A self-described old guy from Lincoln shared a secret with Omaha college students for living the life they hope to live: Write your own obituary.
“Begin with the end in mind,’’ said the 76-year-old triple retiree. “There’s nothing worse than to be my age and figure you blew it. You had a chance. You only had so much time and energy, and it was spent in the wrong way.’’
Tom Osborne shared the secrets Tuesday of how Nebraska football's culture of integrity, caring and teamwork created the nation's most successful college program in the half-century since Bob Devaney arrived as head coach in 1962.
No other major college football program can match Nebraska's 79 percent winning percentage during the period, Osborne said.
“We won 50 more games than any other school,'' Osborne said. “That's one a year. It's statistically significant.”
The former Nebraska football coach and athletic director and congressman talked with about 220 students and others at UNO about how to establish a culture of excellence through positive experiences and mentorship, even after retirement.
All organizations develop a culture, whether by design or not, Osborne said. While Osborne was associated with University of Nebraska athletics, he said, the coaches and administrators focused on recruiting and playing with integrity.
Recruited players were promised nothing more than an opportunity, he said.
“The right ones came and, for the most part, the wrong ones didn't,'' Osborne said.
Integrity is a choice, not a natural-born trait, he said.
“You have a choice every day to tell the truth or not,'' he said. “You essentially choose your character.''
Osborne spoke to gerontology students, student-athletes and faculty members, joking that he was probably the oldest person the gerontology students would encounter this side of the grave. UNO's gerontology department sponsored the lecture.
Osborne was asked what he would tell Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini, if he asked for advice about anything.
“I've talked with Bo about a hundred times,'' Osborne said. “We talk about a lot of things. Bo is hot-wired, but less so. He's gotten better. He is more reflective.''
Osborne said there are many ways to coach.
“You've got to coach your personality,'' he said. “You've got to coach who you are. He's got to be himself.''
Answering a student's question, Osborne said the greatest obstacle he has overcome was his personality.
“I tend to be kind of a driven person,'' he said.
Osborne said he encouraged his players to seek spirituality, which didn't have to be faith or religion.
“We wanted to make sure there was something in their lives that they could give themselves to,'' he said.
Players were expected to volunteer for community service projects. Some became mentors.
Osborne said he's proud of the TeamMates mentoring program he and his wife, Nancy, founded in 1991 in an effort to provide support and encouragement to school-age youths.
He works about 40 hours a week recruiting mentors and support for TeamMates.
The program's goal is to see youths graduate from high school and pursue post-secondary education. Mentors, who are volunteers, meet one hour a week with a young person to give them a sense of hope, purpose and vision. Activities include homework assignments, sharing common interests or simply talking.
TeamMates serves about 6,500 kids in 112 communities in Nebraska, Iowa and California. The program partners with local school districts from the largest urban settings to some of the smallest and most isolated rural schools.
Osborne wants TeamMates to reach 10,000 youths across the country and be nationally recognized as the leading school-based mentoring program by 2015. The National Mentoring Partnership estimates 15 million young people in the United States need a mentor.
Osborne credited self-help author Stephen Covey with the idea of writing own obituary to identify life goals and important character values.
“What would you want a friend, a colleague or a family member to say about you?'' he said. “Then look carefully at those things written out. Probably on that piece of paper will be the things that will be important to you at the end.''
Osborne's appearance was part of the gerontology department's Dr. Chuck Powell Memorial Lecture Series. Powell was a Navy commander for 30 years, then earned a doctorate at UNO and taught there until his death in 2009.