Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Randy Hampton

Tom’s Time: Osborne Finds an Edge in Epley

September 26, 2017

Boyd Epley figured he was in trouble. Tom Osborne, a Bob Devaney assistant, called Epley into his office. When Epley arrived, Husker assistant Clete Fischer was there, too.

Epley was a student-athlete at Nebraska, or rather just a student at that point. He had been a pole vaulter for Coach Frank Sevigne, the first Husker to clear 15 feet. But he subsequently suffered a back injury when he missed the pit while vaulting.

Epley had come from Arizona, where he competed for two seasons at Phoenix Junior College and earned an associate of arts degree. He was a captain of the track and field team there and finished fourth and second in the pole vault at the NJCAA Championships during his two seasons.                

Even though the back injury had ended his Husker career – he earned one letter – Epley continued to work out, lift weights and train. He did AAU Olympic lifting, power lifting and physique competitions. Plus, he had helped a few Husker athletes work through injuries.

Devaney was making changes after 6-4 seasons in 1967-68, culminating in a 47-0 loss at Oklahoma, and Osborne wanted to know if Epley might be interested in working with non-injured Husker football players, help them with strength training.

Nebraska had a weight room in the north fieldhouse, albeit a small one, maybe 500 square feet, located behind the training room, through which one had to pass in order to get to it. There was also a door that opened into the locker room. But that door was almost always locked.

The weight room was intended to be extra space for helping injured athletes. Its size wasn’t really an issue because few athletes used it. Most football coaches thought weight lifting caused players to get slower, for example, and basketball coaches thought lifting would throw off players’ shots.

But some football players used weights, such as the junior college offensive linemen Osborne had just brought in, Bob Newton and Carl Johnson in particular.

Years later, after Osborne’s first national championship in 1994, Epley described Newton and Johnson as the “Zach Wiegert and Brenden Stai of those teams.”

Epley, who returned to Nebraska in 2014 to be Assistant Athletic Director for Strength and Conditioning, was initially paid $2 an hour to supervise the weight room, two hours a day, three days a week. He typically spent seven or eight hours a day, getting paid for the two.

Jerry Murtaugh, a co-captain on the 1970 national championship team, once asked why he was wasting his time for $4 a day. Epley said he believed it could become a full-time job.

After earning his undergraduate degree, Epley became a graduate assistant weight coach, with a $1,000 salary. When the Huskers won a national championship, his salary increased to $3,000. In 1972, after finishing a master’s degree, Epley became a full-time weight coach, the first in the Big Eight. The promotion didn’t result in a big raise. But Epley was focused on the future.

Devaney called him perhaps “the most underrated guy on the staff.”

In 1975, after turning down an offer from the NFL’s Detroit Lions, Epley became the conditioning coach as well as weight trainer, creating off-season strength and conditioning programs. “Coach Osborne recognized the value,” Epley said, recalling his long-ago meeting with Osborne and Fischer.

What Epley did and his vision, as well as the degree to which he did it, were among the things that would give Nebraska football a significant edge during Tom’s time.

Tom's Time is 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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