Eichorst introduces himself to Husker Nation

2012-10-09T21:00:00Z 2012-10-10T10:58:04Z Eichorst introduces himself to Husker NationBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

His name had been familiar in these parts for five days, but now Shawn Eichorst was here in the flesh with an "N" pin on his suit coat.

And you know the deal by now: The red lapel pin means you're in the family.

"A thank you to Husker Nation, whose warm embrace has proved that passion and class go hand in hand," Eichorst said, speaking publicly Tuesday for the first time as Nebraska's next athletic director. "This is a special place, special city and very special state."

Set to take over the athletic director post Jan. 1, Eichorst used much of the beginning of his only statement to praise Tom Osborne, who watched from the back of the room.

"A thank you to Coach Osborne for his support and willingness to let me learn from a legend," Eichorst said.

He added that the momentum set by Osborne can be seen in the sellouts at Memorial Stadium and the steel structures of the new basketball arena being constructed.

It's important, Eichorst said, to recognize "the legacy of those who came before us and laid the foundation for what comes next."

Announced as the AD-to-be by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman at a news conference Thursday, Eichorst fielded a wide range of questions: from his time under Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin, to how he evaluates his recent job performance as athletic director at Miami, to multiple queries on his thoughts about the Husker football program, which is coming off a rough weekend at Ohio State.

"It's the engine that drives this. There's no secrets there," Eichorst said to the latter subject. "I appreciate the awesomeness that that is. And again, having been in the Big Ten and Southeastern conferences, (football's) the deal. I'm not going to shy away from that.

"We will do everything we possibly can to position our football program and young people in a way that they can be successful."

Husker football coach Bo Pelini, busy with his usual turn on the Big Ten teleconference during Eichorst's introduction, said he looks forward to working with the new AD.

“I’ve heard nothing but great things from people he’s worked with, and his reputation is impeccable," Pelini said.

Eichorst said now was not the time or place to have an assessment of the football program, pointing out that Osborne is in charge right now.

While Eichorst hadn't had an opportunity to talk with Pelini at length prior to the press conference, Eichorst said he hoped to do that within the next day.

"I have great admiration, and a lot of folks that I trust and respect have good things to say about Bo Pelini," he said. "And he's a winner. He's won everywhere he's been. I look forward to working with him."

Eichorst is scheduled to begin this week as special assistant to the chancellor, a role which figures to help him in transitioning to the athletic director's post.

He said he plans to pick Osborne's brain a great deal in the months ahead.

"He's probably going to get tired of seeing me," Eichorst said. "I hope to be into his back pocket as much as I can."

Osborne, meanwhile, offered his full support of Eichorst.

"He was very kind in his comments, but he's going to have to be his own person, and he will be," Osborne said.

Osborne also said people shouldn't read into the fact that he wasn't at Perlman's announcement last Thursday, noting he wasn't invited and didn't know about the news conference.

"The fact that I wasn't there was no reflection of any kind of dissatisfaction or opinion that I had on anything," he said. "There should be no speculation about that. It was the chancellor's hire. He made the hire. I understand that. It's perfectly acceptable to me."

Osborne met with Eichorst on Monday night and introduced him to the athletic department Tuesday during a 10 a.m. meeting.

"My job, at this point, is to make a successful hand-off, and we will get that done," Osborne said.

While Perlman expressed last Thursday that Osborne may be one of those disappointed he didn't play a stronger role in the AD search process, the chancellor said Tuesday he trusts Osborne explicitly. Osborne, he said, has been nothing but gracious in the early stages of transition.

"I think we're in good shape," Perlman said.

The chancellor said Eichorst's experience in dealing with the complexities of running an athletic department was the first thing that stuck out to him, with Eichorst having spent the past 18 months as the athletic director at Miami.

"And the second thing was, I connected with him," Perlman said. "And I think the reason I connected with him and he connected with me was he fits the culture of Nebraska."

Eichorst came onto Perlman's radar in late August when the chancellor had a meeting with Jed Hughes, who is part of the Korn/Ferry search firm Nebraska was using to help find Osborne's replacement.

Hughes supplied Perlman a list of people who he thought were worth closer examination.

"And I must say about Jed, he had a really good sense of what we needed as opposed to what some other institution might need," Perlman said.

The description of Eichorst stood out above the others.

On Eichorst's trip to the Lincoln campus in early September -- a visit known to very few people at the time -- he visited Perlman's house to talk. The talk lasted about 2 1/2 hours.

"When he left, I told (my wife) Susan, 'I think this guy's terrific,'" Perlman said.

Perlman remained on the lookout for other possible candidates, and was intrigued by one other.

"He would've been, I think, a pretty good hire, but not with the experience Shawn has," Perlman said.

A native of Lone Rock, Wis., Eichorst was an all-conference defensive back and team captain for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater football team, graduating magna cum laude in business in 1990, before obtaining a law degree at Marquette University.

"It wasn't big-time, but it was big enough for me," Eichorst said of those days playing football for Whitewater. "What I learned on the football field -- resilience, persistence, determination, work ethic, teamwork, toughness -- would carry me through law school, the business world, college athletics.

"I have never wavered in my belief that athletics can not only provide opportunity, it can be one of life's great teachers. And that's why I'm so excited to be a Husker."

While his stay in Miami was brief, Eichorst said he feels he left that athletic department in a better situation than when he arrived there.

He says the NCAA compliance issues facing Miami -- issues that happened before Eichorst was AD there -- had "zero" impact on his decision.

Perhaps as impressive as anything on Eichorst's resume is the five years he served as Wisconsin's deputy athletic director, working under the direction of a former Husker in Alvarez.

Eichorst was Alvarez's right-hand man in Madison from 2006-11. It's hard to find a better training ground than that, he thinks.

Among the more important things Eichorst said he learned from Alvarez is how to relate to coaches.

"I didn't coach, so I've really tried to learn my craft in a way that, I don't really try to put myself in the coaches' shoes, but I want to be able to support them in the right ways," Eichorst said. "Coach (Alvarez) has helped me with that timing, and when to talk to a coach and when not to talk to a coach, and those sorts of things."

Nebraska's new athletic director will have a base salary of $973,000, which ranks third among Big Ten athletic directors and among the Top 10 of known athletic directors salaries nationwide.

He will become the 13th athletic director at the school.

His introductory press conference was not a rah-rah affair. Eichorst was measured as he spoke, pausing a couple of beats to ponder some questions before delivering an answer.

Plenty still to learn about this place, he said. But one thing he believed right away is that the pieces already are there for great success to be had in Husker athletics.

"I don't think this is a place that you have to reinvent the wheel. I think what you have to do is that you have to get yourself immersed in everything Nebraska. My goal would be to make something that is already great better."

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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