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October 9, 2012
Less than a week after news of his arrival broke a little earlier than planned, Shawn Eichorst was officially introduced as Nebraska's new athletic director on Tuesday morning.
In a packed press conference at the Van Brunt Visitors Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman, who first announced the hiring last week, welcomed the former University of Miami A.D. on his first full day as a Husker.
"I believe we've attracted a person who has both expertise and experience needed to move our department forward," Perlman said. "Also someone who respects our traditions and will easily fit into our culture."
After an opening statement where he praised Nebraska's athletic history and tradition and expressed his excitement about his new position, Eichorst fielded questions from reporters ranging from his background in athletics to his vision for the future of NU's athletic department.
Eichorst, who had only been at Miami since April of 2011, quickly shot down any notion that his decision to leave the Hurricanes had anything to do with any potential sanctions that could be handed down by the NCAA for violations committed prior to his arrival.
He also stressed that he wasn't actively looking for a new position while at Miami, and that it was Nebraska who contacted him about coming to Lincoln back in late-August.
"I didn't apply. I was sought out," Eichorst said. "As I said in my brief comments, Nebraska is at the pinnacle of college athletics, particularly as it would relate to the balance, the great balance of academics and athletics, and how they go about treating their young people in every way. From my perspective, when I was asked to take a look at the opportunity, the history and the tradition and everything that Nebraska stands for intrigued me greatly. That's kind of how the process started."
That process came to a head back on Sept. 9, when Eichorst made his way up to Lincoln to meet with Perlman and others the day after Miami's football team played at Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan.
While he said he was fully devoted to Miami until the day he decided to accept the job at NU, Eichorst said the process of trying to keep his contact with Nebraska as much of a secret as possible was a unique experience.
"It was an interesting weekend to say the least," Eichorst said. "My heart and soul at that time was at Miami. There was no decision for me to make. However, in the business that we're in and the profile that it is, you have to operate in this way. I feel very good about how the process played out, but it was an interesting weekend. There's no doubt about that."
Eichorst's situation moving forward will also be a bit unique in the fact that he won't officially replace current athletic director Tom Osborne, who was in attendance for Tuesday's press conference, until Osborne steps down on Jan. 1, 2013.
For the next two months or so, Eichorst said he plans to soak in as much as possible from Osborne to get a good of a grasp of the culture of Nebraska athletics as possible.
"He's probably going to get tired of seeing me," Eichorst said of Osborne. "I hope to be in his back pocket as much as I can. My plan over the next two to three months, I think this is just a wonderful setup for me to immerse myself in everything Nebraska, and that doesn't necessarily have to be athletics. I want to get to know the people and the state and the culture, the academics and all the great research that's going on at the University of Nebraska.
"For me, it's an opportunity to take a deep breath. I'm not on the shot clock or the play clock, I can just kind of see things play out and do a lot of looking, listening and learning from a legend."
Eichorst was also asked about his leadership style as an A.D. and whether he would put himself in the public eye as the face of the athletic department or handle most of his business behind the scenes.
"I think that's probably for others to discern," he said. "My style is to come to work every day and be consistent in my approach, try to treat people with great respect and integrity and trust. I hope at the end of the day I'm judged that way. I really don't want to have to be out in front, but I know that a place like Nebraska I need to do that. I'm prepared to do that. But I want to always make sure that we ground what we do in what we're doing with out young people, and that's trying to prepare them for the game of life. So I don't want to be bigger than that. I want to be a part of that."
Having only been in Lincoln for less than 24 hours, it was hard for Eichorst to answer many questions about the current state of Nebraska athletics. He was able to meet many of the athletic department staff and coaches at a gathering Monday night at the Embassy Suites, and then again during a formal meeting on Tuesday morning.
At the moment, he said he doesn't have any plans of bringing any of his former staff members from Miami or elsewhere to join his staff at NU, but noted that he would "continue to see how things play out."
While his plan for the Huskers will obviously continue to take shape the longer he's on the job, his stance for now was that at a place like Nebraska, maybe the best strategy was to simply try and keep a good thing going.
"My expectations are to carry on the history and tradition," Eichorst said. "I don't think this is a place that you have to reinvent the wheel. I think what you've got to do is you've got to get yourself immersed in everything Nebraska. My goal would be to make something that's already great better.
"The only way to do that is to lead with values, have a vision and have a plan, have really good people in place and let them do their jobs and hold them accountable. I've told Coach Osborne this privately on two occasions, what better person to immerse myself in and what this place is about than him?"
Osborne gives Eichorst full support
A lot of rumor and speculation went flying over the past few days about Osborne's reaction to Eichorst's hiring. It all had to do with Osborne's one-sentence statement on the situation last week following Perlman's initial press conference, which he did not attend.
Osborne was there on Tuesday, though. When asked whether there was any truth to him not being fully on board with the decision to hire Eichorst and his successor, the former legendary coach quickly put an end to that notion.
He said he wasn't even invited to attend Perlman's first press conference last Thursday, which was why he was not there.
"I was not invited," Osborne said. "I did not know about the press conference. The fact that I wasn't there was no reflection on any kind of dissatisfaction him. So there should be no speculation about that. It was the chancellor's hire. He made the hire. I understand that, and it was perfectly acceptable to me. S as I said, my job now is to make the thing work as smoothly as I can."
Having finally gotten a chance to meet with Eichorst over the past couple days, if only briefly, Osborne said his initial impressions were Eichorst had a grounded and stable personality, and his wide range of experiences in athletics gave a unique perspective.
Osborne said he would do all he could to make sure the transition between his departure and Eichorst's arrival would be a seamless transition, though he said he would make it a point not to overstep his bounds.
"It's not my job to advise him," Osborne said. "We have certain projects that are underway, and he needs to know what they are and what stage of development they're in. He needs to know the people. He was very kind in his comments, but he's going to have to be his own person, and he will be. My job at this point is to make a successful handoff. We'll get that done. We'll work very smoothly. The main concern I have is that the athletic department does well going forward. I see nothing out there that gives me any alarm about that. It should work well."
Osborne was asked whether it was odd to watch his successor be formally introduced, especially considering he's still got another two and half months on the job to go. He said he knew from the day he took over as the interim athletic director five years ago that he was only going to be there on a temporary basis.
With his main task of getting the athletic department back under control for the most part accomplished, Osborne said he feels more than comfortable handing the reigns over to Eichorst for the next few decades to come.
"When I came here, I was an interim athletic director, and I was given a job which was to primarily stabilize things as best I could and put things in place as best I could," Osborne said. "I know some thought 'Well, you'll stick around until you cut a few ribbons.' But the buildings are underway, the plans are done, the construction companies aren't going to fail. They're going to get it done. The people that we have coaching and the people that we have in place are all very good people and all know what they're doing. So I felt that my job was pretty much done.
"Nothing is ever perfect in an athletic department. You have 23 sports, and you always have a lot of balls in the air and you can never say 'Well this is just perfect.' I think it's probably where it needs to be. When you're 75, there's always that element of doubt as to how much longer is this guy going to be here? So doubt and uncertainty is the enemy of progress, and I knew that I had to eliminate that doubt. So that's what we're doing at this point. Now we've got a guy who's obviously got another 20-30 years in him, so you don't' have to worry about that anymore."