I’ve seen a buzz in comparisons between Dr. Tom and Bo lately in what seems an effort to soothe the title-hungry beast that is a vocal component of Husker Nation. What I don’t get is bolstering Bo by so heavily massaging Osborne’s statistics that his scarcely-matched, vivid accomplishments get a bit rubbed-out.
Is the sentiment that TO’s legacy can afford a little sacrifice when the man’s place in Husker lore is already carved in cornerstones and fired in precious metals? Whatever the reason, my take is that a man’s history and accomplishments, especially a humble man’s like Tom Osborne’s should never be belittled.
Let’s go ahead and do a quick fact check on a few of Tom Shatel’s recent claims such as how TO, beyond an initial Cotton Bowl win, could essentially be found slumming in the bowels of the bowl circuit before movin’ on up to a deluxe apartment in Miami.
Agreed, Osborne did complete his first year as HC in ’73 by going to a big-time bowl and beating 8th
ranked Texas in their own back yard Cotton Bowl to finish 7th
in the AP.
Unfortunately overlooked however was that Osborne also led the ’74 Huskers to a major bowl win in his 2nd
year, beating Florida in the Sugar Bowl to finish 9th
in the AP.
The following year, NU’s lone regular-season loss was to eventual ’75 National Champion Oklahoma. NU tied for 1st
in the Big 8 Conference and headed to the Fiesta Bowl in what Shatel suggested was not an all-that-and-a-bag-of-Tostitos bowl game at the time.
I simply can’t endorse that a bowl game featuring #6 NU vs. #7 ASU should be presented to history seekers as being small Fritos. The Huskers did lose by three in what was essentially a home game for ASU, but NU still finished the season 10 - 2 and 9th
in the AP.
In ’76, year four, Dr. Tom did take a three-loss NU team to the moribund Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl where all the bankrupt #13 Huskers could achieve was beating a lowly #9 Texas Tech team in their own backyard to finish the season a paltry 9th
in the nation (look hard and you can probably find some sarcasm in that sentence).
Dr. Tom would years later share publicly that he was told by a high-profile booster immediately after the ‘76 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl that had NU lost, he would’ve been fired.
For those insisting the college football world, Nebraska included, is off its rocker and has become impatient to ridiculously unseen levels, dial up your wayback machine to our Nation’s Bicentennial 35 years ago and be a fly on the Astrodome wall during that coffee talk.
Yes, the young OC who rescued a flailing Husker offense in ‘69, which ultimately led to NU’s first ever National Titles in ’70 and ’71, and now the HC of 3 consecutive AP Top Ten teams would have been fired for what certainly would have been a Top 20 and probably a Top 15 AP finish had the Huskers lost.
Instead NU won and in TO’s first four years, the Huskers finished 7th
, and 9th
in the AP polls, with TO going 3-1 in bowl games against AP Top 10 teams. Not exactly the mirror image of ’08 through ’11 as inked in some recent scrolls.
And it goes on and on. NU finished 2nd
in the Big 8 in ’77, were sent tails tucked to the Liberty Bowl to beat slumdog #12 North Carolina to finish 12th
AP / 10th
UPI. Maybe you’re getting the picture that bowl game names didn’t exactly reflect the quality of the game. For what it's worth, Bo has faced only one ranked bowl opponent (#22 Arizona) and this year's foe will rank no higher than 14th
Next, I take fair exception to anyone making apples-to-apples comparisons between Tom and Bo when discussing 9-win seasons. Osborne played 11-game slates (12 with a bowl game) until the last 2 years of his career and Bo plays 12-game seasons with the potential of 14 when adding a CCG and a bowl. Osborne won 9 every year when the max you could play was twelve (Kickoff Classic-type games aside).
I’ll say 12 games again, because a max 12-game season is the whole essence of what makes Tom Osborne’s ‘9 wins or better’ accomplishment for his entire career so astonishing. Ignoring that fact is an unfortunate dilution of TO’s legacy.
Osborne’s 9-3 ‘worst’ seasons equate to a 75% winning percentage, a percentage Bo has yet to achieve (pending this year’s bowl game). By comparison, Bo’s rookie 9-4 season is 69%, and 10-4 seasons are 72%.
The goal here is not to vilify Bo’s 38 wins (poss. 39) in four seasons which have substantial merit, but to highlight Osborne’s immense achievements. I really don’t see how comparing the two men’s work well serves either man, but if one desperately craves a head-to-head comparison, it’s pretty simple:
Winning Percentage - First 4 Years
Tom Osborne: 78%
Bo Pelini: 72% (70% if NU loses its bowl)
Top Ten Final Rankings - First 4 Years
Tom Osborne: 4
Bo Pelini: 0
Record vs. Ranked Teams - First 4 Years
Tom Osborne: 10 - 7 (damn you OU for 4 of those)
Bo Pelini: 7 - 9 (bowl game pending)
Losses to Unranked Teams - First 4 Years
Tom Osborne: 3
Bo Pelini: 6
So what does this all mean to Bo Pelini and his future? Not a doggone thing. Different eras, different men, different challenges, and different reactions to those different challenges. The only commonality is the same fight song where people still
don’t know the damn words and the N for “Nowledge” on the side of the helmet. Stop there, because there’s a flaw in every other angle beyond those, except perhaps the insatiable demand for success by the fans.
Bo’s future will be decided by the boosters who boost, the booers who boo, and to a very small degree the writers who insight. Comparisons to any other coaches are rife with contradictions. For every flavor-of-the-month assistant elevated to HC like Bob Stoops, there’s a bunch of Mike Stoopses. For every coach via the NFL like Pete Carroll, there are a couple Dave Wandstadts (should I have said Bill Callahan?) and for every mid-major HC who claws his way into the BCS limelight like Urban Meyer, there’s a Dan Hawkins.
Bo should be measured on his own merits based on success on the field, off the field, in the classroom, and on the recruiting trail and I’ll measure and weigh all of those things next time.
For now, regardless that the Huskers still don’t look or feel BCS ready, do you really jettison a guy that has earned a 72% passing grade over four years with steady grad rates and very few notable off-field incidents? If your answer is yes, you’d better have someone lined up that you feel is a sure bet, because a roll of the dice that comes up craps at this juncture could bust the house.
Meantime, if you’re in Bo Pelini’s corner, just about the worst possible thing you could do for Bo is to set expectations or compare his accomplishments to TO’s, because for every Tom Osborne...well, plain and simple, there’s only one Tom Osborne.
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