LINCOLN — Ever since Tom Osborne launched TeamMates back in 1991 along with his wife, Nancy, he never has been able to devote quite the time he would like to the mentoring program.
Osborne was tied up with things like being the Nebraska football coach, serving in Congress, running for governor and then returning to NU as athletic director.
After June 30, it will be getting a larger chunk of his attention.
“It's something at this point in my life that is very important,” Osborne said. “Important to me and, I think, important to young people.”
Osborne officially leaves the Huskers' athletic department on June 30. He retired on Jan. 2 as athletic director, but has still been putting in nine-hour days in an athletic director emeritus role to help with the transition to Shawn Eichorst.
“I've thought about it quite a bit and the main thing I want to focus on will be TeamMates, where we're currently approaching 7,000 matches across Nebraska and Iowa, and with a chapter in San Diego,” Osborne said. “We'd like to increase that to 10,000 matches by 2015, so we have to do a lot of recruiting of mentors.”
Osborne is the featured speaker for the annual B'nai B'rith sports banquet Thursday night at the CenturyLink Center. Several special guests also will be on hand to honor Osborne, who is speaking at the event for the second time.
Osborne, 76, said retirement might allow for a few more speaking engagements, but he plans to only take those that will benefit his recruiting efforts for TeamMates.
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“Right now there's about 30 percent more children that say they'd like to have a mentor than we do have mentors, so it's a never-ending process,” he said. “So you're looking at increasing by about 1,000 mentors a year over the next three years, and as graduates and others move on, really that means about 1,500.”
The past few weeks and months have brought the realization to Osborne that his time at NU is winding down. Although he is usually in his Osborne Complex office by 8:15 every morning, he attends fewer athletic department meetings than before and, when asked if he missed such things as the Big Ten meetings last week in Chicago, said “not particularly.”
“I've sat in on enough of those,” Osborne said. “I kind of know what goes on. Life will go on fine without me.”
He remains involved in some fundraising projects and visits with any recruits or staff who might stop by. There is still a steady flow of email correspondence. There are weekly visits with Eichorst that can include just about any topic of conversation.
As he's about to leave, Osborne also is taking his final looks at several facility projects that are nearing completion.
Nebraska will start hitting 90,000 for football games next season with the East Stadium expansion project at Memorial Stadium. The Husker volleyball team is moving into the renovated Devaney Center. And Pinnacle Bank Arena has already sold out of season tickets for its first season of men's basketball.
“Of course by now most of those projects are on autopilot,” Osborne said. “We have an excellent facility staff here with John (Ingram) and Maggi Thorne, and the contractors are doing excellent work and are people we know and trust. Occasionally, I'll stop by and see what progress they're making.”
Not only are the NU facilities a point of pride for Osborne, he said they should be for all Nebraskans — and noted that tremendous fan support is a big reason the projects get done.
“We're competing with states with more dense populations, therefore we need to maximize everything we can,” he said. “We have to have facilities that are above average, and in most cases we're at or near the top of the Big Ten.”
The A.D. baton already has been handed to Eichorst, and although Osborne has stayed in the background, he will soon completely step away. As far as he can tell, Osborne said, the transition has “gone very well.”
“Shawn is a thoughtful person,” Osborne said. “He's intelligent. He listens. And he studies things carefully before he makes a decision. I think he's working hard at trying to understand the lay of the land. I think he has a good grasp on the culture and the strengths and weaknesses of the athletic department, and how it fits into the state. I think he's doing a fine job.”
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