Osborne shares his formula for living a good life Tom Osborne prepares to autograph copies of his book for Ric and Kay Rasmussen of Vermillion, and their children Erin and Jason. by David Lias "How do you do this?"
It was a simple question, asked by one of Nebraska's favorite sons to a woman working in the midst of poverty and death.
The response Tom Osborne of University of Nebraska Cornhusker fame received from a humble Roman Catholic nun still lives with him today, and likely will always play a part in his daily life.
Osborne spoke Thursday to a capacity audience of 500 in the Wayne S. Knutson Theatre on The University of South Dakota campus.
Four years ago, Osborne visited a home in Haiti established by Mother Teresa. A small staff of nuns cared for dying children, from infants to age 3.
"Most of them were AIDS babies, and none of them were going to live," Osborne said.
Sustained by discipline
One of the sisters was from Canada, and spoke English. While she was taking a five minute break, Osborne, who had not yet retired from coaching at Nebraska, approached her.
"I know you just took your vows, I know you're not going to be back to Canada for 10 years, I know you work seven days a week and I know you lose 100 percent of your patients," Osborne said to her. "I know a little bit about losing, but how in the world can you do this? It doesn't seem like it's humanly possible."
"We have three hours a day that we are able to spend in personal devotions, and so we spend that time in prayer and meditation and Scriptures and good worship," the nun replied, "and that's what sustains us. That discipline is what carries us forward."
Thursday night, standing before an audience ranging from university students to Vermillion residents of his generation, Osborne spoke of how important it is for everyone to nurture personal discipline, character and honesty.
At the start of every football season at Nebraska, the Cornhuskers were one of 114 teams in Division 1A. During his coaching career, there were usually always up to 15 other college football teams that were good enough to be championship contenders.
"Over the years, I've thought about what separates those teams that have potential, and those that don't," Osborne said. "The longer I was in coaching, the more I realized that the distinguishing factor wasn't what you would think. It wasn't height, weight and speed, it wasn't athletic ability, it wasn't how smart the coaches were.
"It simply revolved primarily around issues of character," he added. "It seemed that those teams that exemplified the most attributes that had to do
with character were usually the ones that were able to be successful."
Character does count
The coach-turned-political candidate said many of the things that people in today's society chase after probably aren't as important as they would like to think.
"In the final analysis, when you reach the end of the rope, the most important thing about you will be your character," he said.
Osborne said he was alarmed about the results of a recent survey that indicates up to 70 percent of American adults say there is no correlation between private behavior and job performance.
"Essentially what that poll says, when you think about it, is that character doesn't count," he said. "What they're saying is that your private life, what your character is, has no relation to how you do you job."
Chalk up character as part of the formula for Nebraska's football success, Osborne said.
Strong work ethic
"I think someone who has sound character, someone who has the character traits that you are looking for, is someone who will pay a price and will work hard," Osborne said.
The retired coach said he wished he could say it was his idea to make his players work hard, but it wasn't. They did it on their own.
"About half of our players were walk-ons," Osborne said. "A walk-on player is someone who comes to your program without a scholarship and simply by effort and sheer discipline is trying to get a place on the team.
"And so, by definition, these guys were over-achievers," he added. "And they will pay a great price."
This formula for success isn't limited only to college football players.
"I don't care whether you are in music or academics, if you're in the school of business, if you're interested in spiritual growth or if you're interested in being a great athlete, you have to pay a price," Osborne said. "And it's not a sometime thing, it's an all-the-time thing."
Osborne said an important component of character is honesty.
"Honesty has to do with trust, and I guess if a player ever lied to me, I would never trust him again," he said. "The point is, once somebody breaks that trust with you, once they lie to you, you never know when they're going to do it again."
Osborne said he is sure his football players at Nebraska would have felt the same way if he would have intentionally misled them.
"A great organization � I don't care whether it's a football team or a family or a business � is based upon trust," he said. "If you can't trust your leaders, if you can't trust the people you work with, if you can't trust the people who follow you, you've got a problem."
Part of the success of the Cornhusker football program, Osborne said, is that people trust in the system.
"We lost some players because we didn't tell them what they wanted to hear," he said. "What we felt was important was simply to tell them that they had an opportunity. We wouldn't offer players scholarships if we didn't think they were good players, but they had to earn their playing time. The honesty factor was important."
According to Osborne, Americans live in a culture where honesty is not valued.
"I would like to affirm with you the idea that in the long haul, honesty will pay off," he said. "You don't have to have a 150 IQ to be honest."
Nor does one need extraordinary athletic ability. "It doesn't have anything to do with special talent, it has to do with decisions. Every day you are confronted with a number of times when you have the opportunity to tell the truth, or tell a lie, or shade the truth, or to deceive somebody," Osborne said. "The important thing is what you do with those decisions. If you make the right decisions often enough, I think eventually you'll get to the point where you find that it comes very easily."
A system of deception
Osborne urged USD students to avoid many of the messages prominent in today's media.
"If you watch television and movies, you're indoctrinated with the message that promiscuity is common, is acceptable, is pleasurable and nobody gets hurt," he said. "But I guess as I sat across the desk with young men for 36 years, I came to realize that promiscuity always diminishes. As a result, our culture is paying a huge price."
He added that the biggest drug problem found on college campuses today is alcohol abuse. A high percentage of teen-aged youth become involved in binge drinking. Osborne knows that many college students believe it's impossible to have a good time without alcohol.
"I'm not saying to you to not drink," he said. "I'm just asking you to be sure to understand what you're getting into. Make sure you understand that what the culture is telling you is not necessarily true. All of those commercials that come on during the Super Bowl and the college football games and the college basketball games show people having a great time ? they don't show you the other side of it. They don't show you the skid row, the broken people and the broken lives."
Truth brings happiness
American society, in Osborne's view, is being presented with one big lie after the other by today's media, especially in advertising.
"I think one of the dominant themes that you've been inculcated with is that things will make you happy," he told the university students. "Somehow this will fulfill you, this will make you happy. But, I guess the longer I've lived, the more I've come to realize that this isn't true."
Once again, his recent experience in Haiti affirmed his beliefs. He walked among 200,000 people who lived in flimsy cardboard and tin shacks they had built on a garbage dump. There was no running water, no sewage system, and no sanitation.
"They were the happiest people, the most joyful people, and they had nothing," Osborne said. "Happiness, satisfaction, joyfulness in your life doesn't have to do with stuff, even though that's what you've been told."