Nebraska last played Wisconsin on Sept. 21, 1974, at Camp Randall Stadium. The Huskers were ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press poll. They lost 21-20.
Charlie McBride remembers things about the game some wouldn’t, such as the fact that Wisconsin flanker Jeff Mack, who caught the winning 77-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Gregg Bohlig with 3:29 remaining, was from Farragut High School in Chicago.
He also remembers that Huskers I-back John O’Leary suffered a broken jaw and that “it was pretty hot, one of those games where guys were cramping up,” McBride said.
“That turf, you know how it was; it got hotter than crap.”
Camp Randall Stadium had a Tartan Turf surface at the time.
McBride remembers such things because he was on the sideline. The coach who played as significant a role in establishing Nebraska’s Blackshirt tradition as anyone, was a Wisconsin assistant that day.
He coached the Badgers’ offensive line – Chuck McBride. (More about “Chuck” later.)
McBride wouldn’t join Tom Osborne’s staff until 1977, following one season as Wisconsin’s defensive line coach and defensive coordinator.
After the 1975 season, Wisconsin coach John Jardine fired his defensive coordinator and called McBride into his office. “I thought I was getting fired, too,” said McBride.
McBride was named defensive coordinator at Nebraska after Monte Kiffin left for Arkansas.
DEFENSE IT IS
Jardine had hired McBride for his first Wisconsin staff in 1970, after succeeding John Coatta - who had coached the Badgers to a 3-26-1 record in three seasons. They were 4-5-1 in Jardine’s first season, and “it seemed like we won the national championship,” McBride said.
In any case, Jardine didn’t call McBride to his office after the 1975 season to fire him. His purpose was to tell McBride that not only would he be moving to defense, he would be coordinating it.
McBride recalls his response as: “Oh, OK. To what?”
And then: “Oh, really?”
He had been an offensive assistant prior to Wisconsin, for three years on Frank Kush’s staff at Arizona State. Prior to that, he had been a grad assistant for two years at Colorado, where he had played collegiately. And prior to that he was the coach at Chicago Fenger High School for two years.
McBride grew up in Chicago. That’s why he knew about Mack.
Osborne contacted McBride at the college coaches’ annual convention in Miami following the 1976 season. He was looking to replace defensive assistants Monte Kiffin and Warren Powers. Kiffin, the defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, had left to be an assistant for Lou Holtz at Arkansas. Powers, the secondary coach, became the coach at Washington.
McBride told his wife that he hoped to work for Osborne one day.
“I wasn’t necessarily looking for a job,” said McBride.
When Osborne called his room, “I thought somebody was pulling my chain. ‘No, really, who is this?’ ” McBride said. “I might have said that twice. You know how Tom is. ‘No, this is Coach Osborne.’ ”
COACHING FOR TOM
McBride still has no idea why Osborne contacted him, though he thinks Kush might have recommended him. “I need to ask Tom some time,” said McBride.
Though he wasn’t looking to leave Wisconsin, he was willing to listen to Osborne.
His wife, Debbie, will verify this, according to McBride. On the day after Thanksgiving in 1976, they watched the Nebraska-Oklahoma game on television. The Sooners won 20-17, throwing only two passes (both producing big plays) and scoring with 38 seconds left. But that isn’t the point.
“I said to Debbie, ‘I’d like to work for that guy (Osborne) someday,’ ” he said.
So Osborne found a willing candidate. After the initial interview, “Tom, of course, took me to a high-class restaurant (in Miami), Denney’s,” McBride said. The deal was sealed there.
McBride replaced Kiffin as defensive line coach, and Lance Van Zandt - who came from Kansas - replaced Powers as secondary coach. Van Zandt also became the defensive coordinator.
He left Nebraska following the 1980 season to coach the secondary for the New Orleans Saints, under coach Bum Phillips. Though McBride called the defenses in 1981, he didn’t have the coordinator’s title until 1982. “Tom didn’t want coordinators,” said McBride said. “Tom didn’t like titles, period.”
But someone had to be in charge. And McBride was in charge of Nebraska’s defense for the next 18 seasons, staying on for two seasons to facilitate the transition from Osborne to Frank Solich.
The Blackshirts ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense in 11 of those seasons and in scoring defense 10 times. His final defense in 1999 ranked fourth in total defense (252.3), sixth in rushing defense (77.1), second in passing defense (175.2) and third in scoring defense (12.5).
WOODY HAYES & CHUCK
McBride’s connection to the Big Ten goes beyond his seven seasons at Wisconsin and his growing up in Chicago. His father roomed with Woody Hayes at Denison (Ohio) College for two-and-half years before pledging fraternities. “They stayed close, kind of kept in touch,” said McBride, who remembers meeting the legendary coach while attending a reunion with his dad when he was 13.
He wrote Hayes a letter inquiring about a grad assistant’s position at Ohio State when he left Fenger High School. Hayes didn’t respond until long after he had accepted the one at Colorado.
One day a letter from Ohio State arrived. Well, it wasn’t exactly a letter, or even much of a note.
It said simply: “Charlie, No. Woody.”
“That’s how he was,” McBride said. “When we’d meet at a (coaches’) convention, it was like he was my best friend. But he was loyal to Ohio State guys.”
Oh yes, “Chuck.”
“My family never called me Chuck,” said McBride.
But he was Chuck as a player at Colorado, an end and punter, and continued to be Chuck until he got to Nebraska, where he made it clear he was Charlie.
Secretaries in the Husker football office would get calls that began: “Is Chuck there?” And they would say: “Charlie, someone calling from Colorado or Wisconsin for you.”