Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Football

Huskers Have a History with Staff Continuity

January 24, 2019
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At some point during the 1981 Nebraska football season I referred to Charlie McBride in a story I wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star as “defensive coordinator,” a title he wouldn’t have until a year later. It was fake news. 

He was in his fifth season as the Huskers’ defensive line coach. No one had the defensive coordinator’s title in 1981.

“Thanks for the promotion,” he said the next day.

I’m fairly certain there was some sarcasm in his voice. 

Prior to that season, Lance Van Zandt, who had succeeded Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator in 1977, left to join Bum Phillips’ staff with the New Orleans Saints, and Osborne had opted not to give the title to anyone. 

Kiffin, who also coached the defensive line, was the first Nebraska assistant with the title “defensive coordinator.” Bob Devaney didn’t designate coordinators. Kiffin had left to be defensive coordinator, and a year later assistant head coach (a résumé builder), for Lou Holtz at Arkansas.

In any case, evidence of my prescience (OK, not really), Osborne gave McBride the title in 1982, and he continued to hold it for two seasons after Osborne’s retirement in 1997. McBride had considered retiring after the 1997 season as well. But Osborne persuaded him to continue, helping new head coach Frank Solich in the difficult transition, a reflection of McBride’s loyalty.

Solich had been on Osborne’s staff since 1979, beginning as head freshman coach and succeeding Mike Corgan as running backs coach in 1983. “Iron Mike” had been among seven carryovers from Devaney’s staff. So he coached with Osborne for 10 seasons.

The point here is staff stability––among the many positives in the hiring of Scott Frost, who brought his entire coaching staff at Central Florida to Nebraska––of course. Now those assistants have been offered, and are signing, contract extensions, a basis for continued optimism.

At the risk of overwhelming you with numbers, not anecdotes, Osborne had 28 assistants over his 25 seasons as head coach, 11 of whom were with him for 10 years or more.

George Darlington was on Osborne’s staff from the beginning. Milt Tenopir was with Osborne for all but the first season. And McBride worked with Osborne for 21 seasons. He and Van Zandt had been hired the same year. Van Zandt also coached the defensive backs. 

Former Husker Warren Powers, the defensive backs coach, left to become the head coach in 1977 at Washington State — which, of course, came to Lincoln that season and upset Nebraska.

A year later, Powers was the head coach at Missouri — which came to Lincoln and upset Nebraska, a week after an Osborne-coached team defeated Oklahoma for the first time. The Missouri loss almost certainly cost the Huskers an opportunity to play for a national title in the Orange Bowl.

Osborne, like Devaney, was loyal to those who were loyal to him. That was a consideration in his stepping aside in 1997; he was concerned about the staff being able to stay together.

Not that Osborne wouldn’t support those looking to move on. 

Jerry Moore was the first assistant he hired, in 1972. Oops. 

Devaney, who also was the athletic director, had indicated he planned to step aside from coaching following the 1971 season. But he was persuaded to continue one more season in an attempt to win a third-consecutive national championship, something no coach had done.

As a result, Moore had to ask Hayden Fry, the head coach at North Texas, if he could have his assistant’s job back for one more season. Fry said he could.

When Fry left North Texas to become the head coach at Iowa, Moore applied for the North Texas job. Moore was allowed to include the title “offensive coordinator-wide receivers coach” on his application, even though Osborne coordinated the offense throughout his 25 seasons.

It was a bit of self “promotion,” you might say.

 
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