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SI FOR KIDS
Osborne still 'coaching' in retirement
Head of Hall of Fame class still reaching out to youth
Posted: Thursday August 12, 1999 02:38 PM
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- In 36 years of coaching college football, Tom Osborne saw his share of problem players.
There were the infamous ones, like Lawrence Phillips, who grabbed headlines. There were others, those who never made it into the police reports, who were heavy on emotional baggage and low on parental support.
"These were young people who were screened. They had decent grades. They were recommended highly by their teachers and coaches, so we were dealing with probably the upper 25 percent of high school graduates," Osborne said. "I began to realize a lot of things were falling through the cracks for young people."
So he decided to do something about it, founding the Teammates Mentoring Program in 1991.
Now, as he prepares to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame on Friday as one of the winningest coaches in Division I-A history, he's using his "retirement" to take his mentoring program to every school district in Nebraska in an effort to reach the state's most at-risk middle school students.
"We feel that someone who affirms them, supports them, has a vision of what they might become and is there and is concerned is very important," Osborne said.
Not an easy task, considering Osborne estimates there are 17,000 students in Nebraska his program could help. But after crafting the Cornhuskers football program into a perennial powerhouse with a 255-49-3 record over 25 years, if anybody in Nebraska can do it, Osborne can.
People still talk regard him as a larger-than-life figure in Nebraska, where he won national titles in 1994 and 1995 and split the crown in 1997, his last season.
"So many people are willing to work with the program because of how highly people think of coach Osborne," said Shauna Valentine, who coordinates the Lincoln chapter of the Teammates program.
Osborne began the program in 1991 after asking players if they were interested in mentoring middle school children. Six years later, he expanded it to match students with adult mentors rather than football players, and now chapters are set up in 17 Nebraska cities.
"We didn't go to him with an idea. It was his idea, and he was doing it," Valentine said. "Beyond being the founder, he's been the cheerleader for the rest of us. He's the leader. He's the director in many ways, not only in the example that he sets but what he does."
Osborne, who along with his wife Nancy also serves as a mentor in the program, said he hopes to reach 1,400 kids by next fall with hopes of doubling the enrollment each year until the program reaches 10 percent of Nebraska middle school students, about 17,000 kids.
"We're limited only by the number of people who volunteer to be mentors," he said. "It's been probably the most meaningful thing that I've done and something that we're really working hard to grow throughout the state."
That's saying something considering Osborne led the Cornhuskers to an NCAA-record 25 straight bowl appearances, reached the 250-win plateau quicker than any other Division I-A coach and averaged more than 10 wins a season over 25 years.
Friday night, he'll be enshrined into the Hall of Fame after the National Football Foundation Honors Court waived its customary three-year waiting period, something it's done only once before.
"It's always hard to know how your career will be perceived by other people because you're so intertwined with whatever happens because it's hard to be objective," said Osborne, who still works eight to 10 hours a day. "I can't say I would do it any differently if I had to do it over again. It's kind of nice to be able to walk away with something with no regrets and a lot of good memories."
Other enshrinees include Division I players Al Brosky, Brad Budde, Bill Fralic, Randy Gradishar, Bo Jackson, Mel Long, Jim McMahon, Jerry Rhome, Jim Richter, Johnny Roland, Alex Sarkisian and Bill Stanfill. They were elected to the hall last spring and inducted during a December ceremony in New York.
The Divisional Class includes players George Bork, Teel Bruner, George Floyd, Willie Galimore, Jim LeClair and Randy Trautman, along with coaches Don Coryell, Billy Nicks and Jim Sochor. They were elected this spring.
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