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Rutgers vs. Nebraska, 9/23/17

University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds speaks with visitors to the Nebraska-Rutgers game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 23.

Hank Bounds is like a lot of great coaches in that he pays close attention to details.

The third-year University of Nebraska president tries to do even the "small things" with care.

In that regard, scores of Husker football fans noticed Bounds' letter to Kelvin Hicks, father of four-star Wichita, Kansas, pass rusher Marcus Hicks, in the wake of the Hicks' recent visit to campus. Kelvin Hicks shared the letter via Twitter.

"Every time I meet with someone, I try to send a note," Bounds said Monday morning over coffee.

"I spend a lot of time studying what good leaders look like," he added. "I think the best leaders are good communicators. I think (writing letters) is a good communication strategy. But I think it's also what a professional — or a gentleman — does."

Bounds, who has a doctorate in education leadership (2000, University of Mississippi), is an excellent communicator. That I know.

We know he expects a lot from himself and his university — including its athletic teams — and tends to loathe excuses.

We also know he thoroughly enjoys football, possessing keen understanding of its complexities, including the importance of 6-foot-6, 230-pound edge rushers.

In terms of Bounds' demanding nature, I asked him about something he said last fall — that every Husker sport should be able to chase national championships.

That's unrealistic in Year 1 of the Scott Frost era, for obvious reasons.

But what about Nebraska men's basketball, with sixth-year head coach Tim Miles. Is chasing national titles realistic for a program that's 0-for-7 all-time in the NCAA Tournament?

"Why wouldn't it be?" Bounds said. "Who has a better (arena) than us? I mean, we have the facilities. You'll hear people say you can't recruit to the climate. I don't know that Ohio State's climate is much different than ours, or Penn State's.

"I believe in removing excuses."

I believe that's quality leadership.

"I'll borrow a line from (Nebraska volleyball coach) John Cook: 'Why not us?'" Bounds said. "Why should we have different expectations for women's volleyball than we have for baseball? Or basketball? We spend a lot of money on athletics. A lot of people do. But at the end of the day, we should expect that we are competitive in every sport."

Why do we care what Bounds thinks about Nebraska athletics? It's because he makes it a priority. When he says Husker athletics is the front door to the university, he acutely understands the significance. He means it. Appreciates it. He also means it when he says the buck stops with him.

Bounds can come off sounding blunt about expectations and performance. I like that about him. I also wonder sometimes if a leader with that sort of style can stay at one place for an extensive period of time. Hank's going to rankle people at times, make some people feel uncomfortable. But sometimes it's needed.

"Why shouldn't we talk about chasing national titles in every sport?" he said. "I want someone to tell me why not."

After a pause, he added, "I'll tell you this: Have you ever grown personally or professionally at a time when you were really comfortable? I don't think discomfort is a bad thing. But the fine line is you can't create such discomfort that you create paralysis."

His lofty expectations and no-excuse mantra are refreshing. Along those lines, he noted what Frost did in December, when he prepared UCF to beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl while simultaneously producing a top-25 recruiting class for Nebraska.

"That's just about rising to the occasion," Bounds said.

Bounds, who's attended two of Frost's practices this spring, played football for Forrest County (Mississippi) High School, his playing career coming to an end nine games into his junior season when he suffered a neck injury.

He once considered a life as a football coach. He was a graduate assistant at Southern Miss (helping with wideouts), then a high school teacher and coach at Moss Point High School — a national power at the time — before becoming a principal at Forrest County High, at age 25.

He turned in his whistle at that point, but still likes the sound.

He thinks Frost and his staff "really connect with players in a way that's pretty special."

"The other thing is, I've gone to lots of practices for lots of different sports at lots of different campuses and I don't know if I've ever seen a practice that moves as fast as his practice does," Bounds said of Frost. "They just have a different pace about how they do business. I like to be around people that have a sense of urgency."

That said, Bounds hopes Nebraska fans are patient with the new coach.

"We often put passion ahead of logic when it comes to athletics," Bounds said. "One of the concerns I have is there are going to be lots of people expecting a national championship right away."

I think the first step for Nebraska football should be pressing hard for a division championship. That can happen relatively soon — within two or three seasons.

For now, getting to a bowl game would be a good first step.

Bounds' immediate expectations: That the team is well-coached, disciplined and plays hard in every game.

"I don't know what that equates to in wins and losses," he said. "But if you do all those things, wins and losses ultimately will take care of themselves, over time."

Spoken like a former coach, and current leader.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or 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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