The hand-fighting technique Jack Osberg is teaching to the Osseo defensive linemen is going about as well as one could hope, considering the youth and inexperience of the player begin taught.
“Aw, c’mon Roy,” Osberg calls out. “That’s not good enough.”
Osberg, all 76 youthful-looking years of him, hustles over, gets down in a three-point stance and demonstrates the correct technique. The other linemen stop what their doing and watch attentively, as if afraid to miss something. As soon as Osberg’s demonstration is over, they jump back into the drill, determined not to let him down.
Osberg hops up, squinting through silvery-blue eyes that add warmth to his permanent smile, and returns to a conversation he was holding, not missing a beat.
“Ah, I just love working with these kids,” he says. “That’s what it’s all about.”
It’s been 55 years since Osberg, a Minneapolis Washburn graduate, took his first football coaching job at crosstown-rival Roosevelt. He’s had stops as a graduate assistant at the University of Nebraska and head coach at Wayzata before spending more than 20 years at Augsburg College, his alma mater, where he was a defensive coordinator and then head coach until 2004.
He’s in his seventh season assisting at Osseo, a job he took after retirement “because I needed something to do,” he said.
His record at Augsburg was 62-79, more than respectable considering the dominance of other MIAC programs. Osberg led the Auggies to an outright conference championship in 1997, the only one in team history.
It’s not wins and losses that make Osberg proud, although he does cherish the championship. The people he’s touched, the influence he’s had, is his desired legacy.
“I’ve just tried to be the best person I could be to them,” he said. “Most of them were kids, so full of energy and just so much fun. I never thought I was doing anything but having fun.”
Osberg a football coach? Not quite. Osberg is a people coach who specializes in football.
Everywhere he’s been, he’s left a legion of admirers, including athletes turned coaches and athletic directors. Among the former Augsburg players or coaches who mentored under Osberg are Edina coaches Reed Boltmann and Derrin Lamker, Holy Angels coach Jim Gunderson, Osseo coach Ryan Stockhaus, Minnetonka activities director Ted Schultz and his twin brother Bobby, an assistant at Wayzata, and Minneapolis Henry athletic director Guillaume Paek.
Each has a “Jack” story.
“I remember 1997, before the [MIAC] championship game, I walked into the office to find Jack,” recalled Lamker, who quarterbacked that team. “He and [his wife] Nina were sitting there, studying parents’ names. He said ‘When I see the parents after the game, I want to be able to call them by name.’
“Here we are, one hour before the biggest game, and he’s making sure he knows everyone’s name. That’s how much he cares about people.”
Ted Schultz called Osberg “a good football coach and a great people coach. He made that stage of our lives fun.”
Together, something special
Talking Jack means also talking Nina, Jack’s wife of 40-plus years. Their marriage is truly a team affair. They met commiserating divorces while both were teachers at Wayzata High School in the 1970s. The relationship bloomed naturally as they realized that together, they had something special.
“It just happened,” she said. “We kind of realized it was a perfect fit.”
Nina taught at-risk students at Wayzata for nearly 30 years, developing a matter-of-fact side to her caring nature that is a perfect complement to Jack’s effervescent personality. Together, they’re more a force of nature than just a couple.
“I’m meaner than he is,” she laughs.
“She’s the sparkplug, the gas pedal for everything he does,” Lamker said.
Said Gunderson, “It’s all about the relationships with them. They care so much about making you better people.”
Weighing college options after high school, Lamker, a terrific all-around athlete at Armstrong, never gave Augsburg much thought until Jack and Nina came calling.
“They came for a home visit and you could feel the love and compassion right away,” Lamker said. “They wanted a relationship with you as a person, not just a football player. I knew right away this was a guy I wanted to be at my wedding some day.”
Despite the Osbergs’ considerable influence on others, they don’t see things that way.
“Oh, I think we’ve been the ones who’ve been blessed,” Nina said. “We’ve had such wonderful chances to know so many great people. “
‘Best coach I’ve ever had’
While on the Osbergs were on their annual trip to Florida last winter, Nina was felled by a stroke.
The vibrancy is still there, as is the sharp wit, but her memory took a hit. Some days she remembers everything, others not.
“It can be tough,” Nina said. “But you know what? He’s always been there when I need him, taking care of me, and he never complains. He’s such a gentle person.”
That concern is evident, as he makes sure Nina gets safely up the bleacher steps to her preferred seat at Osseo’s Carl Tonn Field before returning to his spot on the sideline. He scans for her often, making sure she’s safe.
Jack doesn’t have a plan on how much longer he’ll coach.
“As long as I enjoy it,” he said. “Working with the kids, it keeps me young.”
The kids still love having him around. Society’s trappings may change, but caring never goes out of style.
“He’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” junior Deontae Miller said. “You know he cares because he never swears.”
Senior linebacker A.J. Samuels nods in agreement.
“He’s a really nice guy,” Samuels said. “I had to pick a coach to do a report on and I picked him. It almost made me cry.”
That doesn’t surprise Boltmann.
“Players have a genuine love for him and Nina,” he said. “When you pass and you’re gone, that’s how you want to be remembered.