New Nebraska Athletic Director, 10.09.12

Future Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst gestures towards his family during the introduction by UNL chancellor Harvey Perlman at the Van Brunt Visitors Center on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012.

FRANCIS GARDLER/Lincoln Journal Star

Shawn Eichorst's three boys walked into the big room, nattily attired in red and white polos.

"They don't have a clue what they're in for," my friend said with a wry grin.

Dad has a clue. Dad has a law degree from Marquette. Dad was chief operating officer (No. 2 guy) in the 23-program Wisconsin athletic department, in charge of day-to-day operations. Dad was head honcho of athletics at Miami (Fla.), so he obviously can manage a headache or two.

Dad is sharp. Genuine. Humble. Understated. Self-effacing. A no-B.S. sort.

That was my read Tuesday on Nebraska's next athletic director. I could be dead wrong.

I'm pretty confident of the no-B.S. part because he passed my secret test. People (Chancellor Harvey Perlman) kept saying last week that Eichorst "understands our culture." Perhaps. But before Nebraska came calling in late August, Eichorst had visited our state only a couple times. How could he have much more than a surface-level understanding of our culture?

I asked him that very question.

"It's going to take time," he said. "I don't know if you ever have a full grasp of things. I hope to be patient and measured and ask a lot of questions. I try to do a lot more listening than talking, so that when I do talk, at least it sounds somewhat intelligent."

Eichorst obviously has learned plenty from Barry Alvarez, a very high-profile AD at Wisconsin.

I prefer the low-key athletic director who generally stays behind the scenes. Tom Osborne, of course, had no choice but be relatively high-profile, given his exalted stature in college athletics.

"I really don't want to have to be out in front, but I know at a place like Nebraska, I need to do that," Eichorst said. "I'm prepared to do that."

Then he said something Osborne surely would appreciate.

"But I want to always make sure we ground what we do in what we're doing with our young people, and that's trying to prepare them for the game of life," Eichorst said. "I don't want to be bigger than that ..."

Steve Pederson wanted to be bigger than that. Much bigger. That approach didn't fly here.

There are no guarantees the new guy will work out. But he made a nice first impression.

He thanked all the right people. Thanked Osborne for his support (smart move).

He even quoted from an Osborne book (nice touch).

Said Osborne was going to grow tired of all his questions (wise approach).

He thanked his wife (well-played) and those three boys.

He spoke highly of Alvarez and the impact the former Husker linebacker has had on his career.

He talked of growing up in the farmlands of southwestern Wisconsin. Family, church, school, sports (particularly football), work — that was his life.

He fed pigs, milked cows, pulled tassels from corn.

He said he lived for Saturdays in the fall "to watch Big Ten and Big Eight football." Smart to mention the old Big Eight. We love those memories.

Said he appreciates "the great balance of athletics and academics" at Nebraska.

He seems genuine when he's saying all the right things.

Seems a good fit.

Seems like a guy Bo Pelini will appreciate, especially the straight-talk part of his personality.

"A lot of folks I trust and respect have good things to say about Bo Pelini," Eichorst said. "He's a winner. He's won everywhere he's been."

The Nebraska AD job obviously is a formidable challenge. As Perlman pointed out, we're talking about a $95-million, highly regulated and highly visible business operation.

Nebraska is a uniquely complicated and nuanced place. Exhibit A: Osborne said Tuesday he didn't attend last week's formal announcement of Eichorst's hiring because he wasn't invited. Does Osborne honestly think he needed an invitation?

Osborne said he didn't even know about the formal announcement on the day it occurred. A lady I ran into at a gas station in Beatrice knew about the announcement an hour before it occurred. But the current Husker athletic director didn't know?

The Husker athletic culture is complex. Even so, we value straight talk. We seemingly always received that from Osborne, the icon.

I have a feeling we'll get straight talk from Eichorst, the next guy.

"The core values of Nebraska athletics are simple, but yet so powerful," he said. "Integrity, trust, respect, teamwork and loyalty. That's who you are, that's who I am."

He said he was honored to become part of the Husker family. It felt like he meant it. I'll go with that on Day One.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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