Shades Of Red, Part 2

Still curious about Rutgers-Nebraska comparisons, I stumbled on a short biography of former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne in a book I just finished called 100 Heroes: People in Sports Who Make This a Better World.

It led me to collect a little more information about this Hall of Fame coach, which I’d like to share with the online audience. The Rutgers 1000 really picked the wrong school to pick on.

First, are Osborne’s football accomplishments, after 25 years as head coach at the University of Nebraska.

• Two undisputed national titles
• 25 Top 15 rankings
• 12 Big Eight Conference titles
• 1 Big 12 Conference title
• 255 career wins

More interesting were his accomplishments off the field. Osborne came to Nebraska in 1960, not only as an assistant coach, but also as the team’s first academic counselor. Thirty years later, his teams had compiled an 82 percent graduation rate; that’s higher than the regular student bodies at most colleges and universities in the country, let alone football players. Nebraska has graduated 65 Academic All American football players since 1962, an outstanding performance as well. As of 2006, nine years since Osborne’s retirement from coaching, Nebraska football had an 88 percent graduation rate, best in their conference.

Osborne and his wife Nancy also started a statewide mentoring program called Husker TeamMates, which has 73 active chapters and neighboring Iowa. TeamMates started in 1991 when twenty-two Husker football players met with middle school students in the Lincoln Public Schools. Coach Osborne felt that the athletes in his program could make an impact on the middle school students.

According to its website, TeamMates has successful partnerships with local school districts from the largest urban schools to some of the smallest and most isolated rural schools, matching a student with an adult volunteer mentor to provide one hour of individual mentoring each week during the school year. Activities during the mentoring hour range from homework assignments to sharing common interests or simply engaging in conversation. This year, over 3,000 youths, grades 4-12, have mentors through TeamMates.

In 2000, Osborne was elected to Congress with 80 percent of the vote from his Lincoln district. That year, he became the first college football coach to receive the Jim Thorpe Lifetime Achievement Award. Presented by the Jim Thorpe Association without consideration of athletic accomplishments, the award recognizes a lifetime of achievement by people who "set the living examples that influence others to strive for the highest goals and leadership of men, and who blaze the trails of accomplishments which leave behind the pathways of tradition for others to follow."

Osborne is one of only seven men and women who have received this award since the Association was founded in 1986.

Only 40, Rutgers’ coach Greg Schiano is a young man; he has plenty of time to build an equally impressive resume. He is well on his way, not only because he has helped turn around a football program, but also because he is well aware of the students and the community around him.

Being a Rutgers football season ticket holder, I can give one small example. At the close of last week’s game, a decisive win, Coach Schiano brought his team over to the student section of the stadium to join their classmates and the chorus in the singing of “On the Banks of the Old Raritan,” Rutgers’ alma mater. It meant a lot to see our team celebrate the win with their fellow students, as if they were a “12th man” on the field. This is only one of the small details I’ve seen since Greg Schiano became our coach, and it’s only on the football field. I know other fans know more.

Rutgers took a chance on Greg Schiano, much the same as Nebraska did with Tom Osborne. They brought on a young man who understood the importance of having quality people put a quality product on the field. According to the American Football Coaches Association, Rutgers has posted a three-year NCAA Academic Performance Rate (APR) of 971, the best mark of any state university nationally as well as the top mark of any school in its conference.

I hope the Rutgers 1000’s Hubie Cornpone award died when the organization did. Nebraska provides a model for the kind of football program most universities, and their community, would love to have. They deserve a lot more than to be the butt of stupid and ignorant comments such as those that were made by my fellow members of the Rutgers community.

New Jerseyans, more than others, should appreciate what it feels like to be the butt of jokes. I know I’ve heard “which exit?” and comments about dirty factories a few times too often.

If you live in the Garden State, I’m sure you have too.

Shades Of Red, Part 2 9 of 10 on the basis of 1235 Review.