Shawn Eichorst, as Nebraska’s athletic director, wasn’t able to consistently place a competitive product on the field, and that, it seems, was his downfall.
When University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green and University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds met with the media on Thursday to discuss the surprising firing of Eichorst as the Huskers’ leading man, the word of the day was competitiveness.
Between the two men, over the course of roughly 30 minutes, the phrase “compete” came up 30 times.
“Husker fans, as we know the best fans in the nation, deserve winning teams,” Green said. “And while we’ve made much progress, across many dimensions of Husker athletics, we expect more. Winning can and often does happen in concert with well-run, quality college programs that work to ensure the success of our students. That’s our expectation here at Nebraska.”
That’s an expectation that Eichorst didn’t live up to. Green said there has been an uptick in the amount of mail he has received from Nebraska fans expressing discontent in the athletic department since the beginning of the football season. He said competitiveness is a “shared thing,” but the athletic director, the leader, sets that tone.
“Shawn has led Nebraska athletics in many positive ways,” Green said. “While we deeply appreciate that work and all of his efforts, those efforts have not translated into the on-field excellence that we expect. Our fans and student-athletes deserve leadership that drives the highest level of competitiveness on the field as well as excellence across all facets of Husker athletics. The fact of the matter is we need to raise our on-field competitiveness.”
When asked, Green said that doesn’t just apply to football, but all sports. He said the Huskers “expect excellence” in baseball, basketball, gymnastics and volleyball. He did, however, acknowledge the role the football team – currently sitting at 1-2 for the second time in three years under head coach Mike Riley – plays.
“We know the importance of it to our brand,” he said. “The expectations associated with Husker football are high and should be high.”
With the Huskers losing to Northern Illinois at home on Saturday, a game they entered favored by double-digits, the timing seemed odd. Bounds said people will “make what they will of that,” but Green said even had the Huskers won that game, this still would have been a conversation. They didn’t look competitive with a team and a program Green and Bounds clearly felt wasn’t on the Huskers’ level.
“Clearly, the best, most objective way [to measure on-field competitiveness] is in wins and losses but there are differences in wins and losses,” Bounds said. “There are programs we compete with that we should compete with and there are programs where… not everybody can win every game at the end of the day but we expect to be in every game and compete every game.”
Green and Bounds both said that on-field competitiveness wasn’t something that Eichorst failed to understand, it was just a case where they weren’t satisfied with the results. When asked what those results look like to him, he answered saying “I’d love to be back in the mid 1990s,” a decade in which the Huskers won three national championships under Tom Osborne.
As for Osborne’s role in all this, Green said he has a personal relationship with the former Husker coach and athletic director and said they will talk with Osborne about what is required from an athletic director to be as competitive as they would like.
“We will be reaching out to those who have knowledge of Husker athletics as well as those who have run successful college programs around the country to gain their perspective,” he said.
Green said they have yet to speak with anyone about a position yet, however. But, Bounds said the university will hire a search firm and a consulting firm.
“When we think about the next athletic director, we are going to go after the most talented person we can find,” Bounds said. “We are not limiting ourselves to anyone or any place and at this point … We can’t make our decisions based on history. We have to look at a very competitive marketplace, we have to understand that we have the resources to absolutely be competitive, we’ve got to make certain we have the talent at the top position.”
In the meantime, Nebraska will look to hire an interim athletic director in the coming days and has already spoken with several candidates. Riley, the head coach who was told Thursday morning the man who hired him had been fired, still remains the Huskers’ coach.
“Mike Riley is our football coach, we expect him to compete,” Bounds said. “This is not about Mike Riley right now.”
The two men aren’t worried about the timing of the decision either. Bounds said the football team is still expected to compete on Saturday when it opens conference play against Rutgers at 2:30 p.m. CT. Green’s message to recruits who will be on the sidelines for the game, and for future games this season, is that the Huskers are “investing in the future.” He also said they couldn’t wait any longer.
“We wanted to get started,” Green said. “We’ve got work to do.”
Under Eichorst’s watch, Nebraska football was 34-21. Men’s basketball had a losing record. Women’s basketball was 38-37 in conference play. Baseball had a 1-6 record in the NCAA tournament.
“We expect the athletic director to use the resources that we’re so fortunate to have and deploy those for the coaches to have the absolute success that we expect,” Green said. “We believe the future of Husker athletics is indeed bright.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.