receivers coach of nine years. "There's a lot to say for that."
While some of Osborne's assistants have interviewed for head coaching openings, not one has left Nebraska for a top spot since 1978, when Jerry Moore took over at North Texas State. By contrast, in the 1990s three high-profile jobs were filled by ex-members of Bill McCartney's Colorado staff: Gerry DiNardo (LSU via Vanderbilt), Gary Barnett (Northwestern) and Rick Neuheisel (Colorado). "I can't tell you why our coaches haven't been hired," Osborne says. "We've got good people here." Indeed they do. Consider:
The Husker defense has finished first or second in total defense in the Big Eight in 11 of the 14 years that Charlie McBride has been the coordinator. McBride, a 19-year vet in Lincoln, was named the best collegiate defensive line coach by The Sporting News in its 1992 preview issue.
Since arriving in Lincoln in 1974, offensive line coach Milt Tenopir has turned out five Outland Trophy winners, two Lombardi Award winners and 17 All-Americas.
In 13 years under running backs coach Frank Solich, named by Athlon the nation's top assistant in 1993, the Husker ground attack has never finished lower than third in the nation. Solich, who also serves as Osborne's assistant head coach, joined the Huskers 17 years ago.
So why haven't Osborne's disciples moved onward and upward? The simple answer is that they are so content, they can afford not to go. "If they think I'm a good enough football coach," says McBride, "they'll contact me."
And for these assistants, not just any promotion will do. "The common definition of success from a lot of coaches is being the head guy," says Brown. "But I've seen people hit the top and come fluttering down quickly and wish they were the Number 2 or Number 3 guy."
Which in Nebraska turns out to be a pretty good career.
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