Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Randy Hampton

Tom’s Time: A Coaching Career Begins with Dorm Duty

August 29, 2017

Larry Kramer was a unanimous All-America offensive tackle at Nebraska in 1964. And Tom Osborne was part of the reason. Kramer would have told you as much.

Carl Selmer was the Husker offensive line coach during Kramer’s career as a left tackle on Bob Devaney’s first teams. So the credit goes to him, too. Osborne wasn’t even a full-time assistant when he met Kramer for the first time. He was a grad assistant, unpaid except for some meals at the training table and a room in Selleck Quadrangle, a university dorm.

Kramer, from Austin, Minnesota, was among several athletes, mostly football players, housed in a corner section of Selleck. Dorm counselors were hesitant to venture into that area. Though their duties included maintaining order, doing so there wasn’t on their to-do list. They were afraid of Kramer and his buddies, Osborne has said – and Kramer, now gone, confirmed it.

So Osborne’s room was in Kramer’s corner, his job to keep order.

Kramer would laugh as he told the story many years later. He was called before the Dean of Students for an accumulation of what would be regarded as minor infractions now, among them throwing snowballs at passing cars and taking a newspaper left at the door of another room. When he went before the Dean, facing expulsion, Osborne went with him and spoke on his behalf.

If not for Osborne’s intercession, Kramer figured he probably would have been expelled before his stellar Husker varsity career got started in 1962.

Osborne had come to Nebraska after rejecting a contract offer from the Washington Redskins for a third NFL season with them. He had dealt with the effects of a hamstring injury suffered during training camp throughout the 1961 season. The injury occurred when players were timed in a mile run and a 40-yard dash, back-to-back, with the 40-yard dash coming second instead of first.

Team doctors “kept shooting it with Novocaine,” Osborne said during an interview in 2012. By season’s end, there was so much scar tissue he didn’t think he could continue playing. So he enrolled as a graduate student at Nebraska, figuring education would be his career path.

Osborne had spent an off-season in graduate school at USC, supervising freshman football players for Coach John McKay, who also hadn’t had a coaching position available. Osborne’s initial contact with Devaney was by letter, after Devaney had been named coach at Nebraska but before he was officially released from his contract at Wyoming, a process that carried into early 1962.

At that point, Osborne didn’t consider coaching a career goal but rather a way of easing out of football. He knew that “breaking cold-turkey from athletics would be hard for me; it had been such a big part of my life,” he said before his final season as head coach in 1997. “I thought after a couple of three years of a G.A. position and finishing graduate school, I’d be ready to leave it.”

When football was out of his system, he would focus on teaching and college administration.

By spring practice in 1962, Devaney had offered Osborne an opportunity to help coach the Husker freshmen, along with full-time assistants John Melton and Clete Fischer. Osborne worked with the freshman receivers.

His initial impression of supervising the corner of Selleck with the rowdies was “tough duty,” he said years later. But many of them went on to successful careers after football. Kramer was a football coach for more than 30 years, beginning as head coach at McCook (Neb.) Junior College and including 12 years as a head coach at Emporia (Kan.) State and three years as an assistant at Kansas State.

Tom's Time, a regular feature that will take a closer look at the life of Tom Osborne. Nebraska has a storied history in football that dates back to the earliest years of the game, but the tradition to which Husker fans hold Nebraska is mostly a reference to Osborne's 25 years as head coach. And that will always be worth exploring in greater detail. Click here for all of the entries in the series.

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