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After all the noise of the last two years, it was suddenly quiet, so quiet, as the man in the suit walked down a long hallway and made a right turn into the middle of it all, one final gulp of water before making heard the only voice in this deal that has mattered all along.

He's been on the job for almost two years, but many Nebraskans don't know a whole lot about Shawn Eichorst.

That was about to change on a day Eichorst made the boldest move an athletic director at Nebraska can make: He fired the football coach.

"Let me say this: The people of Nebraska deserve not only high standards and expectations, but they deserve our people and our teams to reach them," Eichorst said.

His decision "crystallized" on Saturday night, and by Sunday morning, Eichorst was in his office with Bo Pelini sitting across from him.

They talked for about 20 minutes, Eichorst said. He told Pelini up front he was going another direction, firing Pelini as Nebraska's head coach after seven seasons, a scenario reminiscent of 11 years ago, when Frank Solich was also let go after a 9-3 regular season capped by a dramatic Black Friday victory.

"It was a cordial, professional conversation," Eichorst said at a Sunday afternoon news conference. "I like Bo. Bo's a good guy, a good coach. And at the end of the day, I think we both agreed it was best to go in different directions."

And so, Nebraska will be searching for its fourth coach since Tom Osborne retired in 1997.

Solich, Callahan, Pelini .... (someone).

"I'm good. Thanks for asking!" Pelini texted The Associated Press when asked for comment.

Eichorst said there were other things beyond on-field performance that contributed to the firing, though he didn't want to specify what those things were.

“I think in the totality of the circumstances, the best I would say is we didn’t meet expectations both on and off the field. Getting into any specifics wouldn’t be something that I’m about," he said.

Nebraska's recent blowups on big stages were clearly atop Eichorst's mind in making the call.

"Although we did win a bunch of games, we didn’t win the games that mattered the most. I think we gave Coach ample time, ample resources and ample support to get that done. Now we’re headed in a different direction.”

Players were informed of the decision in an email, which also included word that associate head coach Barney Cotton will be the interim head coach for bowl preparations.

"I very much wanted to meet with you in person this morning but with so many of you out of town on the off weekend, logistically, it was impossible to gather all of you in Lincoln," Eichorst's email to players read.

Eichorst met with players Sunday night.

A member of Pelini's staff said an associate athletic director called assistants around 9 Sunday morning and informed them of a meeting at 11.

"It went bang-bang," the staff member said.

As coaches showed up for the meeting, defensive coordinator John Papuchis politely declined comment.

According to a staff member, coaches worked Saturday, and as of 5 p.m., the staff was planning to go on the road Sunday to recruit.

When reached by the Journal Star, NU regent Jim Pillen, a former Husker player from the '70s, said he didn't know anything about Pelini's firing. "I feel bad for the players," he said.

Another former Husker, Steve Glenn, who ran for regent this year but lost in an election that strangely focused on Pelini's job status, said: “I think it’s pretty profound that you have an athletic director who is willing to basically commit to greatness and not just accept good."

NU players were clearly in shock after learning the news and strongly supportive of their fired coach.

"Unreal. Bo believed in me and I 100% believed in him. Can't believe this ...," tweeted sophomore wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp.

"Bo was the best coach I have ever had the pleasure to play under. Highest character, loyal, I could make a freakin list ...," said senior offensive guard Mike Moudy.

"Basically we woke up to a break up text over an email ... how you expect us to feel?" tweeted linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey.

"Biggest mistake you ever made ... Bo was the best coach I've ever had and I'll always appreciate the things you taught me," tweeted Husker quarterback Tommy Armstrong.

"Speechless ...," tweeted former Husker Rex Burkhead said.

Former Husker Ndamukong Suh, who was on hand for Nebraska's 37-34 comeback win at Iowa on Friday, tweeted that leadership issues "extend above the head football coach's office."

Current Huskers held a 45-minute team meeting on Sunday night with Eichorst and Cotton. It was a ticked-off group. No one wanted to comment.

"Go home to your families," one Husker told a cluster of reporters.

"Ain't this some s---? Y'all got nothing better to do?" said another.

Recruits were just as disappointed, and confused.

One recent Husker recruit, defensive end Reuben Jones, told the Journal Star that defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski reached out to him Sunday morning to tell him the staff was getting fired.

"I might be forced to look elsewhere," Jones said.

Three Nebraska recruits — offensive lineman Mirko Jurkovic, wide receiver Stanley Morgan and running back Kendall Bussey — decommitted Sunday.

Bussey, the star running back out of New Orleans whose dad has close ties with NU wide receivers coach Rich Fisher, tweeted that while he has not entirely closed the door on Nebraska, "I feel that it is in my best interest to reopen my recruitment."

NU will lose some recruits. It will also lose some money.

Per Pelini's contract, NU is on the hook to pay him $7.65 million, owing him $150,000 monthly for the next 51 months, though that total would lessen if he takes another job.

All assistant coaches, and strength coach James Dobson, were under contract through January 2016. They are owed a total of just more than $3.1 million.

The assistants will remain on staff, recruiting from on campus, with their future at Nebraska hinging on the plans of the next head coach.

Pelini will exit the program with a 67-27 record, having won at least nine games all seven seasons and 10 games three years, but without a conference championship so craved by a hungry fan base.

While Pelini’s number of losses stacks up favorably to most of his peers, detractors would point to the way those games were lost, with Nebraska losing seven games in the last four years by at least 20 points, including a 59-24 meltdown at Wisconsin last month.

Pelini was 9-16 against ranked teams, with this year’s Wisconsin game joining a 2013 loss to UCLA (41-21), a 2012 loss to Ohio State (63-38), and 2011 losses to Wisconsin (48-17) and Michigan (45-17) as recent losses to Top 25 teams in which the game got out of hand. The 2012 Big Ten Championship Game still registers as damning as any game, when the Huskers were routed 70-31 by a 7-5 Badger team, denying NU a trip to the Rose Bowl.

That game was one of three conference championship game appearances Nebraska made under Pelini. The Huskers also fell short in Big 12 title games against Texas in 2009 (last-second 13-12 loss) and Oklahoma in 2010 (23-20 loss after NU raced to a 17-0 lead).

While Pelini has come under criticism for not getting enough wins on big stages, he's ninth in winning percentage (.713) since he took over in 2008. Only Nick Saban (83-10), Chris Petersen (77-14), Bob Stoops (72-15), Urban Meyer (69-10), Gary Patterson (68-20), Les Miles (69-22), Brian Kelly (67-23) and Mark Dantonio (67-25) have better records over that span.

Pelini is the first coach from a Power 5 conference to be fired after winning more than seven games each of his first seven years.

But after weighing the pros and cons of what he's seen the past two years, Eichorst felt comfortable in his decision no matter what critics may say about firing a nine-win coach.

"My process is pretty strategic. It’s pretty disciplined. It’s pretty measured. It’s very inclusive. It’s very thorough," Eichorst said. "I do these reviews and then I sit down with our coaches and talk to them about what the vision is and what we expect. And I do that so we can get on the same page and agree that the resources are appropriate, and that I’m here and we’re here to help.

"But at the end of the day, they are going to run the program the way they want to run it and we are going to sit down and hold each other accountable for it."

Pelini's job status has been speculated about often by fans, and media, over the past two years, with intensity growing in September of last year when a 2-year-old audiotape was released of the coach going on a curse-filled diatribe about Husker fans.

It built up to the final week of last season, when Pelini said after a loss to Iowa: "If they want to fire me, go ahead. I believe in what I have done and I don't apologize for anything I have done."

A day later, Eichorst offered support of Pelini in a statement.

"Not really close," Eichorst said Sunday to whether he almost ended the marriage last year.

"I owed it to Coach (Pelini), again, he is a good man who has always wanted to do the right thing, and so I wanted to listen and provide the support — and I was hopeful we could turn this thing around. I think the easiest thing to do would have been to go in a different direction. Sometimes I don’t take the easy road, and that is OK.”

Eichorst said he did factor Nebraska's comeback win against Iowa on Friday into the decision but also felt that beating a 7-5 Hawkeye team didn't signify a major breakthrough following losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota.

"We were not playing for a conference championship and neither was Iowa. And I have great respect for Iowa ... but in the final analysis, their record was where it was and our record was where it was.”

And so the decision went public in an email at 9:43 Sunday morning.

UNL chancellor Harvey Perlman did not appear at Sunday's news conference but said in a statement he supported Eichorst.

"I am confident that Shawn will find the best coach, teacher and fit for this university and for our football program," Perlman said.

Now, a mad search for the next guy, unless the next guy is already known.

Eichorst, a man who has been mostly a mystery to Husker fans, now owns the spotlight. And he wasn't tipping his hand Sunday.

Will it be easy? Some aren't so sure after this.

"Name one person who wants to come into this type of environment," tweeted former Husker lineman Cole Pensick. "Great choice Nebraska."

Eichorst, however, seemed confident in the direction he was going.

Florida also has a job open, and Michigan may be looking for a new coach, but Eichorst said he believes Nebraska is the best one out there.

"I have said this before, resources are not the question here at Nebraska," he said. "That does not mean we are not going to be responsible. I have seen people spend a lot of money and not do very much winning."

He said he will not hire a search firm. There'll be no committee to choose the next head coach. He will decide.

If that frightens some who remember Steve Pederson's 41-day, one-man search 11 years ago, Eichorst said he is only looking ahead, not back.

When a reporter asked about the air of uncertainty hanging over the Husker program, Eichorst pointed out that things are no different today than they were Friday morning.

“What I would say is — we had a lot of uncertainty where we were a couple days ago. So there was as much uncertainty in our program and where we were going as there probably is now; 'What is next?' So, hopefully, folks have faith in me to do the right thing.”

​Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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