LINCOLN — Trev Alberts is almost apologetic as he offers a tour of his new office.
First, the Nebraska athletic director is pushing buttons on a remote control that switches the hue on the lights that reflect on the ceiling. Apparently you can switch the color to red.
Alberts has no idea how it works.
Next, there’s the shower. Steve Pederson installed a shower adjacent to the office. Because sometimes an A.D. just has to take a shower.
Finally as you enter the office, you see a glass case that resembles an aquarium. It’s a fireplace, ordered by Bill Moos.
Red lights. Showers. Fancy fireplaces.
Everything but winning football.
At UNO, Alberts’ office was big enough for a desk and two chairs placed directly in front. But everything in Lincoln is bigger.
People are also reading…
Including the mess that Alberts inherited. And the number of eyeballs watching over his shoulder.
You wanted the Nebraska job? You got it.
Alberts’ first game as Husker A.D. was a loss to Illinois, one sprinkled with mistakes that have plagued the Scott Frost era. That loss sparked a debate among fans over Frost. And the sellout streak was in jeopardy.
You think Alberts had hard decisions to make at UNO?
Now he’s in charge of a program the entire state cares about. A lot.
Which is what brought me to his office on a Thursday before the home opener.
Nebraska football lost its identity, and its bearing years ago. When Pederson defined a nine-win program as mediocre. When two nine-win coaches were fired.
What exactly is the standard of expectation?
Every A.D. has weighed in. Now it’s Alberts’ turn, and I’m intrigued to see what the former player and disciple of Tom Osborne does.
Frost, a native son, may put the new standard to the test.
It’s clear that the approach will be based on a department-wide philosophy of fundamentals, toughness and no excuses. No frills. No fireplaces. Back to basics.
Alberts has his sleeves rolled up. He’s already involved. He met with Frost last Sunday and plans to meet with the coach every Sunday.
He touched on that and more in our 30-minute chat:
Q: Did the tough decisions at UNO help you deal with what you’ve walked into here?
"I don’t think it hurts, but I don’t think you can ever prepare yourself for the realities of these jobs.
"I am so grateful for my UNO years. We learned a lot. First, that was not my athletic department, just as this is not my athletic department. I am just a steward of the chair.
"I’m not afraid to ... I’ve never been the kind of person to stick a finger up and see which way the wind’s blowing. I’m going to try to figure out what’s right."
On the shelves behind Alberts are photos of his family, a photo of Baxter Arena and a small UNO hockey stick. But it was something a woman sent him that Alberts wanted to show.
It’s a brick, dressed up to look like a red couch with “Huskers” on it. The woman sent it to Alberts and said she’d had it for years and that it would bring him good luck.
“What is so awesome about this place is that people care. I love that. I’m not offended by people who care. We need that.
“There are people who think the 'Red Carpet Experience' is good and some who think it’s a façade. I’m just grateful that people care.”
Q: You care a lot about the sellout streak. Why?
“It’s important to me because it’s important to our fans. I understand the narrative of hanging on to the past. The sellout streak is not just hanging on to the past.
“What differentiates this place from other places? Our uniforms? Winning percentage? It’s the fan base. If you were in Champaign, you saw it. It’s just a different deal.
“I just feel we owe our best effort to create real solutions for something that is important to our fan base. But that’s one game. This is going to be a weekly grind.”
The fans and that passion are the basis for what Alberts sees as the standard he wants to build as A.D.
“Your job in this role is to set the tone. And first of all, Nebraska is good enough. People in this state have a long history of doing just fine.
“Will Bolt and his baseball team are tough, not afraid of anybody and do things the right way all the time. Nebraskans can identify with that.
“I like people who work hard. I have no hobbies. It’s my family and work. That’s all I do. I want people who work hard, hate to lose and do things the right way.
“But I don’t think you can expect your coaches and department to do that if the leadership isn’t doing it, too.”
Q: What should the standard for football be? And do you take into account the parity of the Big Ten?
A: “Yes, the world has changed. We can come up with all the reasons why we can’t be successful, but that’s not how we think. Let’s focus on why we can.
“My expectations are that our programs ... I want to win.
“To me, we get so fixated on, 'We want to win championships. We want to win nine games.' Saying what we all want isn’t getting us any closer to what we want.
“What are your habits? You have to have championship habits all the time. It’s not a 'sometimes' deal. You’re looking for people to do the right things all the time.
“That’s why it doesn’t do me any good to throw out that I expect to win eight games (every year) here. With the exception of Ohio State’s run, a lot of Big Ten teams have exceptional years and then they may come back and go 7-5.
“But we’re not going to get to that piece if we don’t have championship habits, in our administration, coaching staff and players.”
Alberts added that there’s no “superficial magical number every year.” And that Nebraska fans are smart enough that they would understand a loss if their team played a “really clean game and really hard."
“What is hard for fans is when that’s not the case.”
Q: What did you think about the Illinois game?
A: “Scott and I talked on Sunday. Scott and the coaches are just as disappointed as everyone else.
“I think surprise is too strong. But there are some glaring things that we get frustrated about. It’s the first game. We can play better. Sometimes what happens in the first game isn’t remembered when you get into October.
“But we clearly have a lot of progress to make.”
Alberts says he’s attended two or three practices per week. As a former player, he knows what he’s seeing during a game. And he’s not afraid to ask Frost about specifics.
“Having not been a coach, I want to be present and supportive and not get in the way.
“I got some counsel on this from one of our donors, that win, lose or draw, the day after the game, it’s good to be a sounding board, a confidant, a supporter. It’s hard enough for coaches.
“I didn’t really have anybody (at UNO). And I would go home and take out my frustrations. ... And that is not positive.
“I can promise you I will never be an administrator who tries to behind-the-scenes manipulate someone’s failure. That’s not who I am. I am going to be all-in for all of our coaches. I will never have an agenda or orchestrate someone’s exit.
“At the appropriate time I can say, 'Have you thought about this?'"
Alberts knows about critics. He’s had his share.
“I had a lot of bosses at UNO. I have even more now.”