Tempe, Ariz. - Fighting back tears and struggling with each word, Charlie McBride announced his retirement Sunday night in the aftermath of a defensive performance symbolic of the spirit he has come to represent at Nebraska.
|Nose tackle Jon Clanton, left, hugs Charlie McBride before the Huskers faced Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl.
Flanked by his wife, Debbie, the Huskers' longtime defensive coordinator made official the end of his career inside an interview tent just north of Sun Devil Stadium. NU sent McBride out a winner, defeating Tennessee 31-21 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl to cap a season that will be known for the play of his Blackshirt defenders.
"This is my 37th year of coaching, and over the last few I have contemplated retirement," McBride said. "I didn't want to take anything away from this football team, but eventually it kind of got out. I am going to pull the plug."
McBride, 60, thanked several figures in his career, notably former Arizona State Coach Frank Kush and Tom Osborne, the former coach at NU who left the Huskers two years ago.
"If you could only know the players that I've had over the years, especially this group," said McBride, in his 23rd season at Nebraska and his 18th as the chief defensive technician. "This is a special group, folks. They're self-motivated, and they play like hell. I honestly love them, and that's not a word we're afraid to use on this football team."
Several Huskers declined to comment on McBride's retirement Sunday until the coach announced it near the end of the NU post-game interview session. In his finale, McBride directed the Nebraska defense to a victory that leaves the Huskers with a 12-1 season and an almost-certain No. 2 final national ranking.
Mike Brown, the defensive most valuable player of the Fiesta Bowl and a senior co-captain, spoke openly about McBride's retirement.
"It's over for him now," Brown said. "He's going to move on to a new chapter in his life. We love him dearly."
A native of Chicago, McBride coached at Colorado, Arizona State and Wisconsin before his 1977 arrival in Lincoln as the defensive line coach. Frank Solich, the Huskers' head coach of two years, joined the staff in 1979.
"Certainly he is known around the country as one of the great defensive coaches and maybe as great a defensive coordinator as there is," Solich said. "I know we would not trade him for anybody. It is very difficult to see one of us step aside."
A 1962 Colorado graduate and former All-Big Eight Conference punter, McBride has coached five All-Americans and sent 17 players to the NFL. He played for one season with the Denver Broncos, then of the American Football League, before he entered the coaching ranks at Chicago's Fenger High School.
Solich said he appreciated McBride's willingness to remain on staff after Osborne's 1997 retirement.
"I think in a way, he wanted to see this through," Solich said. "Charlie and I have a great relationship. And it's not a head coach-defensive coordinator relationship. It has been established over the years, and it has always remained strong. I'll always be thankful to him for what he's helped me do in my first two years as the head coach."
McBride's last group will be remembered as one of his best. The Huskers finished the 1999 season ranked fourth nationally in total defense, second in passing-efficiency defense, third in scoring defense and sixth against the rush.
On Sunday, the Huskers held Tennessee to 44 rushing yards. The NU defenders said they dedicated the bowl-game win to McBride.
"This is his last game with us," senior linebacker Eric Johnson said. "He has meant so much to all of us. We did this for him. After this game, we see ourselves just as good as any national champion. I think we had the two best teams out here."
Said senior Tony Ortiz: "I think we're the best team in the country. We feel like we are No. 1."
After Solich, Brown, quarterback Eric Crouch and wingback Bobby Newcombe completed their interview sessions, McBride struggled to the stage before a throng of cameras. His knees and back have bothered him in recent years, and he found it difficult to sit Sunday night.
"I guess it's pretty obvious," McBride said as he gathered himself. His voice began to trail off, the emotion evident with every move. McBride spoke for about five minutes and left the stage without taking any questions from the news media.
He said he would further discuss his retirement after the Huskers' return to Lincoln this week. As he left the stage to a round of applause from gathered players and NU personnel, McBride hugged Solich and left the room.
Solich then commented briefly.
"There is a reason why Nebraska has had great defensive football teams over the years," Solich said. "Charlie McBride is that reason."