Things I know, and things I think I know:
It’s often illuminating to learn how the Big Red wheel turns.
The Nebraska Athletic Development office’s recent hire of ex-Husker football great Brenden Stai as a key fundraiser is a good example.
A first-team All-America offensive guard in 1994, Stai told me last week he remembers seeing Marc Boehm in passing as far back as Stai’s days with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1995-99), which partially coincided with Boehm’s tenure as associate athletic director at Pitt (1997-2003). Of course, Boehm’s next stop was NU with basically the same title.
Fast forward to the Bo Pelini era at Nebraska. Working as a coaching intern under Pelini from 2011-14, Stai would occasionally see Boehm and say hi.
“Forever, his face looked familiar to me,” Stai said. “I was always intrigued by Marc.”
So, Stai approached Boehm this past spring.
“I basically said, ‘Hey, man, I’d love to have lunch with you and find out what you do and who you are -- I’ve never had a chance to sit down and talk to you,’” Stai recalled.
It’s that sort of friendliness that helps define Stai. He’s 6-foot-5 and still rather imposing, yet down-to-earth and quick with a smile. His pleasant personality fits well in a fundraising role -- as do his stories from his playing days.
At any rate, Stai and Boehm hit it off at lunch. As they began talking about fundraising, Stai made it clear that work in that area would be something in his wheelhouse if an opportunity ever arose.
Give Boehm ample credit here. He immediately felt Stai would fit well in the department’s culture.
“It was maybe three months after that lunch meeting when I got a call from Marc, and he basically laid it out there,” Stai said of his new job.
Boehm and Stai had coffee the next day. If Stai wanted the job, it was his.
“I was like, ‘OK, wow,’” Stai said. “I had just changed my license over in real estate from residential to commercial. Things were going. I was kind of getting comfortable with that world. But this opportunity was too good to turn down.”
He began his new gig last Monday. Although he plans to keep his real-estate license, he will put most of his concentration on fundraising -- particularly in the early stages. He said he has a lot to learn in what he describes as a “very high-profile, relationship-oriented job.”
I’m guessing he’ll turn out to be an excellent hire. He has passion for the Huskers and understands the athletic department’s inner workings. He’s energetic and engaging. Plus, let’s be real, his name will open doors.
His area of focus will be the Midwest and West. Think Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas, southern California, northern California and the northwest.
The gist of the Nebraska Athletic Development department is to provide coaches and athletes the required resources to be successful. To that end, Stai will establish and nurture relationships with current donors -- there are about 1,600 “major” ones -- and develop new ones.
“I don’t care what industry you’re in, it boils down to relationships,” he said. “We certainly want to reach out to people. We want to be talking to people, meeting with them, letting them know the state of the union, what’s in the works -- not only from a football perspective but across the board with all athletics.”
He emphasizes the need to keep Nebraska’s athletic department healthy five, 10, 15 years down the road. The Big Ten media rights deal may not always be as lucrative as it is now, what with the changing landscape of how to view games. There will be challenges. Stai knows that. So does Boehm.
Good leaders think several steps ahead of most folks. I think this hire is an example of forward thinking by NU.
* Nebraska first-year defensive coordinator Erik Chinander was a walk-on offensive lineman for Iowa from 1998-2002.
Big Ten offenses obviously have evolved since then.
“It’s not the same Big Ten that I played in,” said Chinander, noting the predominance of two-running back/double-tight end sets in those days.
“Everybody was running ‘power’ and ‘iso,’” he said. “Now there are spread teams. Purdue’s more similar to what we’re running on offense. There are still some two-back power teams. Ohio State’s kind of running a version of the spread, but with a little bit of a power element. It’s more of a diverse Big Ten. It’s a little more challenging for a (defensive) coordinator to go in and out of the power game and spread game.”
As if Chinander didn’t have enough challenges in 2018.
* Think back to 2011, Nebraska’s first football season in the Big Ten. Did anybody think Purdue would be a consistent threat to NU? Seriously now?
Kenneth Massey, whose rating system was part of the BCS, gives the Boilermakers a 57-percent chance to win Sept. 29 in Lincoln.
Massey ranks Nebraska 63rd nationally and projects five regular-season wins for the Huskers. He gives them a 4-percent chance to win Oct. 26 at Wisconsin.
Sometimes I feel I’ve entered another realm.
* There was big news out of New York City over the weekend, and I don’t mean the Mets losing their 16th straight series.
Nebraska men's basketball coach Tim Miles offering scholarships to two in-state players -- Creighton Prep rising senior Akol Arop and Lincoln North Star rising junior Donovan Williams, who were playing in an AAU event in NYC -- qualifies as big news in these parts. Especially considering Miles beat Creighton to the punch, which (ahem) doesn't always happen.
Watching video of Arop (6-6) and Williams (6-5), it’s clear both can get to the rim via the dribble. It’s also clear that Arop often plays above the rim. Wow. What an explosive athlete.
Williams is the better outside shooter of the two.
Will Creighton swoop in? This could get interesting.