Tom Osborne: Faith, Football, & a Strong Foundation
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
University of Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne is certainly a person you can say has been there and done that. He paced the sidelines for 25 years as a head football coach at a major university winning three national championships in the process. He served six years as a U.S. Congressman, piloting several important bills into law. He earned a doctoral degree in educational psychology and taught for many years at the collegiate level. He even played three seasons in the NFL as a wide receiver.
In his new book, “Beyond the Final Score” (Regal Books), Osborne allows readers to glimpse the world through his eyes as he reflects on everything from leadership to changes in our culture to what he finds to be the most core principle in life – his faith.
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Osborne to discuss what success looks like, the importance of relationships in a person’s life, and why it is critical for every person to have a personal mission statement.
You have certainly worn a lot of different hats in your professional career. You have been an educator, a coach, a congressman, and now an athletic director for a major university. If you had to pick one of these which one do you consider yourself to be?
I think that typically the name that I’m called more than any of the others is coach. Even when I was in Washington people referred to me as coach. Maybe it was so they wouldn’t have to remember my name. I was the only coach in Congress so all they had to do was remember coach. I suppose that is my most significant role because I was an assistant for 11 years and then I was a head coach for 25 so most people, when they are doing something for 36 years that is probably your career. That is probably the number one role I had.
How did your venture into politics prepare you to come back into your current role as athletic director at the University of Nebraska? It is interesting to note you are now leading athletic programs that you helped build and cultivate.
Today, so many athletic directors are people who weren’t necessarily former players or coaches. At one time, most athletic directors were people who had been coaches. Now, it’s more business administration majors – people who have come from the business world or marketing. So, I think having been a coach has been helpful in my relationship with other coaches that we have in our program. I know what it is like to be on the sideline and have your first team quarterback hurt for the season. I understand a lot of the frustrations that coaches go through. I think I have been able through my experience in Washington to have some idea how organizations work and how they don’t work. And of course some of the business aspects of being athletic director I have either picked up along the way or had to learn. I think all of our background tends to prepare us for the next step in some way. I feel fortunate to have had all of those experiences but I probably feel most comfortable in the athletic arena because that is where most of my life has been spent.
In reading through your book and just generally knowing a lot about you, you have had a lot of what society considers to be great success. But I’m sure there was a fair amount of hardship along the way for you as well. To you, and I know you dig into this in your book, what does success look like?
I have always been a big fan of John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach at UCLA. John talks about success. Essentially the way he defines success is very similar to the way I would define it. It is doing the best you can with what you have been given. Sometimes there are people who are in given coaching situations where maybe they don’t have much in the way of facilities or a large amount of players to come out for a sport. And maybe they have losing season after losing season but they may have done a great job because they did the best job with what they had. There are many families who, financially or for whatever reason struggle in many ways. But if you have done all you can with what you have been given I feel that you are successful. That is not the way our culture normally measures success but that is the way I would look at it.
Why are relationships so important to a person’s success?
I think in the final analysis that the legacy we all leave is the impact that we have had on other people and they have had on us. I mention Stephen Covey’s approach in my book. Stephen, in one of his books, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”, suggests that it’s really important that you begin with the end in mind. How would it be if you sat down and wrote your obituary? Write down what you would want a family member to say. What would you want a business associate to say? What would you want a friend to say about you? Once you have done that you have some core values and things that are going to be of long term importance to you. I think that even though it is kind of a morbid idea, I have sat with a few people on their death bed and I knew and they knew we would never see each other again in this world. I have always been amazed that we have never talked about money. We have never talked about awards. We have never talked about great accomplishments. It’s almost always been about relationships, about family, and about caring for this person or that person. Also, issues of faith have usually surfaced at that time. It is so easy to get caught up in going from one thing to the next, one appointment to the next, and to lose track of where you are really headed. Many times, you let your spiritual life go. Eventually, it is going to be the most important thing about you.
You mention Stephen Covey and your admiration for him. He writes about the importance of having a personal mission statement. You stress that in your book as well. Why is it important for an individual to have a personal mission statement?
I think it is sort of like the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution supposedly has begun to veer off course brings us back. It gives us a set of core fundamental values. So, I begin with talking about having the end in mind. Once you have decided what those things are that are really important, then the next step would be to sit down and write a personal mission statement. What am I all about? What am I going to accomplish with the number of years that I have in my life? That mission statement should probably be based on those core values that come out of writing your obituary because ultimately you may be making a lot of money or pursuing a lot of pleasure, having certain titles and awards. In the final analysis these things aren’t going to be that important.
In your book, you write a chapter or two about the importance of having a good foundation in your life. Why is it so important for people to develop this?
We live in a world where there is a strong tendency toward something called post-modernism. Post-modernism is really the idea that there are no moral absolutes. Everything is relative and is dependent upon society and the people around us. So, if enough people are cheating on their income taxes it is probably ok because there are no moral absolutes. At Enron, everybody was cooking the books. That’s ok because people are doing it. My feeling is that you have to have a set of core fundamental values that you can live your life on. One of the difficult things for so many young people today is that they are being pushed and pulled in all of these different directions without any compass, without anything that will keep them on track. I think that getting a worldview that makes sense – in my case, I have a justification or a rationalization for a Christian worldview. There are many different worldviews out there that are competing for our allegiance and our attention. So, I think it is very important that we have a good understanding of where we are coming from. And of course if you are of a Christian disposition you have the basic rule book – the Scriptures -- that give you something to hang your hat on. So many people don’t have this anymore.
Final question, after people have read this book what do you want them to take away with them for life application?
I think the basic theme behind it all is that no matter what role you are in that you do have a chance to serve. You can honor God with whatever circumstances you have been given. Maybe it is washing pots and pans, maybe it is carrying out the garbage, or maybe it is being a head football coach, but that is essentially what we are called to do -- to honor Him with how we serve other people. Hopefully, everybody can think about their role and how it applies to them.
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To purchase "Beyond the Final Score"
articles and interviews by Chris Carpenter on CBN.com
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