LINCOLN — At least Harvey Perlman will get to conduct this athletic director search without one arm tied behind his back.
In 2002, when then-A.D. Bill Byrne left Nebraska for Texas A&M, Perlman as chancellor scoured the country seeking a successor. A lot of strong candidates listened.
Too often, though, the conversation ended with: “Normally, I'd be very interested, but you're going to hire Steve Pederson aren't you?”
Pederson, then at Pittsburgh, was a rising star in the business and a Nebraska native son with deep Husker athletics experience. That combination essentially ended whatever race there was to follow Byrne.
Pederson's mess of a term ended with his firing in October 2007 and Tom Osborne being drafted from a tiny office in the NU College of Business Administration to restore order.
Now, with Osborne revealing Wednesday that he will retire on Jan. 1 after five years, Perlman must find another athletic director.
But this time he won't have to battle preconceived notions on who should get the job.
“I sense there's no natural candidate that people will think has the inside track,” Perlman said in an interview after Wednesday's press conference. “To that extent, it will be much easier.”
Trying to guess which direction Perlman will go won't be easy, but here are four things to know off the top:
» This is a “don't call us, we'll call you” position. If you have to apply, you're not in the mix. A search firm has been hired, and interviews already have taken place. How many? “Some,” Perlman said.
» Secrecy is the word, especially in today's instant-information age. The best-qualified candidates already have good jobs. They don't want to jeopardize those spots by floating their names in public for someone else's.
» This could happen sooner as easily as later. I asked Perlman if a candidate dazzled him by week's end, would he make the hire? The reply: “I will pull the trigger when I think I've got the right person.”
» Don't assume that hiring a headhunter from a Los Angeles company means external candidates have an edge over internal ones.
“I want someone who values what we have here, but doesn't necessarily have to come from here,” Perlman said. “On the other hand, an internal candidate brings a clear knowledge of things. But that's not on the balance wheel at this point.”
Foremost on Perlman's mind is this:
The knowledge of how important this hire is because of how much importance this state — like it or not — places on Husker athletics.
The public angst and anger that mushroomed as Pederson circled the drain is something Nebraskans don't want to endure again. And the program, which has slipped in overall national perception the past decade, can't afford to go through such woes again.
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Multiple phone calls Wednesday to those in the college administration grapevine revealed two schools of thought.
First, Nebraska's opening has come at a good time to find a premium candidate. High-profile jobs at Florida and Alabama probably aren't far off from opening, sources said, so it will pay for NU to hire soon.
Second, every source said they expect Nebraska to first pursue a sitting athletic director at a Bowl Championship Series school.
So who's a candidate? We'll likely never know. But here are names of established or rising A.D.s from major conferences who might get a look if interested:
» Joe Castiglione, 54, Oklahoma (Big 12): Castiglione is considered one of the nation's top five athletic directors. He has been at OU for 14 years — an eternity in A.D. years — and might be ready for one more career move. Castiglione always has expressed fondness for Osborne and Nebraska. A move to the Big Ten and away from Texas politics might be inviting.
» Jamie Pollard, 47, Iowa State (Big 12): Even with a budget that's the equivalent of a pocketknife in a bear fight, Pollard has hired good coaches and molded a strong program. Before Iowa State, he spent three years as deputy athletic director to Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin, so he knows the Big Ten.
» Jeff Long, 52, Arkansas (SEC): A former protégé of Castiglione at Oklahoma, he also has been an associate A.D. at Michigan. Long has drawn praise for smoothing some troubled waters at Arkansas, but might be up for a change after the misbehavior of football coach Bobby Petrino.
» Greg Byrne, 40, Arizona (Pac-12): If that name rings a bell, it should. He is the son of Nebraska's former A.D., and touted as a rising star not just in the Pac-12 but nationally. His family ties, though, make you wonder how he might be accepted in Lincoln.
» Tom Jurich, 56, Louisville (Big East): Jurich has had a very productive 15 years with the Cardinals. But with the uncertainty involving the Big East going forward, he might entertain a job like Nebraska.
» Randy Spetman, 58, Florida State (ACC): Spetman is widely respected in the business, but dealing with the departure of football coaching legend Bobby Bowden has earned him some enemies in Tallahassee. Spetman was born and raised in Council Bluffs, and his wife is from Des Moines.
Internally, two names come to mind first:
» Paul Meyers, 47, associate A.D. for development: The former Husker baseball All-American is a favorite among coaches and highly popular with big donors. Yet his administrative experience in conference and TV matters is limited, and multiple sources say there has been friction lately with Osborne over ideas on modernizing the department.
» Trev Alberts, 42, A.D. at UNO: The former Husker football All-American spent time in the NFL and television before getting into athletic administration. He has been criticized for his role in UNO dropping football and wrestling, but those decisions aren't made at his level. He had to carry them out. Still, the perception may be difficult for Alberts to overcome.
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The twist on this is that there won't be a lot of immediate building and facility work to do, even though fundraising is non-stop. Nor are there worries about conference realignment.
The job ahead is more about evaluating personnel — specifically the progress of a football program that hasn't won a conference title in 13 years — and then a general freshening of ideas to get more on the cutting edge of athletic trends.
Whatever new things come, Osborne's fingerprints will remain on Nebraska athletics for years to come, as they should.
It was 50 years ago that he signed on as a graduate assistant with football coach Bob Devaney. The mark he has made on NU as a school and Nebraska as a state is indelible and good.
Often, you don't appreciate what you have until it's gone or far away. Osborne's retirement is a huge loss. One positive is that he should get the widespread respect locally that he has nationally.
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>> Video: Tom Osborne announces retirement plans
>> Video: Harvey Perlman on Osborne's retirement
>> Video: World-Herald staff writer Sam McKewon's take
>> Video: Fans react to Osborne news