Tag Archives: Tom Osborne

In Frost We Trust

September 4, 2018 by
Photography by contributed

When the University of Nebraska football program again failed to produce a winning season last fall, new athletic director Bill Moos fired head coach Mike Riley and promptly hired former Husker Scott Frost. After years of losing, Nebraska is hopeful that they have found a winner with Frost. The Wood River, Nebraska, native quarterbacked NU to its last national championship in 1997, under the direction of legendary Husker head coach Tom Osborne.

Bringing Frost back into the fold for the much-scrutinized role of head football coach in Lincoln was an easy decision because he fits NU culture to a T.

“Nobody else would have generated that type of enthusiasm,” Osborne says. “He’s here now and we’re glad to see it. Where Scott really brings a lot to the table is he understands Nebraska and what you have to do in a sparsely populated state where there’s cold weather and not a lot of geographical advantages like beaches or mountains.” 

Osborne continues, “I don’t think there’s anybody more prepared than Scott to do the job. He’s intelligent, he has energy, he’s played and coached offense and defense at a high level.”

In Nebraska, Frost has only coached the 2018 exhibition spring game, but he is viewed as the deliverer who will lead the program out of the wilderness of mediocrity and irrelevancy it has fallen into. 

Fans are voicing their approval via social media and sports talk shows. They are also purchasing extensive amounts of Husker merchandise and tickets, making donations, and turning out for events at increased rates. 

Call it the Scott Frost Effect.

NU is taking advantage of this return-of-the-conquering-hero narrative by ramping-up development efforts wherever large bases of Husker fans reside.

“We’re really reaching outside the borders,” says NU Executive Associate Athletic Director Marc Boehm, who oversees external operations.

He says fundraising junkets to Chicago, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, and Palm Springs and Naples, Florida, are tapping into “enthusiasm over the hire and for the direction the program is heading.”

Nebraska Alumni Association Executive Director Shelley Zaborowski notes a ripple effect.

“We have certainly seen increased interest from alumni,” she says. “Our trip to Chicago for the upcoming Northwestern football game sold out in record time, our allocation of football tickets sold quickly, and we have received a high volume of calls about the Nebraska Champions Club.”

The association’s previous trips for the Northwestern game sold out between July 1 and the start of football season. This year tickets were nearly gone by the spring game in April; however, this is also the first year the alumni association has used an online ticketing system.

The waiting list for tailgate spots at the Nebraska Champions Club has grown by nearly 50 percent this spring. Zabroski wrote in an email that the membership numbers for May were the third best since 2014.

“It’s a little soon for us to attribute a spike in membership to ‘the Frost Effect,’ but we have high hopes the collective enthusiasm will pay off in that way, too. Anecdotally, there are a lot of people excited—[with] our local alumni and our chapters across the country. His return home is a point of pride and enthusiasm for Nebraska alumni and friends.”

University of Nebraska Foundation President & CEO Brian Hastings echoes the sentiment.

“Our fundraisers travel around Nebraska and the country, and they certainly are hearing a lot of excitement and enthusiasm from our alumni and supporters. Athletics—especially football—is a front door to the university, so we are excited to have a lot of eyes on the University of Nebraska this fall.”

Wherever Frost has appeared, he has been well received. A record 86,000-plus fans attended the April 21 spring game at Memorial Stadium. 

The June 11-12 Husker Nation Tour saw the new head coach, his assistants, and Moos and other administrators criss-cross the state to pump the Big Red well in anticipation of the 2018 season. High-energy crowds turned out at all 26 town stops. 

All good signs the Frost Effect is paying dividends.

“There are barometers in which to confirm that,” Moos says. “We sold out our spring game, which is basically a scrimmage, in less than 36 hours. [It was the first time the game has sold out] It was incredible. Our season ticket renewal rate was 96 percent. That’s about 1.5 percent higher than in 2017, but you’ve got to realize there aren’t a lot of seats available year-to-year.

“Our novelty stores and online site Fanatics were up about 10 percent in December [over the previous December] after Scott’s hire from people jumping on the wagon to celebrate the coming home of one of our stars. We’ve seen a great surge in sales—over 15 percent—in Husker items from all of our licensees.”

Husker Hounds owner Scott Strunc says, “Coach Frost has generated a ton of excitement again with Husker Nation. Our sales are up 40 percent from last year through May. I anticipate the excitement building as the first game gets closer. The ‘Frost Effect’ has been the best thing to happen to our business in 20 years.”

Positive media spin generates free publicity.

“The media has been all over our campus following this new era,” Moos says. “We’ve had USA Today, Sports Illustrated, espn.com, The Athletic, Bleacher Report, cbsports.com, and the Big Ten Network. It’s a big story and big excitement.”

Boehm has “seen a lot of ups and downs” with Husker football’s following since 2001.”This past year it was getting concerning, where you saw a little apathy setting in, which is never good,” he says. “Then once that hire hit, it was game on. The biggest thing is that the state is now unified. When that happens, it can be a pretty big force.”

Boehm says the economic engine of Husker football will be most felt in-season, when fans spend thousands of dollars at the stadium and at bars, restaurants, hotels, and shops in Lincoln.  Fans watching the games at Omaha venues will do
the same.

“Nebraskans are very proud, and right now that pride is back,” he says, “and it’s much more than the investment—it’s the time and energy donors and prospects put into coming to the games. Forget about the financial end, it’s actually showing up and being emotionally invested again.”

Nebraska proudly touts the NCAA record for consecutive home football sellouts and Osborne says that streak “certainly was in dire jeopardy if we hadn’t got somebody like Scott to come back,” adding, “I think it’s important that people have hope and I think there’s a renewed sense of hope.”

Moos observes how “the feverish pitch of the fan base” is in stark contrast to the mood he found upon arriving in November.

“I’ve always felt that what intercollegiate athletics could do for an institution is be a source of leadership, morale, and positive feeling,” Moos says. “All those things are in place and it’s just a real good time to be involved with the University of Nebraska. It’s been my experience that when football is firing on all cylinders, then all boats rise. The attention a school’s football program brings to it is something you can’t really put a price tag on. Applications for admission grow. Already have. Donations across campus improve. When people have a good feeling about their university, are happy with the results, and anticipate a good future, they’re more apt to loosen the purse strings and get involved, and that’s where I feel we are right now.”

Moos says the savvy Frost knows that as football goes, so goes the athletic department, and that, despite NU’s recent on-the-field struggles, the school boasts the tradition, facilities, financial resources, and fan support to be competitive.

“He’s aware. Scott’s been around the game a lot at every level and has been involved in some big-time college programs, so he knows what we have in comparison to others and is very appreciative.”

Few wish to broach what will happen if things don’t pan out with Frost. Osborne suggests this may be NU’s last, best chance to regain top status. “I think people more or less realize if this doesn’t work we’re going to be really hard-pressed to find somebody who can do better, because Scott has pretty much all the pieces you’re looking for.”

Moos echoes Osborne in expressing guarded optimism that all the right moving parts are in place—Frost being the key chess piece on the board.

“Scott definitely has the coaching know-how and not many times do you get to implement that at a place you love and that loves you. It’s a dream come true.”

Moos also knows fans’ fickle nature can turn this honeymoon into hell if NU doesn’t win big
under Frost. 

He quips, “But, hey, we’re still undefeated.”


Visit huskers.com for more information about Nebraska football.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

Giving a Helping Hand to Nebraska Greats

March 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Memory-makers.

That’s what former Husker gridiron great Jerry Murtaugh calls the ex-collegiate athletes whose exploits we recall with larger-than-life nostalgia.

Mythic-like hero portrayals aside, athletes are only human. Their bodies betray them. Medical interventions and other emergencies drain resources. Not every old athlete can pay pressing bills or afford needed care. That’s where the Nebraska Greats Foundation that Murtaugh began five years ago comes in. The charitable organization assists memory-makers who lettered in a sport at any of Nebraska’s 15 universities or colleges.

“All the money we generate goes into helping the memory-makers and their families,” Murtaugh says.

Its genesis goes back to Murtaugh missing a chance to help ailing ex-Husker star Andra Franklin, who died in 2006. When he learned another former NU standout, Dave Humm, was hurting, he made it his mission to help. Murtaugh got Husker coaching legend Tom Osborne to endorse the effort and write the first check.

“The foundation has been a source of financial aid to many former Huskers who are in need, but also, and maybe equally important, it has helped bind former players together in an effort to stay in touch and to serve each other,” Osborne says. “I sense a feeling of camaraderie and caring among our former players not present in many other athletic programs around the country.”

The foundation has since expanded its reach to letter-winners from all Nebraska higher ed institutions.

By the start of 2018, more than $270,000 raised by the foundation went to cover the needs of 12 recipients. Three recipients subsequently died from cancer. As needed, the foundation provides for the surviving spouse and children of memory-makers. 

The latest and youngest grantee is also the first female recipient—Brianna Perez. The former York College All-America softball player required surgery for a knee injury suffered playing ball. Between surgery, flying to California to see her ill mother, graduate school, and unforeseen expenses, Perez went into debt.

“She found out about us, we reviewed her application, and her bills were paid off,” Nebraska Greats Foundation Administrator Margie Smith says. “She cried and so did I.”

It’s hard for proud ex-athletes to accept or ask for help, says all-time Husker hoops great Maurtice Ivy, who serves on the board. Yet they find themselves in vulnerable straits that can befall anyone. Giving back to those who gave so much, she says, “is a no-brainer.”

The hard times that visit these greats are heartbreaking. Some end up in wheelchairs, others homeless. Some die and leave family behind.

“I cry behind closed doors,” Murtaugh says. “One of the great ones we lost, a couple weeks before he passed away said, ‘All I’m asking is take care of my family.’ So, we’re doing our best. What I’m proud of is, we don’t leave them hanging. Our athlete, our brother, our sister has died, and we just don’t stop there—we clear up all the medical bills the family faces. We’re there for them.”

“We become advocates, cheerleaders, and sounding boards for them and their families,” Smith says. “I am excited when I write checks to pay their bills, thrilled when they make a full recovery, and cry when they pass away. But we’re helping our memory-makers through their time of need. Isn’t this what life is all about?”

Smith says the foundation pays forward what the athletes provided fans in terms of feelings and memories.

“We all want to belong to something good,” she says. “That is why the state’s collegiate sports programs are so successful. We cheer our beloved athletes to do their best to make us feel good. We brag about the wins, cry over the losses. The outcome affects us because we feel a sense of belonging. These recipients gave their all for us. They served as role models. Now it’s our turn to take care of them.”

Murtaugh is sure it’s an idea whose time has come.

“Right now, I think we’re the only state that helps our former athletes,” he says. “Before I’m dead, I’m hoping every state picks up on this and helps their own because the NCAA isn’t going to help you after you’re done. We know that. And that’s what we’re here for—we need to help our own. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Funds raised go directly to creditors, not recipients.

He says two prominent athletic figures with ties to the University of Nebraska—Barry Alvarez, who played football at NU and coached Wisconsin, where he’s athletic director, and Craig Bohl, who played and coached at NU’s football program, led North Dakota State to three national titles, and now coaches Wyoming—wish to start similar foundations.

Murtaugh and his board, comprised mostly of ex-athletes like himself, are actively getting the word out across the state and beyond to identify more potential recipients and raise funds to support them. He’s confident of the response.

“We’re going to have the money to help all the former athletes in the state who need our help,” he says. “Athletes and fans are starting to really understand the impact they all make for these recipients. People have stepped up and donated a lot of money. A lot of people have done a lot of things for us. But we need more recipients. We have some money in the bank that needs to be used.”

Because Nebraska collegiate fan bases extend statewide and nationally, Murtaugh travels to alumni and booster groups to present the foundation’s work. Everywhere he goes, he says, people get behind it.

“Nebraskans are the greatest fans in the country and they back their athletes in all 15 colleges and universities,” he says. “It’s great to see. I’m proud to be part of this, I really am.”

Foundation fundraisers unite the state around a shared passion. A golf classic in North Platte last year featured the three Husker Heisman Trophy winners—Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier, and Eric Crouch—for an event that raised $40,000. Another golf outing is planned for July in Kearney that will once more feature the Heisman trio.

Murtaugh envisions future events across the state so fans can rub shoulders with living legends and help memory-makers with their needs.

He sees it as one big “family” coming together “to help our own.”

Visit nebraskagreatsfoundation.org for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

A Home for Husker Healing

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nebraska football fans’ nationally recognized devotion to their team—the “Sea of Red” spilling from Memorial Stadium throughout downtown Lincoln on game days, and the subsisting pride of the `90s glory days—is epitomized by Tait Rief of Seward, Nebraska.

FanCave7Rief was a kid in the `90s, a kid captivated by the era’s Huskers heroes. His bedroom and basement are a testament to Nebraska football pride. Huskers décor fills the rooms: National Championship mugs, vintage Cornhusker Beverage soda bottles, rugs, pillows, pins, and team pennants—which, as a kid, Rief ordered each week by conference standings, always placing Nebraska first. In his bedroom, a bookcase displays three encased autographed footballs—signed by Joel Makovicka (fullback, 1994-1998), Grant Wistrom  (rush end, 1994-1997), and Sam Koch (punter, 2001-2005)—and a copy of the book Hero of the Underground signed by author Jason Peter (defensive tackle, 1993-1997).

Rief’s most cherished pieces of his collection—and his first autographs—are signed 1997 offense and defense posters. During a tour of Memorial Stadium when he was nine, Rief had his picture taken in then-head-coach Tom Osborne’s office and by the championship trophies, and then stood outside the weight room with his posters as the players came out. They signed his posters, and Scott Frost—all sweaty—patted his shoulder. “I was just in awe for the next week or two and never wanted to wash my shoulder again.” Rief hung up the posters with tacky in his room, circling Tom Osborne’s autograph in excitement.

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The `97 posters now hang framed in the basement, where Rief’s expansive collection continues. On the same wall is a Husker quilt, each block signed by members of the 2001 football team, a hutch displaying a miniature Nebraska helmet signed by Tommie Frazier (quarterback 1992-1995), a Memorial Stadium poster signed by head coach Mike Riley (his collection’s most recent addition), and a framed note signed by Ahman Green (I-back, 1995-1997) that reads, “Keep it going!!” On the opposite wall sits another hutch with more autographed footballs, including the signatures of Zach Wiegert (offensive tackle, 1992-1994), head coaches Osborne, Bo Pelini (2007-2014), and Frank Solich (1998-2003), and most of the 2001 team starters; a square of `90s Memorial Stadium turf; and ball caps signed by Osborne and Heisman winners Johnny Rodgers (wingback, 1970-1973), Mike Rozier (I-back, 1981-1983), and Eric Crouch (quarterback, 1998-2001).

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.As a freshman in 2001, Rief was involved in a Seward High School bus accident that left him with partial paralysis and short-term memory loss. In his bedroom and the basement are two identical small black-framed collages. Each collage depicts black-and-white photographs of Husker players including Rodgers, Wayne Meylan (middle guard, 1965-1967), and “Thunder” Thornton (fullback and lineback, 1960-1962), foregrounded with a color photograph of Jeff Kinney (halfback, 1969-1971) in the 1971 Game of the Century. “DETERMINATION” is printed in bold red lettering across the bottom of the image, followed by the quote, “The Harder You Work, The Harder It Is To Surrender.” Rief says that he values these words, as they “always inspired me to keep focused . . . during recovery.”

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His dad, Tom, recalls, “Tait’s always been a Husker fan. He always told me that he was going to be on the football field at Memorial Stadium one way or another—either as a player, because he was a pretty good football player himself before his accident, or (Tait) said, ‘If I have to, I’ll play in the band or be a male cheerleader.’”

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Much of Tait’s memorabilia was acquired after the accident. His collection is both meaningful and joyful. As for expanding it, he says, “I’d like to add a picture of me shaking Mike Riley’s hand.”

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So, Coach Riley, if you’re reading this, there is a fan in Seward who would like to
say hello. 

Visit huskerhounds.com for more information. OmahaHome

*Correction: The September/October 2016 print edition misspelled Tait Rief’s last name.

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Ethical Nudges

August 25, 2016 by

When your mom falls asleep in church, you don’t need to yell in her ear, “MOM, wake up!” to keep her head from bobbing. You can just bump her with your elbow.

If you are practicing how to shoot, but your aim is off, you don’t need someone to build a stand to hold your gun level. It is better to have an expert next to you and have him lightly adjust the barrel direction with his finger.

And when you are learning how to lift weights, a coach can watch your knees and hips and correct your stance with a small correction here, another one there.

Nudges. Often, small nudges are all we need in order to do what we are doing better.

A new body of social science research is showing that the same is true in business ethics. If we want to motivate ourselves to do the right thing at work, we do not necessarily have to visit a psychologist to rid ourselves of our weakness of will. Instead, employers can slightly adjust the work environment to “nudge” employees to do well.

Three recent ideas about ethical nudging come from the research of University of North Carolina business professor Sreedhari Desai, Ph.D. She has an interesting YouTube video (titled “Small Nudges Can Create Ethical Behavior”) that is worth checking out.

The first form of ethical nudging pertains to bids and contracts. Dr. Desai wondered if bids can be fair when they include: 1. a description of a service, and 2. one overall price for the service. Through experiment, she found that vendors are more ethical, that is, their bids better reflect the true cost of the service, when they itemize the cost for each aspect of the service. Itemization is a small difference in the bidding process, but one that makes a larger financial difference, and definitely makes an integrity difference.

Workspaces can also be designed to nudge employees to think and act ethically. Again, only small nudges are needed. Through experiment, Dr. Desai showed that when office walls have pictures of aspirational figures (pick your leader…Gandhi? Rosa Parks? Tom Osborne?), employees make better ethical decisions than they do when there are no aspirational pictures.

The third form of ethical nudging that Dr. Desai describes is also about the workspace, specifically, the items we have around us with which to touch or play. Hold onto your hats…Dr. Desai determined that when workspaces include teddy bears and other childhood play items, ethical decision making is enhanced. She speculates that introducing childhood toys into the workplace puts us in mind of a time when life was pure and simple. A slight nudge towards our better selves.

So what do we do with this social science research about ethical nudges? Well, we can ask ourselves if we want to introduce any of the previous three ethical nudges into our business practices. Personally, I am not going to bring a teddy bear to work, but I like the idea of aspirational pictures. And it is simple to break out the costs of service in the bidding process. We can do it when making a bid or ask for it when receiving one.

In addition, this social science research can motivate us to investigate other ethical nudges that can positively affect our work systems. Let me know what your experiments yield, OK?

View “Small Nudges Can Create Ethical Behavior,” Dr. Desai’s video: youtube.com/watch?v=xt8OS92Bd3s B2B

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of Business Ethics Alliance, and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics & Society at Creighton University.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of Business Ethics Alliance, and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics & Society at Creighton University.

Newsmaker Becomes Newsgatherer

August 23, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Our committee at the Omaha Press Club meets several times a year to discuss who will next be honored as the club’s “Face on the Barroom Floor.” When the committee’s chairman, Tom O’Connor, was nominated this year, only one committee member voted “no.” It was O’Connor.

O’Connor argued that the honor is meant for people who have made a difference in the community. It’s how people who cover the news give recognition to those who make the news.

For 14 years, he has chaired the committee that selects the Faces, the people whose illustrated caricatures end up on the walls of the Press Club. Everyone agrees he’s done a stellar job.

“Tom, over the years, helped make the Face an icon for Omaha,” says OPC Executive Director Steve Villamonte, who nominated the longtime member.

Tom-OConnor1Over his protests, O’Connor was roasted and toasted in February in front of a sold-out crowd. His was the 148th Face since the ritual began 45 years ago with Mayor Gene Leahy as the first honoree.

“One of the ways he has helped with awareness is with his contacts in the media world,” notes Villamonte.

O’Connor, who is senior associate director of public relations at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, says knowing the community’s newsmakers is right up his alley.

“The Faces are the who’s who of Omaha,” he says. “It’s like winning the Heisman Trophy.”

Another recognizable Face is movie producer and Omaha native Alexander Payne, whose roasters included actor Will Forte. “It was one of the funniest roasts we‘ve had,” says Villamonte. “And to get someone of Forte’s stature as a roaster, well…”

The largest crowd during the Faces’ 45-year history came to salute Creighton basketball coach Greg McDermott and three-time All-American Doug McDermott who at the time played on his father’s team. The crowd was so large that O’Connor moved the dinner and roast to another venue. And the second largest was for…Tom O’Connor.

The third largest “Face” event was held in 2007 for Husker fan Dan Whitney, also known as comedian Larry the Cable Guy. I remember “Larry” dressed up for the occasion by adding sparkle to his trademark sleeveless plaid shirt.

Another Tom—Osborne—was a Face on the Barroom Floor in 1979. Since then he has returned to roast other newsmakers such as NFL greats Gale Sayers and Ahman Green. The former UNL football coach and athletic director was a roaster in May for UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts.

An Omaha Press Club member for 38 years, O’Connor is a past president (2001), past board member, a member of the marketing and newsletter committees, and he heads the Shatel Sports Lunch series.

“Tom has made the Face on the Barroom Floor a premier event,” says Jim Horan, the artist who has drawn the illustrated caricatures since the first one in 1971 (the artist is also my husband). “He took the roast concept to a new level, which has turned the night into 100 percent fun.”

O’Connor explains: “I tell people we’re the club with a sense of humor, the Face event is all about having fun and entertaining people. You’re always going to leave laughing.”

His quest for fun continues, as does his enthusiasm for honoring Omaha’s best. He has invited Bill and Ruth Scott to be Face No. 150 on Sept. 22. “They are unsung heroes who have transformed the city and the state with their incredible generosity. Being able to recognize great people like the Scotts, that’s what the Face on the Barroom Floor is
all about.”

He jokes that his wish list for future Face on the Barroom Floor honorees includes Pope Francis and Michael Jordan. Knowing O’Connor, I think it just might happen.

Visit omahapressclub.com/faces for more information.

Omaha Press Club

October 29, 2013 by
Illustration by Jim Horan

While other city clubs have closed in defeat, the Omaha Press Club marks its 42nd anniversary on the 22nd floor of the First National Center in Downtown Omaha.

Does the club stay open because of the spectacular view from windows stretching to the ceiling? The glowing copper fireplace? The food?

Executive Director Steve Villamonte explains the club’s durability, even through a recession: “There is something going on all the time. The club offers events from lunch-and-learn opportunities to wine dinners to holiday buffets.”

Retired WOWT newscaster Gary Kerr and his committee hold monthly educational events. Sports forums at noon feature such topics as Nebraska football and 
Creighton basketball.

Each year, journalists are inducted into the OPC Hall of Fame. Their names are engraved on a plaque in the club’s Hall of History. Among the first inducted in 2008 were Omaha Star publisher Mildred Brown (read more on Brown), NBC-TV’s Floyd Kalber, and legendary radio sportscaster Lyell Bremser.

The OPC Foundation’s annual Omaha Press Club Show, which raises funds for journalism scholarships, will be held next year on April 3.

The space’s premier event is the ‘Face on the Barroom Floor’ dinner. When the club’s restaurant opened in 1971, members decided to celebrate the people who give journalists something to write about. Walls are now covered with caricature drawings of 
newsmakers’ faces.

The satirical artwork by artist Jim Horan (full disclosure…yes, the author is Jim’s wife, and she also serves on the organization’s board) is presented in fun as friends roast the subject. A zinger directed to Larry the Cable Guy is a sample of the teasing that honorees endure: “I’m happy to say fame has not gone to his [Larry’s] head, only to his waistline.”

The most recent honoree was Omaha Magazine publisher Todd Lemke.

The first caricature was that of fun-loving Omaha Mayor Gene Leahy. Nebraska football coach Bob Devaney followed him in 1972. Also that year, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew dropped by the club to see his ‘Face.’

Agnew had a love-hate relationship with the press, whom he once famously described as “nattering nabobs of negativism.” So it was with tongues in cheek that Omaha Press Club officers named a private room at the club the “Spiro Agnew Room.”

Among other well-known ‘Faces’ hanging on the club’s walls are Bob Gibson, Chuck Hagel, Tom Osborne, and Johnny Carson.

Horan said that his drawing of Warren Buffett is his favorite because of the billionaire’s unruly hair: “Warren looked at his caricature the night he roasted Walter Scott at a ‘Face’ event and quipped, ‘I’ve got to rethink that 25 cent tip for my barber.’”

The disappearance of Buffett’s ‘Face on the Barroom Floor’ became national news in 2008. The New York Times and Forbes magazine were among media that published stories about the missing artwork. Omaha heaved a sigh of relief when the drawing was finally found.

On Sept. 9, the Lauritzen Room was dedicated to honor the First National Bank family that helped open the club 42 years ago.

“Without their continuing support,” Villamonte says, “it would have been difficult for us to succeed.”

Gridiron Hero Becomes Mentor and Coach

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Eric Francis Photography and Ted Kirk

What former Nebraska Cornhusker Steven Warren remembers most from his days playing football is not a particular game or plays, but rather the camaraderie among his teammates—along with key tenants such as persistence, integrity, and trustworthiness. These were experiences and traits that would serve Warren well later in life.

Recruited out of Springfield, Mo., he recalls Nebraska Head Coach Tom Osborne paying Warren and his family a visit in their living room the same week Big Red won the 1995 national championship. Warren accepted a UNL football scholarship and packed his bags for Lincoln.

Warren (96) delivers a bone-crushing hit back in his playing days for Big Red.

Warren (96) delivers a bone-crushing hit back in his playing days for Big Red.

“Nebraska football was No. 1; it was everywhere,” Warren recalls. “And being a part of it was like being a part of The Beatles.”

Freshman year was both a culture shock and an athletic shock for Warren: rigorous practices alongside the fame of being a Cornhusker. “There was so much temptation because of what you were part of. But you also had to learn time management,” he adds.

While playing for Nebraska, Warren found himself developing close friendships with other players and families in and around Lincoln. Oftentimes, parents would seek Warren out to speak with their children about setting goals, planning for the future, and living one’s dream.

Warren left Nebraska as a 3rd round pick of the Green Bay Packers in the 2000 NFL Draft. Thirteen weeks into his rookie year, Warren was sidelined with an injury and told he would miss the remainder of the season. He stayed in Green Bay, undergoing rigorous rehabilitation and training. He returned to the Packers for one more season before moving to the AFL, first playing for the San Jose Sabercats and, later, the Arizona Rattlers. At each of his AFL stints, Warren suffered separate injuries. “That’s when I realized my body was trying to tell me something,” he recalls.

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Warren returned to University of Nebraska-Lincoln and finished his sociology degree in 2004. After graduation, he had a decision to make. His wife, Heidi, is from Columbus, so staying in Nebraska certainly seemed like an option. And being a Nebraska alumni opened many doors for Warren. Former Huskers often pursued successful careers after leaving the field.

But a sales job or related opportunities just didn’t feel right.

“I always liked helping others, and I worked with mentors while at Nebraska,” Warren shares. At his Lincoln home near 30th and Y streets, some of Warren’s fondest memories were sitting on his porch and talking with children and teens who lived in the neighborhood.

That feeling never left him, which is why today he is president and founder of D.R.E.A.M. (Developing Relationships through Education, Athletics, Mentoring). It’s an Omaha-based nonprofit mentoring organization that reaches out to young men enrolled in middle school.

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“Seven years ago, everything for D.R.E.A.M. just fell into place: the pieces, the people. It was meant to be,” Warren says.

D.R.E.A.M. began in 2006 as an after-school program at Walnut Hill Elementary School at 43rd and Charles streets. Five volunteers met regularly with 20 at-risk students. Today, the program has expanded to several Omaha schools and added a chapter in Springfield, Mo., Warren’s hometown. In all, the program serves about 300 boys.

D.R.E.A.M. finds its success from 40 volunteers who spend three to five hours each week at an assigned school throughout the academic year. The theme is simple: becoming a man.

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“Our volunteers work with seventh- and eighth-grade students each school year teaching them the positive attributes of being a man: respect, responsibility, relationship building, establishing rapport,” Warren says. “All of these lessons I learned from football at Nebraska and our peer counseling.”

D.R.E.A.M. teaches young men that it’s okay (even encouraged) to be successful in school. College-age mentors serve as living, breathing examples of the success that comes with hard work, dedication, and diligence.

Teena Foster, an Omaha Public Schools site director at McMillan Magnet Center Middle School, has worked alongside Warren and his college-age volunteers since last fall. Foster says she continues to see growth in the seventh- and eighth-grade students who participate in D.R.E.A.M. each week. And she knows Warren is the driving force.

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“Steve is dedicated to mentoring these young students,” Foster explains. “He’s always smiling, is always pleasant. So are his volunteers. They build great relationships with our students. Mentors are extremely important in these young lives.”

Warren’s belief in mentorship yielded a second program that also occupies much of his time. From his experiences as a student athlete, Warren launched Warren Academy in 2010. It’s designed to provide students (from elementary and middle school to high school and college) with leadership skills and character-building through athletics.

Warren Academy, however, isn’t just for students. Coaches and other leaders also participate to improve and refine a variety of leadership skills, both on and off of the field. Warren Academy programs include training sessions, camps, coaching clinics, nutritional counseling, education assistance, and mentoring. The athletic training component features speed, strength, and agility training programs. Warren says that once the organization has its own facility, Warren Academy’s offerings will expand to include fitness for adults and children of all ages.

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“Our goal is to become the primary training resource for field sports,” Warren adds. “That includes baseball, football, track, soccer, and lacrosse.”

Seems Warren’s best playing position is that of teacher. And he’s loving every minute of it.