Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Steven M. Sipple: New AD might encounter rugged terrain

Steven M. Sipple: New AD might encounter rugged terrain

  • Updated
  • 0

As a Wisconsin native, he's used to the cold.

Probably a good thing.

It seemed awfully chilly in the room Thursday when Shawn Eichorst was announced as Nebraska's new athletic director, effective Jan. 1.

Eichorst, athletic director at Miami (Fla.) since April 2011, will enter a challenging situation at NU. It could be awkward, at least initially — not by his doing, mind you.

In many circumstances in life, a new boss evokes feelings of anxiety and general discomfort.

In this case, there's the detail that a Nebraska icon is upset he wasn't more involved in the hiring process.

The icon, Tom Osborne, was conspicuous by his absence at the Van Brunt Visitors Center, where UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman announced his choice to replace Osborne.

Eichorst couldn't attend. He will be formally introduced Tuesday.

Why wasn't Osborne there?

"You'll have to ask him," Perlman said.

The chancellor continued, "I think he's disappointed he didn't play a stronger role."

Osborne had a relatively insignificant role despite Perlman's assurance Sept. 26 — the day Osborne announced his impending retirement — that "Tom will play an important role in advising me" during the hiring process.

So, Osborne feels slighted.

He isn't the only one.

Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini was told he would have significant input. But he last talked to Perlman about the situation in August, before the search began. The executive search firm helping Perlman had trouble reaching Pelini during the last couple of weeks, Perlman said.

Whatever. I'm told Pelini isn't thrilled. He learned Thursday morning that Eichorst was the choice — not necessarily a big deal until you consider Pelini was told he would be involved.

Pelini is like most of us in that trust is a crucial word in his world. Trust and loyalty. The damage in this case may be irreparable.

If I were Perlman, my concern would be that his actions (or lack thereof) pertaining to Osborne and Pelini arguably discredit the university even if Eichorst turns out to be a sound hire — and even if Perlman has a sound argument for limiting Osborne and Pelini's involvement.

My read is that Perlman led them to believe they both would have significant input in the process. They didn't, especially Pelini. And now it's clear that two very powerful men are disgruntled. I'm sure Osborne's legions of fans are just thrilled about that little development. I'm certain at least a few guys who played for Tom will make their feelings known publicly — they're good at that.

Welcome to Lincoln, Shawn.

Osborne, in a prepared statement, said he will do whatever he can to assist Eichorst during the transition. It was a one-sentence statement. A bit chilly.

I admire Perlman in many regards. He makes extremely difficult decisions and stands behind them. Sometimes he's right (Big Ten), sometimes he misfires (Steve Pederson).

In this case, it appears he made a nice hire. But why not be more sensitive toward Osborne and Pelini?

A couple of weeks ago, Perlman said, he informed Osborne he was interviewing two candidates. A few days before the Sept. 29 game against Wisconsin in Lincoln, Perlman told Osborne that Eichorst was the front-runner. Perlman wanted Osborne to discuss Eichorst with Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez while Alvarez was in town for the game. But Perlman already had identified his guy, without consulting Tom.

Regarding Osborne's involvement, Perlman said, "It's an unusual circumstance, I'll be very honest with you. Tom Osborne is an icon ... probably synonymous with Husker athletics. At the same time, my belief is incumbents shouldn't be too intimately involved in the selection of their successors."

So why not make that clear from the start, even if it rankles a few folks (including Osborne)? Perhaps Perlman was in a no-win situation. If that were the case, just go with the truth.

If there were two or three candidates in a close race, Perlman said, perhaps he would have involved more people in the decision, including Osborne.

"In this circumstance, to me, the selection was clear," Perlman said.

Eichorst might prove to be an excellent fit. His resume is strong, especially his stint (2009-11) as deputy athletic director at Wisconsin. When you work your way into Alvarez's circle, you've done something.

Eichorst has supervised a variety of sports, engaged in media relationships, negotiated contracts. The gamut.

What's more, "He's not a born Nebraskan, but he just seems like a Nebraskan when you sit down and talk to him," Perlman said.

I expressed previously that I thought the new athletic director should have strong ties to Nebraska because of our state's uniqueness. The Husker athletic culture is complex and nuanced. The complexities can be difficult for natives to understand, let alone someone unfamiliar with the territory.

Perlman's response made sense: You don't have to be from Nebraska to understand its culture. It was more about finding the right fit, he said.

"It's not about where you were born or where you live," he said.

Where we live, we like straight talk. I know for a fact Osborne and Pelini appreciate it. Perlman should know that by now.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or


Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

  • Updated

Everyone around Lincoln has been trying to figure out who this Shawn Eichorst guy is and what he’s all about since he was named the man to succeed Tom Osborne on Thursday. Maybe a text Lance Leipold received over the lunch hour on Tuesday offers a clue.

  • Updated

A listing of the top 10 known college athletic director salaries, as compiled by USA Today in October 2011.

  • Updated

Hometown: Lone Rock, Wis.

Alma mater: University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Family: Married to Kristin Eichorst. Three sons: Jack, Joseph and Bennett

(Click the headline for more.)

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News

Husker News