"No matter how crazy things were going on around him, you knew Coach was going to be calm," said Terry Connealy, who played defensive tackle on the 1994 national championship team. "We weren't going to get caught up in the emotion of the moment. He's a calming influence. That's what the program needed when he came back as the athletic director, with all the perceived turmoil."
Chancellor Harvey Perlman asked Osborne to return in 2007 to stabilize an athletic department whose flagship sport was in a free fall under coach Bill Callahan and whose staff was burdened by low morale under Steve Pederson.
Osborne's first acts were to fire Callahan and hire Bo Pelini, who has won no fewer than nine games in his five seasons and led the Huskers to three conference championship games, and mend fences with boosters and former players who felt alienated by Pederson.
The Student Life Complex, which opened in 2010, houses the academic support arm of the athletic department and has been voted the best facility of its kind in college athletics.
The Hendricks Training Complex, which opened in 2011, is one of the nation's top basketball practice facilities. The men's and women's teams will play in the downtown Pinnacle Bank Arena beginning next fall after four decades in the Devaney Sports Center.
A Memorial Stadium expansion, to be completed for the 2013 season, will increase capacity to more than 90,000.
"In my mind, he took us to a whole new level," 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers said. "He took us to the most prestigious conference, more television time than ever, which will help us in recruiting. And there are more academic dollars for university and more prestige."
Trev Alberts, an All-America linebacker for the Huskers in the early 1990s and now the Nebraska-Omaha athletic director, said some people might be surprised at how much Osborne accomplished in his five years running the athletic department in Lincoln.
"It goes back to his experience as a coach," Alberts said. "He recognized that if he had gone back with the plan to just be a caretaker, there would have been a significant slide. He loves to solve problems and move forward."