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Steven M. Sipple: With Athletic Department 'on edge' in July, Alberts' hire critical, Cook says

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Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook likes dogs and hikes, and he's a friendly dude away from heated competition. 

This past summer, he was with his dog hiking in Wyoming when he encountered some Nebraska fans. 

"As we're leaving the conversation and going our separate ways, the dad in the group goes, 'You're not going to retire are you?'" Cook recalls. "I said, 'I don't know, it's pretty nice up here.'

"He goes, 'You need to be our next AD.'" 

At the time, of course, the job was open. Bill Moos surprised a lot of people in late June by retiring. It was a surprise to people because he had said in May that he had no intention of leaving his post before his contract expired Dec. 31, 2022.

Then, poof, he was gone from our midst, along with an eyebrow-raising $3 million payout. 

At any rate, Cook's name became prominent in speculation on potential successors. After all, he's the 65-year-old coach of the Nebraska Athletic Department's most successful program at the moment. He's a genuine icon in his sport, and he's enormously respected throughout our state — including by other Husker coaches throughout the department. 

Long story short, Cook interviewed for the AD job, he said Tuesday during an extensive interview on "Early Break" (93.7 FM). He told UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green that if he could help Nebraska athletics, well, perhaps he would give the job a shot. 

"I'm an older coach, I've been here, I've had success, and that model's worked with Coach (Tom) Osborne," said Cook, alluding to Nebraska's athletic director from 2007 to 2013. 

Cook then told us something that might speak to why Moos is gone from our midst. 

He also told us something that might speak to why Trev Alberts ultimately was hired for the position. 

"There was this craving by the Athletic Department and the coaches: Can we get somebody in here who understands coaches and who will work with coaches and help coaches and help this athletic department be better?" Cook said.  

"So, yeah, I did have an interview, and it was a great process to go through. But I can tell you this: When I was leaving the interview, I turned to Ronnie Green and said, 'I hope we're interviewing Trev. He's really the guy we need to get.'"

Now, I'm not sure Alberts needed an endorsement at that point in the process. But if Trev did need an endorsement, he received about as good of one as you could imagine. 

"But if Trev wasn't interested," Cook continued, "I would've done it in a heartbeat because I just felt like (with) Nebraska athletics, we were on the edge of the cliff. We had to do something. We had to get somebody in here to build the Athletic Department back up.

"I've worked with a lot of ADs at Nebraska. Bill Byrne, who hired me, was great. Coach Osborne, you know, I would've run through a wall for him. But I think there's been a real lack of leadership."  

Enter Alberts into the discussion. With his family by his side, and coaches and his mentor (Osborne) there, too, Alberts was introduced July 14 as Nebraska's 14th athletic director. He had led the University of Nebraska at Omaha Athletic Department for 12 years. 

Cook is an enthusiastic football fan, and Alberts' background as a unanimous All-American pass rusher at NU in 1993 means something to him. 

Alberts' engine runs hot when it comes to competition, as does Cook's. 

Alberts operates with a high degree of discipline, as does Cook. 

Alberts genuinely cares about the state, as does Cook.

I could go on.

"I thank my lucky stars every day that Trev's our guy now," Cook said. "He's another guy you'd run through the wall for. He gets it. So, it worked out great. I'm really happy. I think Trev's going to do great things. The guy's a competitor."

Edge of a cliff? Something obviously wasn't passing muster in the Moos-led Athletic Department, at least in Cook's eyes. 

But it probably makes more sense today to look forward than backward. 

What does Cook see in Alberts that makes the four-time national champion coach so confident in the future?  

"I mean, he was a great athlete," Cook said. "He was on ESPN, so he's got style and charm or whatever. He's got the 'it.' He looks you right in the eye. 'What do you need? What do you need to get this done?' He talks about winning now." 

Cook appreciates Alberts' recent comments that place a strong emphasis on winning. On results. 

"One of the things that I'm really passionate about is performance," Alberts told the Journal Star. "I think an underlying, consistent communication about competitive excellence hasn't been enough of our narrative as a department."

OK then.

"Well, with all of our core values, everything has to be about winning," he said. "We're in the competition business."

Cook, coming off a runner-up finish in the NCAA Tournament, obviously embraces the competition business. 

"Why are we talking about winning more (under Alberts)?" Cook wondered aloud. "We went away from all that because we were so worried about the student-athlete experience and not hurting anybody's feelings. We have to start talking about winning." 

He noted Nebraska is making gigantic financial investments in facilities.

"We need to have better results," Cook said. "(Alberts) wants to win, and to have somebody in a leadership position who's setting that tone (is important) — and I mean for everybody. I'm not talking just about coaches. I'm talking about everybody who works in the Athletic Department. He's questioning everything we've been doing in the Athletic Department: 'Is this elite?'" 

New AD, new energy, new vision. 

Even the legendary volleyball coach sounds as if he's got a bit more zip. 

Probably a good sign.


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Husker sports 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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