Thursday, October 01, 2009

Tom Osborne, Beyond The Final Score: There's More to Life Than the Game – Family, Mentoring, Leadership, Serving (a book review by Andis Kaulins)

The legendary Nebraska Cornhuskers football head coach Tom Osborne was a three-time representative in Congress from Nebraska's 3rd congressional district. We guarantee you a smile if you look at this map of that district. Well, OK, it is not ALL of the state.... I wonder how many - or few - of Osborne's colleagues in Congress knew that? It is one of the largest congressional districts in the nation.

Now, on to the book.

Did you know that it takes at least 5 positive comments for every 1 negative comment in a family environment for a healthy family environment to be maintained? and at least 3 positive comments to 1 negative comment to maintain a healthy work environment? and that a simple 1 to 1 balance of positive and negative comments is on the road to separation and divorce in a partnership?

That a positive balance of comments is critical would appear to be self-understood, but that the ratio must be so high is a revelation. That astonishing piece of information is cited in Beyond The Final Score, There's More to Life Than the Game, a truly remarkable book of wisdom by the legendary football coach Tom Osborne, published by Regal Books of Gospel Light, a not-for-profit Christian ministry.

Although the book emphasizes service to God as a guiding personal light, the principles presented are universal and equally applicable to all of us. As Osborne writes:
"Please don't get the idea that I was some kind of religious nut. I was simply trying to apply principles of faith in a highly competitive arena... [My] approach to leadership and team building is related to my faith. I believe that each and every person should be treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve." [emphasis added]
For Tom Osborne, that has been a fantastically successful philosophy.



The cover of my review copy of Beyond The Final Score, There's More to Life Than the Game carries a quotation - not seen above - from Warren Buffett, probably the world's most successful investor, stating: "Tom Osborne improves the lives of everyone he encounters."

If Osborne's book has one definable purpose, then that is the purpose it surely serves. This book can improve your life. It has already improved mine, and I am simply reviewing the book.

It is a rare football coach who would begin the first chapter of his book with a quotation by Mark Twain, author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, and known affectionately as the "father" of American literature. Osborne quotes Twain:
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Right from the start of Beyond The Final Score, There's More to Life Than the Game, the reader of Osborne's book is thus aware that this is not simply a personal collection of memoirs, but rather a potentially valuable work of wisdom for everyone, written by three-time congressman Osborne, who is not only famous as the former head football coach at Nebraska but is also a respected leadership educator, who at age 72 presently serves as the Athletic Director at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

When Tom Osborne (pronounced OZ-burn) retired in 1997 as head football coach of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, "Oz" was his own legend, having won at least nine games in every coaching season and having compiled the then best winning percentage among active Division I-A coaches for a 255-49-3 won-loss record. In his last game as Husker head coach in the 1998 FedEx Orange Bowl, the Huskers won the national championship in the coaches poll, beating Tennessee and Peyton Manning, 42-17.

Indeed, Tom Osborne had gotten better as the years went by, winning 60 games and losing only 3 in his last five seasons, while winning three national championships (1994, 1995, and 1997). In fact, ESPN fans in 2006 rated his 1995 Husker team the best college football team of all time. That same Number 1 rank was assigned to the unbeaten 1995 team in 2005 by Sports Illustrated viz. CBS and Sagarin and in 2001 to the football program as a whole by scout.com. An amazing thirty-three of the players on the Husker's 1995 roster went on to play professional or semi-pro football.

ESPN named Osborne coach of the decade in 1999 and an ESPN poll in 2007 voted Osborne the greatest college football coach of all time. Such accolades are of course always subjective, but, whether you agree or disagree, they do reflect a level of achievement that is outstanding.

But how many football or other fans know the true story of how Osborne became a Nebraska assistant coach to begin with. Osborne relates the story in his book Beyond The Final Score, There's More to Life Than the Game (pp. 182-183):
"When I asked Bob Devaney if I could join his coaching staff, he told me that he had no positions open. However, he said that if I wanted to do so, I could move into an undergraduate dorm with seven or eight players who were causing trouble. If I had success with them Bob and I would revisit the possibility of coaching. These guys had developed a kind of frontier mentality: Anyone who trespassed their territory would suffer the consequences. The dorm counselors were afraid of them, and the school's administrators seemed at a loss for how to deal with the problem....

When I wasn't breaking up fights, I made every effort to get to know each one of the guys. Living side by side with them, day in and day out, helped me to build relationships of trust. And that was the key, I think, in helping them turn things around."
Oz was successful and Bob Devaney was proven to be a very wise man.
Oz got the job.

(Note via LawPundit on the unexpected but close connection of academics, football and law: Bob Devaney became NU head coach through a suggestion made to then NU Chancellor Clifford Hardin (later U.S. Secretary of Agriculture) by Michigan State head coach Duffy Daugherty. I went to school with Hardin's children. Cynthia Hardin Milligan is a J.D. and the Dean Emeritus of the Business School at the University of Nebraska, whose husband Robert S. Milligan is the current Chairman of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Cynthia Hardin Milligan worked together with Tom Osborne at the University of Nebraska on leadership matters. Nancy Hardin Rogers is also a J.D. and is the daughter-in-law of the late former U.S. Attorney General and Secretary of State William P. Rogers. She is herself a former Attorney General of Ohio and past President of the Association of American Law Schools.)

In the same years that Tom Osborne was beginning his football coaching career, I was in my undergraduate student days at the University of Nebraska. One semester I had a very early morning weight-lifting class (7:30 a.m.) in the basement of the University of Nebraska Coliseum in Lincoln (see video), which today houses the very successful Huskers volleyball program, but then was the arena for Cornhusker basketball games.

That same Coliseum today holds the women's sports NCAA record for the most consecutive sellouts, and I always felt good in the classic aura of that building (see video). Indeed, if I arrived early for my weight-lifting class - this was ca. 6:30 a.m. - I would go shoot baskets on the practice basketball floor prior to that class - I had my own ball.

Few people were even awake on campus at that early hour, and I was usually alone, but I did meet one other person there several times shooting baskets just like I was, very early in the morning. He was a tall (6'5") player who had been selected as an All-State basketball player in high school and was voted the Nebraska Athlete of the Year in 1955. His name, Tom Osborne, who was - then - an assistant for the University of Nebraska football team and - today - is in the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame.

As we all know from Benjamin Franklin, philosophy and wisdom aside, success comes through hard work and effort, quoting ushistory.org: "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise" and Osborne's day began early. I am sure Osborne does not remember me from those early morning basketball encounters, but they were significant enough for me that I can recall them well. This was BEFORE Osborne became a famous coaching name.

It is interesting to see that good habits, once made, are not easily broken, although they may have to be amended to adapt to a change of circumstances. Osborne specifically refers in his book to the gym as an "oasis from partisanship" during his years as a congressman in Washington D.C., where he "made many friends on both sides of the aisle during my evening trips to the gym ... and ... would often stay until it closed around 10:00 P.M. I've always enjoyed working out, and the friendships that I formed there made it an even better experience." The time(s) had changed, but the good habits had remained. Note that Osborne was quite clearly not a supporter of the type of blind partisanship that often marks our vastly improvable Congress.

We were very much moved by Osborne's discussion in his book of the values of family, mentoring, leadership and serving, especially his conviction that "leadership as service", what Osborne calls "transformational leadership", is the best of all leadership forms, even though it is the most difficult to attain.

Osborne tells us on this leadership topic that:
"How a person leads is greatly influenced by his or her understanding of the world ... worldviews are inextricably tied to leadership.

There are so many interesting things discussed in Osborne's book that no review can do them justice. Beyond the Final Score should be read in full.

Osborne concludes:
"Is success just about winning? Acclaim? Trophies? Wealth? Our personal happiness or satisfaction? I have been blessed to experience some of these over the years, and I can answer without batting an eye: No. Accomplishments, applause, awards and fortune are rewards that often come as the result of hard work and a determined spirit, but there is something bigger. Something better. Something that will outlast the winningest season, the plushest corner office, the heftiest bonus and the loudest cheers. That something can only be found when we look beyond the final score." - Tom Osborne, Beyond The Final Score, There's More to Life Than the Game, p. 17

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