Ray Tanner figures Nebraska scored big with its hiring of Shawn Eichorst as its next athletic director.
“If you're looking for a hire that's a touchdown, a slam dunk and a home run all in one,” Tanner said, “Shawn Eichorst is it.”
Tanner, the former South Carolina baseball coach who now is the Gamecocks' athletic director, worked with Eichorst when he was at the Columbia, S.C., school from 2004 to '06. Among Eichorst's duties as South Carolina's senior associate athletic director was overseeing the Gamecocks' baseball program.
“I was so impressed with Shawn,” Tanner said. “I learned a lot from him.”
Tanner's glowing praise of Eichorst is roundly seconded by others who have worked with the Lone Rock, Wis., native.
Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez said Eichorst will be a good fit in Lincoln.
“He's a Nebraska-type person,” Alvarez said. “Very down-to-earth, hard worker, good family ... I think he'll identify with the people of Nebraska.”
Mike McGee, who as South Carolina's athletic director hired Eichorst, was delighted when told by a reporter that Nebraska had hired Eichorst, who had been at Miami since 2011. Now retired and living in western Colorado, McGee repeatedly touched on one thought during a phone interview.
“This will prove to be a wise decision for Nebraska,” McGee said.
McGee hired Eichorst away from Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he played football before returning to become the school's athletic director in 1999. The school finished among the top 10 percent in Division III in the Directors Cup standings in each of his four seasons there.
While at Whitewater, Eichorst oversaw the construction of a new football office, a fieldhouse and a soccer complex. In addition, the school changed its logo, a move that helped in branding.
Eichorst's work established a base that allowed Whitewater to develop into a Division III football power under Lance Leipold. Under Leipold, Whitewater won four straight national championships and went 72-3 from 2007 to '11.
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“He was very integral in getting a lot of development done to the athletic facilities that really led to our success,” said Leipold, who worked for the NU football staff in an administrative position as well as serving as offensive coordinator at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
After graduating magna cum laude in 1990, Eichorst went on to receive a law degree from Marquette in 1995. He practiced law in Milwaukee until returning to his alma mater to head up its athletic program.
“The fact that he's in a leadership role would not surprise anybody,” said Leipold, who was a senior quarterback when Eichorst was a freshman and then was on the Whitewater coaching staff the final three seasons Eichorst played. “But once you go to law school like he did, you just don't know if anybody is going to gravitate back to athletics.”
McGee first became acquainted with Eichorst when he was a participant in the Sports Management Institute, which its website states offers specialized executive programs for sports management professionals.
“He was an outstanding participant in the program, and when we had the chance, we hired him,” McGee said. “He's a bright guy and has a good grasp of the business acumen that you need today. At South Carolina, he was highly valued for his ability to get things done.
“We expanded his role while he was there.”
At South Carolina, Eichorst facilitated and supervised the construction of several multimillion dollar facility projects, including a football training facility. He was active in the daily operation of the program and, in addition to his baseball duties, was the administrator in charge of the football program.
“Steve Spurrier loved him,” said Tanner, referring to the Gamecocks' football coach.
Eichorst exhibited strong leadership skills at South Carolina, Tanner said.
“As coaches, we usually don't like being told no,” Tanner said. “But even when he had to tell you that you couldn't do something, he was able to get across that he was in your corner and on your side.
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“He was a great listener and a great communicator. He has the ability to make the person he's dealing with feel comfortable, whether he's talking with a student-athlete, the university president or a top donor.”
McGee said Eichorst was a good fundraiser at South Carolina, even though that wasn't one of his primary responsibilities.
“Everyone at South Carolina is a fundraiser,” McGee said. “Shawn has the ability to communicate well, whether he's dealing with someone within the department or outside of it. He did a terrific job for us.”
Eichorst returned to his home state in 2006 as a senior associate athletic director at Wisconsin and was promoted to executive associate athletic director in 2007 and deputy athletic director in 2009.
“He did a very good job for me,” Alvarez said. “He oversaw our day-to-day operations, handled all of our contracts. He knows the Big Ten, and he'll really understand the culture and tradition at Nebraska.”
Eichorst was involved with the design and planning of Wisconsin's new $36 million hockey-swimming facility that will open this fall. He also was involved in the athletic performance center in the north end zone of Camp Randall Stadium which began construction in the fall of 2011 at a cost of more than $70 million.
Leipold, the Whitewater football coach, recalls a conversation he had with Alvarez in 2007 on a visit to Madison.
“I asked him about Shawn, and he raved about what Shawn was doing and what a bright future he had,” Leipold said.
That future now is in Nebraska, where Eichorst succeeds Tom Osborne. At least one alumnus is glad Eichorst will be leading the Huskers.
Alvarez is a former Nebraska linebacker and member of the NU Class of 1969.
“I feel good about him being at my alma mater.”