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Coach and Jury
Michael Farber
September 25, 1995
Nebraska players charged with crimes have a steadfast ally in the man who runs the program, Tom Osborne
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September 25, 1995

Coach And Jury

Nebraska players charged with crimes have a steadfast ally in the man who runs the program, Tom Osborne

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•Senior wide receiver Reggie Baul was charged last Nov. 20 with stealing a wallet from a woman in a Lincoln restaurant. Hal Anderson, the lawyer who represented him, hired a retired policeman to administer a lie detector test to Baul. According to Osborne, Baul passed the test. Osborne then permitted him to play in the Orange Bowl victory over Miami that clinched Nebraska's national title. On March 6, Baul pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possession of stolen property. He was fined $100 and placed on six months probation. He remains a member of the team.

According to police, sometime after 4 a.m. on Sept. 10, the night the Huskers returned from a rout of Michigan State in East Lansing, Phillips entered the third-floor apartment of Scott Frost, a quarterback from Wood River, Neb., who had transferred to Nebraska this fall from Stanford. When Phillips found McEwen in the apartment, police say, he pushed her into the bathroom, knocked her down and dragged her by the hair down a flight of stairs.

At 11 a.m. last Thursday, McEwen walked into Lacey's office after returning from her home in Topeka, Kans. That day Lacey interviewed her for the firs! time, three days after Osborne had spoken with her. Early in the week Osborne had said, "I wouldn't call it a beating. But [Phillips] certainly did inflict some damage to a young lady."

It is clear that Osborne had been aware for some time that Phillips might be trouble. In March 1994 he was alleged to have grabbed a student from another college around the neck. Misdemeanor charges were dropped after he agreed to pay $400 to repair a necklace that was broken, though he failed to complete a mandated diversion program.

On Sunday the Omaha World-Herald reported that what had allegedly taken place in Frost's apartment apparently resulted from a long, troubled relationship between McEwen and Phillips, and that friends of McEwen's had seen signs of physical abuse. The paper also reported that according to one of those friends, Osborne was aware of violence in the relationship and had urged Phillips and McEwen to stop seeing each other. This summer, the World-Herald asserted, Osborne had warned Phillips, "If you ever touch her again, you will be kicked off the team."

Osborne does not recall using those exact words, but he had no choice but to suspend Phillips. "He tends to believe anything these kids tell him," says Joe Nigro, of the Lancaster County public defender's office. "The problem with Phillips is that it happened at Scott Frost's apartment, and Scott talked to [Osborne] before Lawrence talked to him. He has to believe someone."

For discipline, Osborne assigns players five points each, and they keep playing until they lose their points. Cutting class costs one point on the Osborne scale; a felony conviction costs five. Skipping a practice is three points, and committing a criminal misdemeanor is four. And he has been a font of second chances for players and ex-players, including Muhammad, whose eligibility is up but who has retained his scholarship and works as an undergraduate coach. Muhammad was involved in a fight at a Lincoln hotel last year in which Nebraska defensive back Ramone Worthy was stabbed. "My feeling is Abdul can do more good on the field than he can simply drifting around the community," Osborne says.

Osborne says he is also inclined to grant a second chance to Phillips: "If Lawrence is in a structured program, he's more apt to get treatment than if we cut him loose."

Say this for Osborne: He knows his student-athletes aren't all choirboys. As the Husker plane landed in Lincoln on the night Phillips allegedly beat McEwen, Osborne told his players over the intercom, "Have a nice night, but stay out of trouble."

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