Published Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 12:01 am / Updated at 12:31 am
Shatel: Take the NU keys, Shawn, but drive carefully

Let's hope Shawn Eichorst said thank you.

Harvey Perlman did Nebraska's new athletic director a favor. He pulled him out of a tough spot in Miami, bailed him out of athletic director jail. The NCAA is hovering over UM. Eichorst wasn't part of the mess. But he would have been stuck with the tab.

Eichorst gets a clean start, back in his Big Ten, in a culture he'll find familiar. Thanks much, Harv, ol' pal.

Now the new man can return the favor.

Eichorst looks like a good hire. A solid résumé. Not overwhelming. But there's enough there to think that the auburn-haired Wisconsin native will have a chance to do big things here.

First, he needs to give himself a chance.

Eichorst will gets lots of advice from Nebraskans. Here's my two cents for the newest head Husker:

1. It's not about you.

Nebraska is not a reclamation project. Husker athletics do not need to be rebuilt or remodeled.

Eichorst will find that the heavy lifting has already been done for him, by his predecessor, Tom Osborne.

The culture is rock solid. Goals are in place. Morale is good. Facilities are sprouting up. Football is competitive and trying to turn a corner. Basketball has a fresh start. NU is safe from realignment.

Eichorst is the school's fourth A.D. in 20 years and the first to not have a lengthy to-do list. Bill Byrne, Steve Pederson and Osborne all had makeovers to be done.

That's not the case now. So there's no need for Eichorst to feel like he must put his stamp on everything.

I liked Eichorst's statement, relayed to the media on Thursday by Perlman. When asked how he would measure his success in five years, Eichorst told Perlman that it would be if the coaches and athletes were successful, and nobody knew Eichorst's name.

Look, it's only natural for a new A.D. to want to rearrange some furniture. But Eichorst should tread lightly, embrace all things Huskers.

There's no need to make this Wisconsin south. But that shouldn't be a problem.

There's a Nebraska Way — some would call it the Osborne Way — and it's the model that Wisconsin A.D. Barry Alvarez used to build his fortress in Madison. Eichorst learned from Alvarez.

So maybe the Nebraska Way will come full circle, back to Lincoln. If so, what a nice gift for Alvarez to send back to his alma mater.

2. Learn all about the Steve Pederson Era. Do the opposite.

On the other hand, don't lock yourself in the athletic building. The Miami Herald wrote that Eichorst was “one of the most low-profile athletic directors in school history.” It added that Eichorst had declined to speak to the media at Miami and kept his distance from fans and donors.

You'd like to hear Eichorst's side of that. Maybe he was avoiding media questions about the NCAA investigation. Maybe he's not a South Beach kind of guy.

Husker fans will want to hear from their A.D. Winning the press conference next Tuesday would be a good start.

3. Embrace Tom Osborne. No, not literally. A short hug would be OK.

The legend was consulted in this process but maybe not as much as he would have liked. Osborne didn't attend Perlman's announcement on Thursday. I won't read anything into that (Osborne was at a meeting), unlike when Osborne made a statement with his absence from Byrne's press conference in 1992.

Should Osborne have had a bigger role? Most A.D.s don't pick their successor. But he's Tom Osborne. In any case, this was Perlman's hire, plain and simple. He'll get the credit or pay the tab.

That's not Eichorst's issue. His job will be to attach himself to Osborne in the months before he takes over, try to have some of that genius rub off, then see that Osborne always feels welcome at NU. Get him to football practices, secure him an office, make sure he has a box at games.

To do otherwise would not be right. Or smart.

4. Do whatever it takes to keep Paul Meyers.

Meyers is a valuable commodity, maybe the most valuable Eichorst will have coming into uncharted territory. Yes, some boosters are upset today. Their man didn't get the job.

But let's be honest for a second. Meyers is wildly popular. I think that he will be a good, maybe great, A.D. one day. But was he the most qualified?

What do you think of the incoming A.D.? Join the conversation on the Big Red Today Facebook page.

Meyers has a lot of friends, but needs more experience on his résumé. If Nebraska wants Meyers to be an A.D. here one day, it needs to put him in position.

Make him the deputy A.D. The right-hand man. Second in command. Put him in charge of basketball. Let him hire a coach. Send him to Big Ten or NCAA meetings. Fundraising is but one facet of athletic director. Give Meyers more responsibility.

That's not to say Osborne should have done it. Tom's charge the past five years was to get things done, not groom his successor.

Eichorst doesn't know Meyers, but it would behoove him to keep him around, pave the way to the state's checkbooks and, if Meyers wants to be an A.D., start training him.

5. Make Nebraska a Big Ten school.

This is one reason I like this hire. Eichorst should be able to help phase NU into the Big Ten way. But he also needs to know that NU doesn't just want to be a Big Ten school content with membership. Husker Nation wants to be a national brand, a national winner.

Is Eichorst the guy to take them on that ride? Nobody knows. Perlman has a 1-1 record in hiring A.D.s. If Eichorst can put him over .500, he will have repaid the chancellor in full.

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Contact the writer: Tom Shatel    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.



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