Liberty’s transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision has resulted in plenty of excitement within the program and on the sprawling campus on Lynchburg’s south side.
At times it can be easy for a teenager to get lost in the hype and exhilaration leading into a season, and Flames coach Turner Gill wanted to bring in someone to speak to his players who could help them channel all of those emotions into a positive.
Gill thought of one coach in particular: His mentor, Tom Osborne.
Osborne spoke to the Liberty football program Friday in the Football Operations Center. The 81-year-old former coach at Nebraska and College Football Hall of Fame member delivered a passionate speech that featured more substance than style, more insight that flair, and one that he hopes resonates with the players as they prepare for the Sept. 1 season opener against Old Dominion at Williams Stadium.
“I was just hoping that I could impart some thoughts that would help them become more cohesive and better able to maximize their performance,” Osborne said. “There are so many forces today pushing and pulling kids sometimes apart. Some guys are thinking NFL, some guys are thinking about a girlfriend, some guys are thinking about a demotion on the football team or a class or what they’re going to major in. As a result, sometimes with social media, video games and all the informational overload the kids have today, it’s hard to keep them adequately focused.
“So I just tried to mention a few things today that they might think about a little bit that will lead to maximum performance. I doubt if they’ll take anything monumental away, but sometimes every little bit helps to get a few of them to think of things that were a little different, and I guess that would be success.”
Osborne spent 25 seasons as the Cornhuskers coach and finished with a record of 255-49-3. He led them to three national championships in 1994, ’95 and ’97, and Gill served as an assistant coach on those three national championship teams.
“There’s a lot of dynamics that have to happen and you’ve got to be really selfless. I guess that’s kind of the overall thing he talked about to the team,” Gill said. “He talked about the winning things and how you go about doing it. There were a lot of deep things that were mentioned there to our players, and hopefully they can remember one. They’re not going to remember the whole talk, I know that, but if they can remember one or two items that can help them the rest of their lives, then I will feel it’s really beneficial.”
Nebraska came close to claiming a national title while Gill was a quarterback for the Huskers in the 1983 season. Gill, who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting, guided Nebraska to a 12-0 record and a berth in the Orange Bowl against the University of Miami.
The Huskers trailed 31-17 heading into the fourth quarter, and Gill led a pair of touchdown drives to cut the deficit to one point. On the second touchdown with less than a minute remaining, Osborne and Gill elected to go for a two-point conversion, but Ken Calhoun tipped away Gill’s pass in the end zone to secure the Hurricanes’ victory.
Osborne remembered that game not for the failed two-point try, but for Gill’s performance in helping Nebraska nearly claim a national title.
“Turner was a great quarterback at Nebraska and a great friend of mine,” Osborne said. “Turner was really the first great quarterback that we had who could both throw and run.”
Osborne said Gill’s ability to be “a great leader as a quarterback,” and having “the right communication and personal skills” led him to believe Gill “would do a good job as a coach.”
“I think that he values the players,” Osborne said. “We cared about each player individually. You wanted the guy who was a fourth-team player to feel that he was as important as an individual that’s a starter. I’m sure Turner will do that.”
Gill’s relationship with Osborne continued well after his playing days. Osborne served was a groomsman in Gill’s wedding and Gill spent 13 seasons as an assistant on Osborne’s staff.
And building relationships has been the single greatest thing Osborne taught Gill during their 17 years together.
“That’s what he’s taught me,” Gill said. “I’ve been part of his life for four years as a player and I worked with him for 13 years. That’s 17 years of my life I saw him every day and I saw him in all different aspects.”