New Nebraska AD Eichorst: Pelini on right track

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini needn’t worry about having the support
of his new boss.

Shawn Eichorst, who took over as athletic director Jan. 1, said
in an interview with The Associated Press that he admires how
Pelini runs the Cornhuskers’ program and he believes Pelini is on
track to win a championship.

The Huskers were 10-4 this past season, finishing with a
39-point loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game and a
14-point loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. Pelini is 49-20
in five seasons, never having won fewer than nine games but never
losing fewer than four.

Nebraska hasn’t won a conference title since 1999 or played in a
BCS game since the end of the 2001 season.

”Nobody is going to have higher expectations for this place
than me, nor coach Pelini, so that’s a given,” Eichorst said.
”I’ve yet to be at a place at this level that doesn’t want to win
championships. So I get that. So we’ll just keep pounding the rock
and trying to close the gap. We’re not far away, and I think there
are a lot of folks out there that feel the same way.”

Eichorst, hired away from Miami in October, succeeded the
retired Tom Osborne after spending two-plus months as special
assistant to chancellor Harvey Perlman. Eichorst signed a five-year
contract that pays him $973,000 to start.

He takes over after a spate of major building projects. Football
stadium expansion will raise capacity to more than 90,000 this
fall, the new downtown basketball arena opens next season, and an
academic center and basketball practice facility opened in
2011.

Eichorst said he plans to ”look and listen and learn” the next
few months.

”I’m really not coming in with any sort of preconceived
agenda,” he said. ”I just don’t think that’s something that would
be successful.”

In an email, Perlman said he was impressed with the way Eichorst
interacted with university leaders during his first few weeks on
campus.

”There have been no surprises on my part,” Perlman wrote. ”He
understands the role of athletics within the broader university and
I suspect he will be a good partner that will produce benefits for
both athletics and academics.”

One of the main questions upon Eichorst’s arrival was how he
would view Pelini and the football program, which generates about
85 percent of the revenue in a department with a $95 million
budget.

Osborne, who hired Pelini in 2008, set a high standard during
his 25 years as coach. The program has not come close to
recapturing the aura of Osborne’s mid-1990s teams, which won
national championships in three of his last four years. The team
hasn’t finished a season in the top 10 since 2001.

Eichorst said Pelini has the Huskers on the right track.

”I think that our head football coach is an excellent coach,
character-based, fundamentally sound,” Eichorst said. ”I’m
impressed with his staff. I’m impressed with our players, their
attitude, how they go about their business, their academics.”

Eichorst said many programs would love to play in conference
championship games three of the last four years and in New Year’s
Day bowl games, as the Huskers have done.

”I know the expectations and the tradition and history here,”
he said. ”Everybody’s got room to grow unless you’re winning that
(national) championship game.”

The new AD, who played defensive back at Wisconsin-Whitewater,
said the 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game didn’t
raise any red flags with him.

”That happens in football,” he said. ”I’ve been around it
long enough. Just one of those days. But again, we’re there. We’ll
break through.”

Osborne, who turns 76 next month, keeps an office one floor
above Eichorst’s, and serves as a sounding board and
consultant.

”He parks in the same spot and all that stuff,” Eichorst said.
”He’s around, he’s visible, and I’m glad because there are things
I have to bounce off him on occasion. And folks – student-athletes,
staff members – really like to see him and are energized to see
him.”

Osborne wears the title of athletic director emeritus and is
scheduled to stay on through July 31 to ease the transition to
Eichorst.

The best advice Osborne gave him?

”Be yourself,” Eichorst said. ”Do what you think is right and
continue to … lead with values and treat people with respect and
understand what it is we’re trying to get done. Provide a situation
where student-athletes can be successful and have a better life and
can make our communities better and all those sorts of
things.”

Eichorst said he considers it a privilege to succeed a man of
Osborne’s stature, and he hopes Osborne maintains a presence in the
department and around campus.

”I hope he’s here for as long as he wants to be here,”
Eichorst said. ”He and I have talked about that, because it’s
important to me and important to all the folks in this building and
the state.”