• Video below: Replay Tuesday's press conference
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LINCOLN — Lead. Follow. Get out of the way.
At his introductory press conference Tuesday, Shawn Eichorst said he'd try to do all three as he replaces Tom Osborne as Nebraska's athletic director on Jan. 1.
Calling his new job “the pinnacle of college athletics” because of NU's balance between athletics and academics, Eichorst said he won't try to “reinvent the wheel” or make aggressive goals. He declined to fully assess the Husker football program or coach Bo Pelini, whom he's only met in passing.
“He's a winner,” Eichorst said briefly of Pelini.
The former Miami athletic director — who referenced his associate A.D. stints at South Carolina and Wisconsin far more often Tuesday — will instead spend the 83 days before he takes over in Osborne's “back pocket,” immersing himself in “everything Nebraska” to “make something that's already great, better.”
For now, he's technically a special assistant to University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman. In practical terms, he's an understudy, learning about a school and a state he's only visited a few times. He's yet to get a full tour of campus.
“I'm not on a shot clock or a play clock,” said Eichorst, whose red and white tie matched the polos worn by sons Jack, Joe and Ben. “I can just see things play out. Looking, listening and learning — from a legend.”
That'd be the 75-year-old Osborne, who stood quietly in the back at Van Brunt Visitors Center with his hands clasped.
Eichorst mentioned Osborne six times in a short speech he fished out of a manila folder. Perlman, who introduced Eichorst and held the press conference on his turf instead of at Memorial Stadium, acknowledged Osborne's presence at the outset of the event.
When Eichorst's press conference ended, Osborne went to the door with car keys in hand. But a fan met him at the interior door to vent about NU's 63-38 loss at Ohio State. The press soon followed, stuffing the entryway as if it were a small elevator.
“It's not my job to advise him,” said Osborne of Eichorst. “He's very kind in his comments, but he's going to have to be his own person. And he will be. My job is to make a successful handoff. And we will get that done. It will work.”
Osborne said Eichorst was “well-grounded” and “very stable” with a “variety of experiences.” He introduced his successor Tuesday in an all-department meeting at Memorial Stadium. That's where Eichorst met Pelini, who wasn't able to attend a head coach mixer Monday night.
“I'm excited to work with Shawn,” Pelini said during his weekly appearance on the Big Ten coaches teleconference. “I've heard nothing but great things from people he's worked with, and his reputation's impeccable. I've heard a lot of great things.”
Basketball coach Tim Miles was the only coach to attend Tuesday's press conference. Miles said that he'd researched Eichorst's background, calling, among other people, Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan. Eichorst oversaw the Badgers' hoops program while working as Athletic Director Barry Alvarez's deputy.
“I like his energy level,” Miles said. “In meeting one-on-one, you feel very positive. I called around. I told Harvey I couldn't find anything (negative) about this guy. Everybody who worked with him likes him.”
Perlman said Eichorst's willingness to relate to coaches is one of his strengths.
“Everything I've learned about Shawn in this process is that he's strongly supportive of his coaches,” Perlman said. “He's had a good interaction with them. And as different as some of our coaches may seem on a personality basis, at heart they're all very competitive people.”
Eichorst said he tries to connect with coaches, but not put himself in their shoes. You won't find him at practice or in the locker room.
“I don't have the magic,” he said. “I'm not the X's and O's.”
But while working with mentors like South Carolina football coaches Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier, Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema, Gamecock baseball coach Ray Tanner and Ryan, he learned how to ask questions — and when to back off.
“The way I can help is to get out of the way,” he said. “That's my approach. I try to give people the resources and guidance they need, and get out of the way and let them do their thing.”
He said he had no immediate plans to bring Miami athletic department officials with him. When asked to assess his 18-month stint at the school, Eichorst said he and his staff “left it better than I found it.” Eichorst arrived at Miami months before the NCAA launched a major investigation into the Hurricanes' football program.
A booster and convicted Ponzi schemer told Yahoo! Sports last year that he supplied players with gifts and money, and the NCAA suspended several players for part of the season last year. The NCAA has yet to levy penalties on the program itself. Eichorst said the investigation had no effect on his decision to come to Nebraska.
Instead, he said, he came to Nebraska for its success on the field and its “loyal, knowledgeable, supportive and enthusiastic” fan base. And Perlman said the “$95 million, highly regulated and highly visible business operation” is one Eichorst is suited to handle. Even if he prefers the background to center stage.
“I really don't want to have to be out in front, but I know at a place like Nebraska I need to do that,” Eichorst said. “I'm prepared to do that. But I want to make sure we ground what we're doing in our young people. And that's trying to prepare them for the game of life.
“I don't want to be bigger than that. I want to be a part of that.”