All year round, former Husker and NFL veteran Adam Carriker is taking the pulse of Husker Nation. In the "Carriker Chronicles" video series, he breaks down the latest NU news, upcoming opponents, player updates and recruiting information, and he offers his insight into the X's and O's and more.
On Wednesday's episode, Carriker interviews former Nebraska sports psychologist Dr. Jack Stark about his time with the Huskers, working under Tom Osborne, the creation of the unity council and more.
When Adam Carriker talks, you'll want to listen. Get every episode of the "Carriker Chronicles" in your inbox.
Check out a full transcript below:
Adam Carriker: Welcome to the Carriker Chronicles, The People’s Show, where we check the pulse of Husker Nation. Brought to you by Nebraska Spine Hospital. Today I am especially excited to be joined by Dr. Jack Stark, team psychologist for Nebraska athletics from 1989 to 2004. During his tenure, Nebraska Basketball averaged 20 wins per year, which surprised me, Husker Football won 88% of their games and 3 national championships. Overall, Dr. Stark has been involved with NASCAR, football, hockey at Creighton and UNO. He’s been involved in 22 National Championship teams. How are you doing today, Mr. Stark?
Jack Stark: I’m doing good, Adam. Very proud of you, young man! I remember your first day on campus. I only had you for one year, but you were one of my favorites because you stuck out very clearly to me as a leader, and I took a special side to you because I grew up in Hastings. So great to be talking to you.
Adam Carriker: Very cool, I appreciate the kind words. My first memory on campus was when I was an idiot and ran the conditioning test way too fast and got carted off the field, but I’ve shared that story before.
Jack Stark: Haha, you had intensity, I loved it!
Adam Carriker: Yeah, I learned very quickly to be intense and smart. But tell me, what exactly was your role with the Huskers and all these other teams/ areas you’ve been involved in?
Jack Stark: As you know, I had been working with the UNO wrestling team that won two national championships there. I had been doing some work with hockey, and in ’89, Tom Osborne called and wanted to interview me. I was so excited because I had grown up a few miles from him and my family’s culture was faith, family, and football. I was working at the medical center down here, and I’ll never forget, Adam. I went into his office afterword and it was pretty intimidating. I said, Coach, I don’t want to promise too much. I know I was talking to all the staff, but I think I might only make a 5% difference to the team.
I’ll never forget, he looked at me, and said, “Jack, are you kidding me?! Do you know what you’re talking about? 5% at this level is big, that’s a championship level!” Well, before I got there, the win percentage was 82.5 and when I left it was 88.5 and we dominated the 90s. The ’95 team was maybe the best team of all time, and maybe the 4th best sports team of all time, including the Yankees, the Bears, the Montreal Canadiens etcetera. What a blessing it was to work with the team!
I was the team Psychologist. I remember talking with coach before signing the paperwork about pay and some business people came in and said they couldn’t afford my salary, so I did the job for a lot less. I lost money doing it, but it actually turned out to be great because I didn’t report to anybody but coach. He had always had someone acting as the team psychologist before, and the first couple years he was really just checking me out. But after we lost the Citrus Bowl to Georgia Tech in ’90, I told coach I wanted to introduce this idea called the Unity Council. Coach asked me if it would work, and I told him, I’m going to be really bold and say we could win a championship in four years with this. He came back and told me, “Jack, you don’t understand. This is football. We have to win, right now. Right now.”
Coach never took a day off that summer. I think the team was a little more wound up, people were saying we were slipping, etc. We were still 9-3! But I introduced the Unity Council there and we took off. I had three roles there as a Psychologist. I was a clinical psychologist, organizational psychologist, and sports psychologist. I was in my 30s and had a few thousand patients under my belt. Many times, teams hire younger guys with a lot less experience.
Outside of working full-time as a therapist, I worked 30 to 40 hours a week in Lincoln. For most of the team, I only spent a few hours a week. The other 20% or so, there were a lot of nights waking up to drive to Lincoln, waiting by the phone all night, helping guys through some of the tough times. That was as a clinical psychologist. As an organizational psychologist, I developed the Unity Council. They dropped it after I left, but you saw it your freshman year, Adam. I met with players on Tuesday nights, and it was awesome, because we were able to have peer support. I had a couple crazy guys by the names of Grant Wistrom and Jason Peter. I told them, “Fellas, I have a DB out drinking every Thursday night.” They looked at me and said, “We’ll take care of it.” That guy never drank on Thursday night again.
I’ll never forget, we had a Unity Council meeting and a player was brought in for not attending class. Grant looked at him and said, “Listen, buddy, you will get your butt out of bed and you will go to class. If you don’t go to class, you will run with me at 6 in the morning and I don’t care what the coaches say.” The player said his car wouldn’t start and Grant said “Okay then you call me.” The guy goes, “What? You’re a senior gonna pick me up and give me a ride?!” Grant goes, “You bet, because I want to win a National Championship.” That was in 97 when we won the championship. But that was the stuff we had. These guys pushed their intensity onto everyone. Grant and Jason used to run wind sprints until they threw up and then would scream at the All-American o-linemen.
The Unity Council was so special. I remember in Osborne’s book, “Faith in the Game” one of the nicest things said, was “After the Unity Council was initiated, it won seven consecutive conference championships and three national championships. I am convinced that exceptional team chemistry was a key factor in this stretch, and the Unity Council played a significant role in developing the chemistry.”
The other side I worked in was the mental side, getting guys ready for games. Visualization, relaxation, making sure guys are getting plenty of sleep. I did a lot of the same things with NASCAR. Working with drivers going 220 MPH into the corner and hoping their tires stick, dealing with engineers who don’t communicate well, helping people through tragedies. Teams I was working with won 8 championships in NASCAR.
But that’s what I enjoy doing. I work with kids still, I do talks, I travel around the country for a number of different programs, I help coaches behind the scenes because they can’t exactly go get professional help these days. I have had a blast. What I love most is, guys like you, Adam. What I love most about you is, you’re a good dad. That’s my pet peeve. If you’re not being a good dad, you’re going to get a lecture from me. I have 600 sons out there, if you know what I mean, so it’s been very special.
Adam Carriker: This is going to be a multi-part question. One of my favorite quotes of all-time is, “Football is 80% mental and 40% physical.” That’s Bruce Smith, from the movie, “Little Giants.” Aside from the math, why does the mental aspect have such a big impact on the physical output of the body in endeavors like sports? Also, why did the Unity Council have such a big impact? We’re in a day and age where it’s all about recruiting. Once you have an identity, you have to recruit. Once you have guys on campus, you have to develop them physically and mentally as well.
Jack Stark: Let’s talk about the mental side. I often tell people, in high-school, the mental is 50-50. In college, it’s 80-20. In the pros, it’s 90% mental, because they’re all good, right? You were a first round draft pick. You know how good these guys are. They’re all fast, they’re all strong. Here’s a question I always ask players when I give talks: How much of the game is mental? They’ll say 80%. Then I ask, how many mental practices have you had? Just mental, no physical. They’ll a look at each other puzzled and say, none. And I say, yeah, that’s my point! You don’t practice the mental game! The quote I always give people is, “One player, one play, one game can be a season.” Go ask Matt Davison. One play can make your life. Johnny Rodgers with the return. Eric Crouch with the reverse QB throw (Black 41 Flash Reverse Pass). Those plays define you. A season is so close and the parity is out there.
So what made Osborne’s teams so great? All the players were coached up. After I left, coaches would have 1s and 2s going, with the 3s, 4s, and 5s sitting there waiting. With Osborne, you had 5 or sometimes 6 units. And what made that great, for example, is you had a kid named Doug Coleman from the east coast who played in the pros. Coach Osborne asked him how he got to be so good. He says, “Coach, that 5th string fullback from small town Nebraska wanted to knock the snot out of me every play. I had to get better, coach.” For those guys, that was their life. They wanted to be a part of the university and the walk-on program. Those kids never gave up. Coach realized that and bought into it.
With the Unity Council, I always tell people, it’s about culture. Scott talks a lot about that, right? He was a part of it. Culture is determined by leadership at the top. I was fortunate to have Osborne and Bruce Rasmussen, Greg McDermott, Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson. I can go on and on forever. To have great teams, you have to have great leaders. Jack Stark wasn’t the key in making that 5% difference. It was what they allowed Jack Stark to do. When I interviewed with Coach Osborne, by the time I drove back to Omaha from Lincoln, he had called all of my references. He checked me out. I wasn’t going to work with his guys unless he really trusted me. You have to be there for the players and love them, no matter what time of day or night. I don’t know if the players have always had that.
I remember one time, Terry Connealy came up to me and said, “Hey, tell coach we’re not playing Oklahoma this week, we want the weekend off.” Coach said, “You want the weekend off, you got it. You don’t have to show up. You don’t have to show up anymore if you don’t want. We’re going to be here though, Saturday, Sunday, heck we might go twice, I don’t know. I want to win a championship.” Afterword, the guys came up to me and said, “Yeah, that was a dumb idea.” But it didn’t matter what happened, guys always responded to coach like crazy.
Even with Basketball, we had a unity circle and we were winning 20 games a year and went to seven different NCAA Tournaments. We’ve been to one since I left. I remember little Tyronn Lue leading the team. At Creighton, Greg McDermott, one of the best players in the country. They’d say, follow me and do what I do. We don’t do stupid stuff here. We’re here to win a championship.
Adam Carriker: Talk to me about some of the biggest issues you’ve seen athletes have to deal with over the years, and how some of those have changed. What is some advice you might have for someone on how to deal with that. Is there an example of a Husker team in the past that you thought was exceptionally mentally tough?
Jack Stark: The biggest problem today is mental toughness. We don’t have as much adversity anymore, and 28% of the population is dealing with mental illness. With college kids, it’s 40%. Now with this COVID-19, it’s up to 50%. The greatest thing I can say for my whole career, is out of the 10,000 people I’ve seen, I have never had someone attempt or commit suicide. I remember a story from way back, a guy was calling me every 20 minutes from a pay phone because he was thinking about driving in front of a semi because he broke up with his girlfriend. I told coach this and he goes “WHAT?! What are you doing, Jack?!” I told coach, “I got this. I take care of things. It’s what I do.” I never even told coach half the things I did. Go make a home visit for a guy at 2AM, whatever it may be. Just take care of them.
So the mental illness is exploding on campuses everywhere. We don’t have the mental toughness that kids are growing up with. When you and I grew up, coaches grabbed guys by the face mask and got in their face. You can’t do none of that today. I don’t want that to be done. But the point is, it’s not always inherent in their personality. You can make kids tough, but you have to have that peer support and coaches who are positive. You noticed Osborne never yelled at anyone, did he? Never cussed a kid out. Never put a kid down. I remember one time we had a guy get a 15 yard penalty. He grew up in a tough neighborhood with no dad or mom. He said, Jack, the only time I cried in my life was when coach came over to me and said, “I’m just so disappointed in you.” He said, “Jack, I cried like a baby for a half-hour. Only time I ever cried.” Kids really loved coach and didn’t want to let him down. That’s something you try to capture today.
Adam Carriker: I remember a former player telling me they weren’t playing well in a first half, and in the locker room, Osborne goes “Dadgummit, guys.” And that was the most harsh thing he ever heard him say.
Jack Stark: Oh yeah. If you got a dadgummit to come out, guys were like, woah. That got their attention. It was crazy.
Adam Carriker: Was there a team that stood out to you as mentally tough?
Jack Stark: Jason Peter couldn’t even bend over or walk. We’re playing the Big 12 Championship Game in Texas. He played that first half and dominated. Those two guys were crazy tough. Grant Wistrom was screaming at Aaron Taylor, All-American, won the Outland, Grant is screaming at him, “All you fat, lazy o-linemen!” As he was puking from running. Who does that? Those two guys were a cut above. A lot of it came from Christian, who was pretty darn tough.
I would meet with the captains one-on-one ahead of team meetings to determine how they were going to run the meeting, who was going to speak, etc. What do you want to get accomplished? There’s always a frustrated guy who is going to stand up, say a bunch of swear words, this and that. I was the only one with the team in the team meetings. I remember Grant went and visited a guy who got kicked off the team, brought him back, the kid started the next season and they won the championship in 97. Crazy! But that’s the support and mental toughness you get from good leadership. And that’s what’s missing today is finding a good mentor. That’s what I love about Osborne. People will always talk about 255 wins in 12 years. You know what he’s going to be remembered for? The 12,000 mentors he has in Teammates. Think about how many lives he changes. It’s inspirational, nobody does that.
Adam Carriker: Talk to me about what you have going on these days.
Jack Stark: Well, I retired from my paying jobs, but my non-paying job is working with kids, helping with scholarships, those kinds of things. Because of my passion and love for the university, I am running for Board of Regents to hopefully succeed Howard Hawks. He’s been there 18 years, donated so much money, and so-on. And you can relate to this. Over the years, guys have come to me, hundreds of them, and asked if I can change things. Now Scott’s there and things are moving. But I have to give back to the university and that’s why I’m running for the Board of Regents, to restore where we were. Even non athletes, getting them to and through school, and getting them jobs. That’s what I’m focused on.
Adam Carriker: Okay, well I want to thank you for your time, thank you for joining me, and thank you for all the things you did for the Husker Program. Good luck with your run for Regent!
Jack Stark: Throw the Bones! And I’ll close with this. As Ricky Bobby said in “Talladega Nights,” “If you’re not first, you’re last.”
Thanks again to the Nebraska Spine Hospital. Ladies and gentlemen, when it’s your spine, you do not want to mess around. Experience matters. That’s why you can trust the experts at Nebraska Spine Hospital, the region's only spine specific hospital. They are the best at what they do.
When was Nebraska last ranked No. 1? Husker football's entire history in the AP Top 25
How often has Nebraska football been ranked at each position? When did the Huskers first appear at No. 1? When was the last time NU was in the top 10? Check out this photo collection featuring how Nebraska has fared at each spot in the AP Top 25.