Jan 19, 2021 5:15 PM

Osborn hopes to build relationships, successfully follow legend Larry Wilcox at Benedictine

Posted Jan 19, 2021 5:15 PM


St. Joseph Post

In football, there are certain acts, or certain people, that are tough to follow.

Frank Solich succeeding hall of fame head coach Tom Osborne at Nebraska. Cam Newton succeeding Tom Brady in New England.

Lord help whoever has to succeed Patrick Mahomes when he hangs it up.

But sometimes, it can work. Lincoln Riley succeeding the great Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, for example.

It can work at the lower level, too. Benedictine's new head football coach, Joel Osborn, is from Harlan, IA. He was coached in high school by future hall-of-famer Curt Bladt, who won 12 state titles and took the Cyclones to the playoffs 36 times in a 41-year span.

"There's no replacing that guy," Osborn said of his high school coach.

Bladt's son, Todd, officially took over as Harlan's head coach this past fall, and took the Cyclones to the 3A state championship, where they finished runner-up to North Scott. A 12-1 record in the first season of succeeding a hall-of-famer.

"I'm not saying that's going to happen (at Benedictine), but I've seen it happen."

Osborn, who spent 10 years as an offensive assistant at Northwest Missouri State, watched up close when a legend was succeeded, successfully, in Maryville.

From 1994-2010, Mel Tjeerdsma led the Bearcats to three national championships and 11 MIAA Conference titles.

Osborn entered his first season as a full-time assistant in 2011 when Adam Dorrel took the reigns as head coach.

The Bearcats went 11-3 that season and by 2013, had won a national championship - the first of three in a six-year span.

"Our staff was put in a position where we were all young," Osborn said. "Adam did a great job leading our team, and no one expected us to do anything close to what Coach Tjeerdsma did, but in Adam's six years, we won three national championships."

Osborn is now succeeding Larry Wilcox, whose retirement from Benedictine becomes official in June.

It's no secret Osborn has big shoes to fill in Atchison. In 42 years, Wilcox led the Ravens to eight conference championships, 14 NAIA playoff berths and a spot in the 2018 NAIA national title game.

Expectations are high, but Osborn is glad to have Wilcox around to guide him through what's been an unorthodox offseason.

"He's a great person," Osborn said of Wilcox. "That's one thing that'll be of my benefit is that he'll be here to help."

For as long as Wilcox has been around, this current situation is unlike anything he, or anyone, has been through.

Benedictine completed its 2020 regular season with a 7-2 record and a second place finish in the Heart of America Athletic Conference's north division.

Normally, Benedictine would likely be in position for an at-large bid in the NAIA's 16-team playoff. The at-large bids are based off of rankings in the NAIA coaches' poll.

There hasn't been a coaches' poll for NAIA football since November 2019, due to the uncertainty of a 2020 season brought on by the pandemic.

The next coaches' poll should be out within a month or so.

So, what will the spring look like for Benedictine football? More games? Full spring practice? It's unclear, but Osborn told the Ravens in their first team meeting to be ready for anything.

"It's their job to prepare themselves every day so that when our opportunity does come, they're ready to go," Osborn said. "We're going to do the best we can to help them."

Osborn has been in his new role since Monday. A snowstorm last Friday delayed a planned recruiting event, but he still had 18 prospects in town on day one.

With a big transition in progress and a fluent spring agenda, Osborn is leaning on his staff to help him navigate through an exciting, but unprecedented time.

"I'm going to rely on those guys," Osborn said. "They're going to play in a big role in our success here. I have to get to know our staff and players so everyone can be in a position to succeed."

Relationships are important in life, especially for Osborn. Benedictine athletic director Charlie Gartenmayer was the longtime defensive coordinator for the Ravens.

Once in awhile, Gartenmayers would drop in at a Northwest Missouri State practice, where he'd see Osborn coach and speak to his position group, mainly wide receivers.

It made a big impression. Big enough for Gartenmayer to call Osborn when Benedictine's football coaching job became vacant.

"It turned into seeing him at recruiting events and he would call me when they wanted to come see our staff," Osborn said. "The relationship developed over the years."

Osborn may be 'replacing' Larry Wilcox, but much like Curt Bladt in Harlan, "there is no replacing that guy."

Osborn instead hopes to learn from and build a lasting relationship with another coaching legend. In this sense, Osborn hopes to be a successful successor. Like a Lincoln Riley. Like an Aaron Rodgers after Favre.

Or an Adam Dorrel after a Mel Tjeerdsma.

"I feel like Joel Osborn," he said, not comparing himself to anyone. "You just try do the best you can do. I'm just excited to get to work with everybody." 

You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.