Nebraska Football Defensive Coordinator Erik Chinander Claps on Sidelines
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

After Family Tragedy, Erik Chinander Leaned On Who He Knows Best, His Blackshirts

October 28, 2021

On Tuesday morning, Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander stood on the North Stadium concourse inside Memorial Stadium to start his weekly press conference like he always does.

But this Tuesday morning was different. Instead of waiting for questions about Jeff Brohm’s three quarterbacks or the threat that receiver David Bell poses to his defense, he wanted to say something about his dad first.

On the Thursday before the Minnesota game, Chinander’s father, Gene, passed away due to a medical emergency that caused a car accident in Iowa.

“I want to say thank you to the Husker Nation, including media, fans, colleagues, student-athletes, all the coaches around the country. Just for the tweets, for the cards, for the texts and the kind words,” Chinander said. “Thank you very much, anybody that sent anything, it meant a lot to me and the family.”

And just like that, the leader of the Blackshirts rattled off answers to questions about Brohm’s three quarterbacks and how he remembers Bell catching a touchdown pass last year on a post route that ran directly into his cover-3 defense.

“Shoot, last year you guys probably remember, they threw a post right into a cover-3 and we had two guys right there. But he (Bell) catches it and runs for an 80-yard touchdown. So he’s a dangerous, dangerous weapon,” Chinander said.

That’s how Chinander wanted Tuesday to go. Show appreciation to those who sent thoughts and prayers his family’s way, then go back to work. It’s what Gene, his old football coach, would have wanted.

“My dad was a football coach for a long time, and I know what he would’ve wanted me to do. I know what he trained me to be,” Chinander said. “So, you don’t want things like that to happen. Nobody does. But right now we have a job to do, and he’d want me to do my job. He wants me to be here for these players and this program and that’s what I’m going to do. It’s never out of the back of your mind, but you gotta find a way to get it done.”

Chinander learned a lot about coaching from his dad. Not in terms of schemes or Xs and Os, because when you’re a young kid you don’t really care about all that yet. But Chinander learned how to be tough from his dad. And and how to be a “real guy.”

“I learned how to discipline guys and be hard on them,” Chinander said, “but also how to love kids and show them how to become really good dads and really good husbands and really good brothers and really good fathers and really good people in the community.

“So what’d I learn from him? I learned everything.”

How many lives did Gene make an impact on back home? By the showing at the visitation and his funeral, quite a bit. Chinander said it was good to meet with people he hadn’t seen in a while. To trade stories about his old ball coach.

“It was amazing to see some people that I remember as a little guy playing,” Chinander said. “Three generations coming through there, it’s just amazing to hear some of the stories you never heard, and just how much they thought that he impacted their life.”

When a death happens, everyone deals with it differently and in their own way. For Chinander, he leaned on the people he’s most familiar with—his own players, his Blackshirts. In the locker room before the Minnesota game, he told his players that he loved them. How they’re a team and a family.

“At that point in time, I’m sure a lot of them didn’t know what to say to me or didn’t know how to react,” Chinander said. “And by no fault of their own, some of the spotlight had been shed on that situation. I didn’t want the spotlight on that, I wanted it to be on them and I wanted them to know that even though I’m going through something, I got their back. I love them. I need them to get through this. I need them more than they need me. So I just thought it was the right time to talk to those guys about it.”

How’s Chinander doing? He’s doing OK, he said. Losing a loved one always hurts, of course. But he takes comfort in knowing he’s doing what Gene would want him to do—to keep going. To lead the players he’s in charge of.

“I don’t think it’s ever going to get better,” Chinander said, “but it gets easier.”

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