Osborne returning to Nebraska as interim AD

Updated: October 17, 2007, 4:19 PM ET
Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. -- The future of Nebraska football is in the hands of its patriarch.

Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne returned to Nebraska on Tuesday as interim athletic director, a day after the firing of Steve Pederson.

The 70-year-old Osborne will determine whether Bill Callahan stays or goes as Nebraska coach, but he won't make the decision until after the season.

"I don't want to be someone who micromanages, watches over people's shoulders," Osborne said. "If they want me to come to practice or go to meetings, I'll go. If they want to stay away, I'll stay away."

It was 10 years ago that Osborne finished a celebrated 25-year coaching career that culminated with three national championships in his last four seasons.

But the program has fallen on hard times -- by Nebraska standards -- having lost no fewer than four games a year in four seasons under Callahan. The Huskers have lost their last two games by a combined score of 86-20, and their defense is one of the worst in the country.

Osborne, who was in the stadium for last week's 45-14 loss to Oklahoma State, didn't seem as panicked as some of the Huskers' fans about the team's play.

"It's worth pointing out that we're 4-3. We've won more than we've lost," he said. "There are other programs -- some pretty good programs -- that haven't won more than one game. But we'd like the intensity level to pick up to what we're accustomed to."

Osborne met with university chancellor Harvey Perlman on Tuesday morning to discuss the job, and Osborne agreed to serve until the chancellor hires a permanent athletic director.

Osborne said he took the job because he cares about Nebraska athletics. He'll stay on as long as it takes Perlman to hire a permanent athletic director, and his pay will be based on a $250,000 annual salary.

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"He'll be the lowest paid athletic director in the Big 12," Perlman quipped.

Perlman said Osborne would be given "full authority" to make decisions about football and other athletic matters.

"I'm counting on him to do what needs to be done to move our program forward and make progress here," Perlman said.

Callahan said earlier Tuesday that he has no plan to resign. If Callahan is fired, the university would be forced to buy out his contract for more than $3 million.

Callahan was not available after the team's practice to comment on Osborne's hiring.

During his weekly news conference earlier in the day, Callahan said his confidence in his own abilities hasn't been shaken.

"I know in my heart of hearts I'm doing an excellent job, a good job," Callahan said.

He said his self-evaluation was based on more than the wins and losses.

"It's everything that has to do with organization, preparation, game-planning, direction of the staff, direction of the whole, entire program. I have no hesitation about that," he said. "There are so many things we've done in a positive nature. I'm confident we've done some great things here."

Since leaving coaching, Osborne has served three terms in Congress, made an unsuccessful gubernatorial run, taught in the university's business school and worked as a consultant for local college athletic departments.

Though his name is on Nebraska's athletic department headquarters, he has been mostly dissociated from the Cornhuskers' program since Callahan became coach in January 2004.

The beloved Osborne is seen as someone who can unify a fractured fan and donor base.

Osborne joined the Huskers' coaching staff in 1962 under Bob Devaney, who established a culture that made football a point of pride in this state of 1.7 million.

Osborne became head coach in 1973. He built upon that Devaney tradition and gave Nebraska a unique identity with its powerful running attack and reliance on hardworking, homegrown players.

The triple option remained a staple under Osbourne's successor, Frank Solich, as did the tremendously popular walk-on program.

Callahan ditched the option in favor of a West Coast system and, in a move that upset the fans, greatly reduced the walk-on program.

Callahan has not completely severed ties with Nebraska's past, but he made it clear he wanted to move the program in a different direction. The public's patience with Callahan has waned as he has failed to go through a season with fewer than four losses.

Along with winning all or part of three national titles, the Huskers won 12 Big Eight titles and one Big 12 title under Osborne.

Of Osborne's 25 teams, 17 finished in the top 10. His career coaching record was 255-49-3.

Upon his retirement, the College Football Hall of Fame waived its customary three-year wait for entry and inducted Osborne in December 1998.

Callahan said he won't look over his shoulder as he coaches. The Huskers play Texas A&M at home this week.

"There are no guarantees in this business, no matter where you're coaching, especially when you're struggling," he said. "Nothing has been said to me relative to dismissals or anything of that nature. We're just going to press on."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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