By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
Former UNO football coach Sandy Buda is considered by many, the most successful football coach in Maverick history. In 12 years as the head man in Omaha, Buda compiled an 89-49 record, and three North Central Conference championships.
Buda’s 89 wins were the most by any UNO football coach at the time of his retirement. From 1978 to 1989, Buda twice led the Mavericks to the national playoffs, and was three times named NCC coach of the year.
A week ago, The Gateway had the chance to catch up with Buda at a press conference for UNO professor Dr. Larry Bradley. Buda was in attendance to support Bradley who’s running for the Nebraska Board of Regents.
“It was essentially my coaching career,” Buda said about his time at UNO. “I came from the old Big 8, and was an assistant there for 12 years, and coached here 12 years and it was the prime time of my career.”
With the success he was having in Omaha, Buda said he was three times offered a job at another school. But because his parents were still in Omaha, all his friends and because he grew up in Omaha, he decided to stay.
“I stayed and I probably shouldn’t have,” Buda said. “And I look back as one of those little regrets, especially the way this ended up (UNO dropping the football program). But I don’t have any regrets about the young men that I got to work with, they were classy guys.”
Buda says that some of his former players include his orthopedic surgeon, his dentist, lawyers, businessmen, fire chiefs and engineers.
“You name it, they all played for me,” Buda said. “They got a great degree here, [and] came for the right reason – to get an education first, then have fun playing an extracurricular activity, football.”
Since Buda was a head coach, college football has been taken over by the spread offense, the BCS and big money contracts with multiple TV networks. But Buda says the main difference between then and now is something much simpler.
“This (UNO) is what college athletics was intended to be, an extracurricular activity for students to enjoy while they get an education,” Buda said. “For 12 years I had a TV show and every time I mentioned a student I said where he’s from and what his major is.”
Buda even used members of the faculty to help him recruit his players. He said he’d send the grades of potential players to campus professors who’d sit down with recruits when they came to Omaha for a visit.
“We had no study hall, we had no tutoring,” Buda said. “The guys, they were living in apartments, houses, there were no dorms. There was a dirt floor weight room. We just did it with mirrors and magnets.”
Despite not having some of the comforts student-athletes are used to today, Buda graduated his players at an extremely high rate. The step up to a more independent lifestyle is something he’s proud of and something he used to his advantage.
“I used to tell families when I went into a home that we don’t have a dorm so Johnny’s gonna have to learn to pay rent, turn the lights off, cook some meals [and] be disciplined to study,” Buda said. “But I’ll guarantee you, in four years they’re ready to go to Cincinnati, Ohio to take a job in Omaha or in Norfolk or wherever. They’re a finished product.”
Though it’s been 22 years since Buda was the head coach, he says his former players have never forgotten him. Even though he calls himself an old timer, he keeps in touch with a lot of them through Facebook.
His daughter opened him an account on the social networking site and Buda said he always gets a lot of responses whenever he comments on one of his former player’s posts.
“She put me on Facebook and I started getting all these messages from players that are all over the country – Washington D.C., Florida, you name it, Texas,” Buda said. “Somebody posts something, if I share an answer, boom.”
Buda said Facebook was most helpful in making a decision on whether or not to take UNO’s invitation into the school’s Sports Hall of Fame. After the university dropped the football program, Buda wasn’t sure if accepting the honor was the right thing to do.
But after asking for an opinion from former players, Buda said that he received 57 follow up comments and they were all positive.
His most memorable moments in Omaha were the few times the Mavs were featured on TV.
“We were on TV four different times, regional ABC, CBS too before cable TV,” Buda said. “We got selected for four games nationally here, South Dakota, South Dakota State twice. Those are big deals for Division II. We filled the place. [We] had one game had 4,000 people standing room only.”