Of Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman’s many questions to Shawn Eichorst during the interview process, one answer was most convincing.
It’s when Perlman asked how Eichorst would be able to measure his success as an athletic director five years from now.
“His response,” Perlman said, “was that, ‘If the coaches and the student-athletes have been successful and nobody knows my name, it will be a success. The athletic department is all about the success of coaches and student-athletes.’”
That touch of humility is one of many favorable traits that Perlman said makes Eichorst, who has Midwestern roots, the perfect fit as Nebraska’s next athletic director.
Eichorst, a Wisconsin native who spent the past 18 months as athletic director at the University of Miami (Fla.), will succeed Tom Osborne, who announced his retirement Sept. 26.
Perlman confirmed Eichorst’s hiring during a Thursday news conference. Eichorst accepted Perlman’s offer Wednesday night, resigned as Miami’s athletic director Thursday and will be formally introduced Tuesday, when he begins his Nebraska career by working as a special assistant to Perlman.
Eichorst will officially become Nebraska’s athletic director Jan. 1, when Osborne assumes the title of athletic director emeritus.
“I was surprised and delighted to be able to find in this search an individual that had all the sets of experiences and talents that the University of Nebraska needs,” Perlman said, “and also has the characteristics and admiration and respect for the culture of Nebraska, the great success that we’ve had in athletics, and is anxious to carry on that culture and tradition here.”
Eichorst will have an annual salary of $973,000, although there’s a steep penalty if he leaves Nebraska within five years. He would owe $2 million if he leaves within one year, with that penalty decreasing by $500,000 each year until he’s been at Nebraska five years.
Eichorst will receive $750,000 if he stays at Nebraska for five years. Otherwise, there are no bonuses structured into his contract, Perlman said.
The $973,000 salary ranks third among Big Ten Conference athletic directors, behind Ohio State and Wisconsin, and is eighth nationally, according to an October 2011 USA Today list of athletic director salaries.
Perlman said that the salary is “competitive” with what Eichorst was making at Miami, which doesn’t disclose that information because it’s a private institution.
Eichorst was in Lincoln to interview with Perlman on Sept. 9; Eichorst drove from Manhattan, Kan., where Miami had played Kansas State in football the previous day.
Perlman interviewed only one other person, also an external candidate, after a review of “a number” of candidates was narrowed to “a few,” he said. A search firm, Korn/Ferry International, facilitated the process.
Why didn’t Perlman hire someone within the Nebraska family?
“I did that once, as you’ll recall,” Perlman said, referring to his 2002 hiring -- and 2007 firing -- of Nebraska native and alum Steve Pederson.
“It’s not whether you were born or raised in Nebraska,” Perlman said. “It’s about understanding the culture of Nebraska, understanding the culture of the athletic department, knowing what a Midwestern, public university is about. That’s very important. It’s fit. It’s not where you were born or where you grew up.”
Perlman said he considered internal candidates, but that Eichorst’s credentials were what Nebraska needed now in an athletic director.
“It may well be our fault,” Perlman said, “but we have not done a good job of giving (internal candidates) the range of experiences and range of opportunities to prepare them for this position.”
Eichorst took the job at Miami after serving as deputy athletic director at the University of Wisconsin, where his responsibilities under athletic director Barry Alvarez included serving as the department's chief operating officer and overseeing day-to-day operations, from 2009-11.
Eichorst was hired by Miami in April 2011. In August of that year, Yahoo! Sports reported details of a scandal in which a booster allegedly provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 athletes from 2002 through 2010. Eichorst was not athletic director during that time.
“I have no reason to believe that Shawn was unhappy at Miami,” Perlman said, “but he saw this as an attractive opportunity to get back to the Midwest and get back to the Big Ten.”
Perlman said Eichorst is taking over an athletic program that is in “good hands” and has the right people, the right programs and strong facilities. Major changes are not needed or expected, he said.
“I don’t think there’s some kind of major thing that has to be handled,” Perlman said. “Shawn believes that’s true. His first task is to learn the people in the department, engage with them to see what their aspirations are.
“This is not going to be a transition in which there’s a crisis and somebody’s got to come in and do something dramatic. I would be surprised if drama was going to be a work characterizing the next several years.”