Rutgers vs. Nebraska, 9/23/17

Former University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds, who stepped down from that role Aug. 14, will play a lead fundraising role for the new football facility project that was formally announced Friday.

He's heard the question more than once during the last four-plus years: Hank, you're the president of the university. Why do you focus so much on athletics?

He has a pretty snappy answer.

"Because you can't get 90,000 people to show up to an economics lecture," says Hank Bounds, the University of Nebraska president whose final day on the job is set for Aug. 14. 

Sports matter at universities. Winning matters. Check out what's happened at Alabama, he says.

"The last time I looked at the numbers, the fastest-growing university in the country was the University of Alabama, and you can't convince me that winning national championships doesn't have something to do with that," he says.

Bounds was in full work mode Monday. Going a million miles per hour. Maybe you'd expect him to have his feet up on his desk at Varner Hall. That's not Hank. Granted, he'll settle into a slower pace soon enough. He'll get more family time. That's what he wants. But he'll still have plenty on his plate, rest assured. That's Hank.

He plans exactly no days off before beginning his next gig at South Alabama, where he'll teach university finance and other higher education-related courses to graduate students.

Yes, Nebraska opens its football season Aug. 31 against ... you guessed it ... South Alabama.

So, his allegiance switches quickly?

"No, no, no," he says. "I'm going to be a Husker."

That makes sense considering his heavy influence on Nebraska athletics. He's an NU president we'll long remember in part because of his affinity for the sporting realm. It's not just a fun little affinity, though. He regards athletics as an important way to stimulate overall university growth. And let's be clear: He's a competitive dude in general. Watch him work. Watch him raise funds.

Go back to Sept. 21 of 2017, the day Shawn Eichorst was ousted as Nebraska's athletic director. The message from Bounds and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green was clear: The importance of winning had just been ratcheted up a notch.

They lauded Eichorst's work in the areas of student-athletes' academic performance, life skills and community service. But we heard another message loud and clear: On-field results matter.

Bounds emphasized that being intensely competitive on the playing field can accompany Nebraska's strengths in other areas. But yes, winning matters. It had to be said. Many people will remember Bounds because of that very day.

A native of Mississippi, Bounds then played the lead role in hiring Eichorst's successor, Bill Moos. The affable Moos has taken on the challenge of changing the culture in Nebraska athletics, says Bounds, emphasizing the importance of Husker football coach Scott Frost in the discussion.

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"Scott coming in has played a big role in helping change the culture athletic department-wise," Bounds says. "He and (volleyball coach) John Cook are friends and hang out. Think about that."

Inspires just a bit of confidence, no?

"We've just got to get on a roll in a couple sports," Bounds says. "If we roll out a few football wins, in my view, I think you're going to see baseball looking differently. With basketball, it's a hard first year with so much change ... But you can kind of feel it over there (in the athletic department). When I go to football practice today versus four years ago, it's a very different feel."

He thinks "an all-in commitment" by Frost's players exists unlike anything he's seen during his tenure. To wit: He stopped by Memorial Stadium the other day and encountered Nebraska head football strength coach Zach Duval, who invited the president into his shop.

"Zach mentioned it was a voluntary workout day," Bounds says. "But the weight room was full. Full! I mean, it was packed."

Bounds probably anticipated my next question. After all, Frost earlier this month told reporters during Big Ten Media Days in Chicago that Nebraska's football facilities were OK, but also noted glaring deficiencies, even mentioning the weight room.

Bounds on Monday chose his words carefully regarding the much-speculated facilities subject. He should be careful. If Nebraska were to build a standalone football training complex and also renovate South Stadium, you're probably looking at a cost of at least $100 million.

"We hired Scott because he's a great competitor and he knows what it takes to compete," Bounds says. "You look at what's happening across the country with facilities, and Scott mentioned it -- we have to think carefully about what the future of our facilities looks like."

He paused before adding, "I think Scott's right that we have to really look at everything we do. I think we have to look at facilities. We have to look at how we train students. We have to look at life skills and academics. Everybody else is."

Bounds is fully aware of Nebraska's recruiting challenges. But he isn't one to make excuses for anything. He's one to solve problems. Period.

I'll remember him as a president who combined his southern charm with a hard-driving approach that could rankle folks.

"I would hope that saying I expect us to compete doesn't make anybody uncomfortable," he says. "I would hope it would make people excited."

I'll remember Bounds for telling the Legislature's Appropriations Committee this past March that NU should be aiming to attract the best and brightest students and faculty rather than discussing how much money it simply needed to get by.

"Anybody can lead if you want to just get by," he says.

Not just anybody can lead like Bounds. He made quite an impression in our sporting realm, especially during that September day in 2017.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

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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