Larry Jacobsen coached three future NFL players and his teams won the most games in Burke High’s football history.
But his longest-lasting pleasure was trees. He had a reason for taking team photos from the same spot every season. He could measure how the trees he planted around the top of the north slope of Burke Stadium had grown.
“You’d see the trees in the picture more than the kids,” Burke alum and longtime friend Greg Rice said.
Jacobsen, who coached Burke from 1969 to 1994, died Thursday in hospice care. The member of the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame was 81.
“He was the model for what you should be as a coach,” said Bellevue West coach Mike Huffman, who played for Jacobsen later in the coach’s career.
The day before Jacobsen died, it was announced that the stadium’s athletic field would be named Jacobsen Field.
“It’s fitting,” former Husker fullback Tim Wurth said. “It’s important to me and to all his former players.”
Rice said at one time, Jacobsen had planted every tree on the Burke campus. Many of those trees honored those who had contributed to Burke athletics. Jacobsen received the Johnny Appleseed Award from the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.
“He never really talked about his record, or whatever. He had his trees, and that award was special to him,” Rice said. “The joke was there were so many team photos in the locker room that Jacobsen was going to retire when he ran out of wall space, and that was about right.”
Growing up on a farm south of Homer, Jacobsen was a two-time Class D football all-stater and three-sport letterman at Homer and lettered four years at Kearney State College. The “Homer Thunderbolt” was second-team Little All America as a senior.
He came to the Omaha Public Schools as a traveling physical education teacher and played for the Omaha Mustangs semipro football team. In 1969 he was hired from Monroe Junior High to be Burke coach when Hank Amend was promoted to athletic director. His first team had the school’s first winning season at 6-3.
He retired in 1995 with a 167-83-2 record that included 20 winning seasons, the 1974 Metro Conference championship in the last year before state playoffs, two undefeated regular seasons and runner-up finishes in the state playoffs in 1980 and 1984. He built the weight program at the school, benefiting future NFL-ers George Andrews (Los Angeles Rams), Barney Cotton (Cincinnati and St. Louis Cardinals) and Rod Kush (Buffalo and Houston).
When he retired, Jacobsen said he wanted to remember three aspects of his time at Burke.
“One is how much work the kids have put into the program. The average athletes have come up and produced for us by working year-round,” he said. “The second is watching the assistant coaches coach. I’ve been lucky to have good coaches be with me for a long time, and I’ve watched them develop kids. The third was to watch the tradition build in the program. Hank Amend had it started.”
Jacobsen was a 1991 recipient of the Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award and was inducted into the UNK Athletic, Nebraska Football, OPS Athletic and Nebraska High School Sports Halls of Fame.
He was part of the original organizing committee when the state track meet came to Burke in 1972 and was a meet official for 45 years, mostly as the head field judge.
Burke Athletic Director Jason Williams said the school will pay tribute to Jacobsen at the school’s next home game Oct. 4 against Gretna. Helmet decals are being ordered for the team.
Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Judy; daughters Stephanie Fuehrer of Holdrege, Kimberly Cantrell of Gering and Jennifer Burklund of Ceresco; brother Robert of Homer; and sister Lil Whitla of Lincoln.
A memorial service will be Monday at 11 a.m. at John A. Gentleman Mortuaries’ 72nd Street Chapel, 1010 N. 72nd St., where visitation Sunday will be from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Memorials are suggested to the Omaha Public Schools Foundation, Burke Stadium renovation or Miracle Hills Baptist Church.