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Tom Osborne talks about Lawrence Phillips death

Posted at 11:00 PM, Jan 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-15 00:00:05-05

The legendary coach Tom Osborne spoke to KMTV about the player he tried to reach and mentor over and over again, even behind bars.

California prison offiicals said it apprears Lawrence Phillips killed himself just hours after a judge ruled he should stand trial for the murder of his cell mate.

Coach Osborne said his staff knew Lawrence Phillips had a troubled background before he came to Lincoln. Trouble kept following him his whole life.

But Osborne said a mentor might have changed that. 

The shocking death of the star running back during coach Tom Osborne's national title run is a blindside.

"I didn't see anything like this coming," said Osborne.

Osborne said he and Lawrence Phillips kept in touch on a regular basis sending letters every couple of months, "His letters were always pretty positive pretty upbeat".

Osborne said they would write about football and the College Football Playoff Committee. Osborne even went to see him in person, "I visited him a few years ago in prison and he said he read about 150 books in the past year, so he's a pretty intellectual guy--so it's really sad to see that much talent end up like that".

Phillips' talent came with some baggage. Osborne suspended Phillips in 1995 for six games for punching his former girlfriend, but later allowed him to play, causing a national controversy.

"But I knew he would have gone back on the street, back to Los Angeles in the group home so I told him we were kicking him off but he could earn his way back when he went to counseling with a class," said Osborne.

Osborne started the TeamMates mentoring program in 1991 trying to help kids with Phillips' background to become better people. He says if this program was around when Phillips was a kid, this outcome could have been different.

"He was kind of on his own, he was on the streets when he was a young guy and then he got put in a group home, not because of criminal activity, because they didn't have any place to put him--and that's kind of survival of the fittest so he was tough and he had to find a way to make it work," said Osborne.

While Phillips is no longer around to writer to his former coach, Osborne feels he did the best he could to always be there for him.

"I don't think he ever felt that we gave up on him totally and so for better or for worse it is what it is and we cared about him," said Osborne.

Osborne said he last wrote Phillips right before Christmas saying he knows how hard it would be to spend the holiday in Prison.

The last letter Osborne got from Phillips was in November right before the 1995 player reunion.

An examination to determine the cause and manner of Phillips' death is scheduled for Thursday.