MIAMI – Dr. Tom Osborne doesn't regret his time as a politician – but he doesn't seem to miss it.
Osborne, who won 13 Big Eight Conference championships and three national titles, was the special guest at the inaugural Legend Series fund-raiser banquet Thursday at Northeastern A&M.
The event raised more than $20,000 for the college's athletic department.
“The evening was a great success,” NEO athletic director Dale Patterson said. “We were very pleased with the response from the community and alumni and look forward to having another legend on our campus.”
The event was inspired by former Norse head coach Chuck Bowman, who has worked with Osborne with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Former Oklahoma star Clendon Thomas, who was a teammate of Bowman at OU, also attended. He and Osborne were paired in a huddle group at their first FCA conference.
Osborne's teams were 255-49-3 between 1973 and 1997.
After retiring as the Cornhuskers' coach, he went on to serve three terms as a Republican U.S. Representative from Nebraska.
“I don't regret it. It was an interesting time,” Osborne said. “In coaching you knew what the parameters were, the field is 100 yards long and 53 yards wide, and you know what you have to do to win and not to lose. In politics, the guidelines aren't so clearly drawn. Somebody that appears to be your friend one day is not your friend the next day. You will have some people that will tell you they will do something and they won't do it. That is always disappointing.”
He joked that there usually was more cooperation between coaches in the Big Eight and Big 12 conferences than in politics in Washington, D.C.
“It was a little more cut-throat,” Osborne said. “That was kinda disappointing to see.”
He made an unsuccessful run for governor in Nebraska, challenging incumbent Dave Heineman and Omaha businessman Dave Nabity in the GOP primary.
Heineman received 49 percent of the more than 197,000 votes cast while Osborne drew 45 percent.
“I felt I could maybe initiate something (as governor), where in Congress, you are pretty much at the mercy of the Speaker, the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader,” he said. “Nothing is going to get on the floor if they don't OK it. Dennis Hastert (former Speaker of the House) is a good friend and John Boehner (current Speaker) helped me out. We were able to get quite a bit passed and get some things done.”
When he decided to test the waters for the Congressional run, he approached a pair of former Oklahoma football legends about making the transition: former Sooner quarterback J.C. Watts and Steve Largent, who played at the University of Tulsa before earning Football Hall of Fame honors with the Seattle Seahawks.
After retiring from politics, he returned to Nebraska as athletic director.
During that time, Osborne helped steer the school from the Big 12 to the Big Ten – a move that was created by necessity.
“Missouri was making noises about leaving ... they made no bones about wanting to leave the Big 12. Colorado was doing the same thing,” Osborne said. “The southern six schools apparently had been negotiating with the Pac 12. We thought we might be left out on a limb that was being sawed off. When the Big 10 said we'd like to have you, it made sense to us.”
The move ended what many considered one of the best rivalries in college football: Oklahoma-Nebraska.
But things came unraveled prior to that, Osborne said.
“The Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry ended with the big 12 because to have a true rivalry, you had to play every year,” Osborne said. “We were playing Oklahoma two years, then two years off. We really wanted to maintain the Nebraska-Oklahoma game.
“I think Oklahoma felt their recruiting base was in Texas so I guess I could understand why they decided to go to the Southern Division.”
The two schools will meet again, but in the distant future: 2020 and 2021.
“That was the earliest we could get together,” Osborne said, noting that the staffs at the two schools held a mutual respect for each other.
“I had more bad moments in Oklahoma than I had good ones,” Osborn joked. “The first five years I was head coach at Nebraska, we lost to Oklahoma. That was not good in Nebraska. It led to blowing up mail boxes.”
The Cornhuskers began to use some option plays that Oklahoma had used out of its wishbone offense while continuing to operate out of the I formation.
Conversely, the Sooners learned a lot from Nebraska and its 5-2 defense.
“Larry Lacewell (former Sooner offensive coordinator) kept calling Monty Kiffin (Husker DC) and asking him questions,” Osborne said. “Monty would keep answering all his questions. I said 'Monty, I am not sure you want to tell Lacewell everything you know'. Then all of a sudden they got the Selmons and they got Randy Hughes, Rod Choate, Jerry Anderson (who played at NEO) and guys that could whip you.”
Osborne maintains ties to the game he loves by serving on the 13-member College Football Playoff selection committee.
The group hit the jackpot in 2014, where Ohio State – the last of the four teams selected – went on to win the national championship in a game that was viewed by more than 33 million.
“Last year we got lucky,” Osborne said. “Ohio State marched through it and we looked like geniuses. The odds are pretty good this year that we won't look like geniuses.
“It's a lot of work and its been enjoyable. I told them I would do two years and this is my last year.”
Bowman was surprised with a birthday cake and video put together by former Norseman and longtime NFL Films videographer Bob Smith. Bowman will celebrate his 80th birthday in October.
Several members of Bowman's 1967, '68 and '69 teams were in attendance as well as Jerry Pettibone, who assisted Osborne at Nebraska after two stints at Oklahoma.
Current Golden Norse head coach Ryan Held played for Osborne at Nebraska as a walk-on split end and quarterback.
During Held's time as a player with the Cornhuskers, they won the final Big Eight title and the first Big 12 crown on their way to back-to-back national titles under Osborne.
The Huskers also won a national title in 1977 while Held was a graduate assistant.
“He was a good player,” Osborne said. “I was always impressed with Ryan's attitude and his work ethic. He has always been a very positive and intelligent guy.”