University of Nebraska-Lincoln Athletic Director Tom Osborne is stepping down, announcing Wednesday morning his retirement will become effective January 1st.
NU men's basketball coach Tim Miles first broke the news via Twitter moments before Osborne made the announcement at a news conference in Lincoln. The 75-year-old cited his age as the reason for retiring. He said "the perception" that you're getting old "can get in the way." Osborne said he doesn't want to be a distraction. "I'm honored he (UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman) asked me to do this job five years ago."
"He (Osborne) stabilized the department, hired promising coaches and brought facilities to a new level," said Perlman, who added that the move to the Big Ten would not have happened without Osborne.
Perlman said Osborne notified him about his plans to retire in August. Osborne, along with 12-15 "advisers," will help with the search for a replacement.
Perlman said that search has already begun. "The search for a replacement won't be easy and can't be done in the public eye."
Jack Hughes, a national consultant, has been hired to help. Hughes most recently helped find Michigan's new athletic director and the commissioner of the Big 12.
Osborne has served as the university’s athletic director since 2007. At the time, he was hired as an “interim” AD, however, interim was dropped from his title after only two months.
Osborne started his coaching career at the school in 1962 when he served as a graduate assistant under Bob Devaney. He was the head football coach for 25 years, the longest tenure in school history, compiling a record of 255-49-3 with national championships in 1994, 1995 and 1997. His 255 wins are sixth-most among major-college coaches, his .836 winning percentage ranks fifth all-time. Every one of his teams won at least nine games.
After serving six years in Congress and losing a gubernatorial bid, he returned to the university when Athletic Director Steve Pederson was fired by Perlman.
Osborne first major decision as AD was firing head football coach Bill Callahan after the Huskers finished 5-7. Osborne hired Bo Pelini and made the Huskers a top 25 team again.
Osborne oversaw several major construction projects over the past five years, including the Student Life Complex in the west side of Memorial Stadium, the Hendricks Training Complex, which houses offices and practice facilities for basketball, the east Memorial Stadium expansion that will increase seating capacity to 92,000 next year and the Pinnacle Bank Arena, new home of the men’s and women’s basketball teams starting in 2013.
The most important part of his legacy was the historic decision to join the Big Ten conference in 2011. The tradition rich conference and Big Ten TV Network have given Nebraska financial stability for years to come.
Osborne was inducted into the National Football Foundation’s Hall of Fame in December 1998.
"It has been a great privilege to work under coach Osborne," said Pelini. "Obviously, he trusted me to lead the football program here at Nebraska and he has been a valuable resource for me and our entire coaching staff the past five years. His leadership and vision has pushed our football program and our entire athletic department forward in many areas. To me personally, he has been a great leader, mentor and friend."
Wednesday night at the Big Ten volleyball home opener and his first public appearance since the morning announcement, Osborne sat in the usual spot with the Chancellor. There was no fanfare or video tribute. Fans suspect it's the way Osborne wanted it.
"When I think of Nebraska I think of Tom Osborne," said Tiffany Gustafson of Lincoln.
Fans are appreciative that he returned after the first time he stepped away from the university.
Rose Garey of Syracuse, Nebraska: "Thank God he came back. He got us out of a big mess."
Gary Garey: "In 5 years, he has really, really helped us. Got to another league. A lot of good things happened while he's been athletic director."
These fans have a mixture of sadness and compliments. "He's a great role model," said Gustafson. "It's going to be sad to see him go."
Jaclyn Smith of Wahoo: "We're happy for him retiring. We wish him the best."
"It lacked something there for a little while," said Mark Gustafson, referencing the Husker culture while Osborne was away. "He did make a big difference coming back."
Jennifer Hilger of Wahoo: "I think he'll find the right replacement. I think he'll help us out."