Friday, July 13, 2012

Unlike Paterno, Osborne's legacy still intact

Sometimes the present in other places can make you think of the past within your circle.

Remember years ago when, as Nebraska fans, we would gnash or teeth at why various people around the nation defined him more by his defense of running back Lawrence Phillips than his sterling 255-49-3 record that included 13 conference titles and three national titles?

More on that scenario in a moment but since last Friday’s ESPN report on CNN, reports have shown that former Penn State head coach was a much bigger enabler in what has become the “Penn State scandal” that anyone wished to believe.

Various reports have surfaced and have indicated high-ranking university officials, including Paterno and Graham Spanier, the former Penn State president who served as Nebraska’s chancellor from 1991-95.

The report becomes a serious indictment of Paterno because they have strongly suggested he influenced a top university official to avoid notifying child welfare authorities of a 2001 incident in which then-graduate assistant Mike McQueery witnessed Jerry Sandusky, who was Penn State’s defensive coordinator, abusing a boy in a locker room shower.

CNN reported that Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz discussed and later rejected plans to alert authorities about the shower incident. Citing emails from 2001, CNN reported that Curley wrote that he changed his mind after speaking with Paterno.

On June 23, Sandusky was found guilty of sexually abusing 10 boys and was convicted on 45 of 48 charges. Those offenses only scratch the surface in describing the lives he damaged along the way.  

The motivation, according to the findings of the investigation, was simple and unconscionable: “avoid the consequences of bad publicity.”

During his 61 years at Penn State, Paterno became a beloved figure well beyond his 409-136-3 record. He and his wife, Sue, donated more than $4 million to Penn State, and funded the school's library that bears their names. Paterno died of complications from lung cancer on January 22, 2012.

Turning to Osborne, his biggest negative and positive defining moment came in 1995. On the field, Nebraska field its best team in program history if not college football history. The Huskers went 13-0, smashed Florida 62-24 in the National Championship game and its closest win was by 14 points (35-21 to Washington State). Phillips became an early front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. During the Huskers’ win over Michigan State in their second game of the season, Phillips had 206 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries. After two games on the season, he was averaging more than 11 yards per carry and had scored six touchdowns. After the team had returned from East Lansing, Michigan, Phillips was arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Kate McEwen, a basketball player for the Nebraska women’s team. Phillips was subsequently suspended from the Husker football team by Osborne. The case became a source of great controversy and media attention, with perceptions arising that Osborne was coddling a star player by not kicking Phillips off the team permanently. Osborne defended the decision, saying that abandoning Phillips might do more harm than good. In Osborne’s view, the best way to help Phillips was within the structured environment of the football program. Osborne reinstated Phillips for the Iowa State game, although touted freshman Ahman Green continued to start. Phillips also contributed against Kansas and Oklahoma.

Osborne, despite pressure from the national media, named Phillips the starter for the Fiesta Bowl, which pitted No. 1 Nebraska against No. 2 Florida for the national championship. In the game, Phillips rushed for 165 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries and also scored a touchdown on a 16-yard reception in the Cornhuskers' 62-24 victory. The performance boosted Phillips’s draft stock. With Osborne’s encouragement, he decided to turn pro a year early.

At the time, Osborne’s critics suggested that he re-instated Phillips to “win the National Championship.” Nothing could be further from the truth because WITHOUT Phillips Nebraska smashed two Top 10 opponents (Colorado 44-21 on the road and Kansas State 49-24 at home). If Osborne was so “win at all costs” then why would he bring Phillips back in those games. I’ll concede that Osborne should have thumbed Phillips’ ass off the team but not because he was a “win at all costs coach.” Nebraska beats Florida in the National title game with or without Phillips because the Huskers were a more complete team.

My argument for kicking Phillips off the team was because he had various minor incidents; Osborne gave Phillips every chance he could to rehabilitate himself.

So why do I justify Osborne and not Paterno, you ask?

It’s very simple, while I do not condone any type of domestic abuse, an adult partner might be threatened and in some cases might be scared to go to the authorities but at least they know how to do it. Also, in the case of Phillips and his abuse, McEwen was no angle in this matter either. Osborne stated in his book titled “On Solid Ground” that he had warned both Phillips and McEwen to stay away from each other because their relationship had become toxic. Also, Osborne had taken plenty of chances on at-risk kids like Phillips and made a difference. Unfortunately, Osborne hurt himself in terms of how he was perceived but I don’t think he should be defined by it.

Do Paterno do more good in than his life than bad? Yes. I still believe that. After Paterno’s passing, I blogged on this very sight about how his legacy was complicated:

So why is it not so complicated now? I can justify loyal friendship for just about anything. Let’s say Sandusky (for the sake of discussion) gets in a bar-room fight or gets frisky with a woman with unwanted advances or even embezzles money from the University. I can overlook those because no one is defenseless. Those boys he molested were in no position to be defended but Paterno had been made aware on multiple occasions and chose to do nothing.

Well, at least Osborne still has his legacy intact.

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