Published Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 8:58 pm / Updated at 6:28 pm
ATHLETICS
Shatel: NU's Eichorst shows old-school values, new style
Q&A: Shawn Eichorst
World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel sat down this week with first-year A.D. Shawn Eichorst to discuss his role at the helm of the Husker athletic department. Read highlights of the question-and-answer session here »

LINCOLN — That didn't take long. Shawn Eichorst has been in Nebraska for five months. And he's already rearranging things.

Step inside Eichorst's office. You notice right away. The Eichorst Era is most certainly different.

The A.D.'s desk used to be to the immediate right as you walked in. That's where Steve Pederson placed the desk. Tom Osborne worked in the exact same spot.

Now the desk sits in the back of the room.

Don't say Shawn Eichorst didn't put his stamp on this program.

But don't expect to see the stamp often, at least in the near future. Though he might move the couch.

Eichorst is not one to rush into actions or statements. He measures his words. He's not here to give you a headline.

Want Eichorst to say Bo Pelini is on some kind of hot seat? Forget it. He'll tell you about the good things going on in Husker football. And remind you that he doesn't comment on personnel.

Want to talk about beer in the new arena? Not happening. Hockey? Not on the radar.

Think the Husker brand is suffering these days? Eichorst will beg to differ. He says it's strong as ever.

The new boss is not here to redesign the “N” or reinvent Nebraska football or remake the department in his image.

There's no need. Unlike his three predecessors, Eichorst does not arrive at NU with an immediate agenda to tackle. Finances are in good shape. There are no bridges that require mending.

Football is in a good, not great, place. Men's basketball and baseball are under construction, but there's hope. Women's sports are doing well. New facilities are everywhere. Eichorst inherits a good place, a place with potential to do more. A place with a hunger.

It's a new era, and it will be different.

The era of the Celebrity A.D. at Nebraska is over. Bill Byrne, Pederson and Osborne were very public administrators.

Now there's a new slogan.

“My approach is to be patient and observe,” Eichorst said. “You learn a lot when you keep your mouth shut.”

MORE ON SHAWN EICHORST
Read staff writer Dirk Chatelain's two-part series on NU Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst.
Part 1 » Part 2 »

Eichorst leans more toward the Osborne approach, without the icon factor. Most of the time, Eichorst has to introduce himself to Nebraska folks who don't yet recognize the new boss.

What they'll find out in a hurry is that they speak the same language.

I spent an hour with Eichorst on Thursday. What I found is that he's a Wisconsin native who's lived in Nebraska his whole life. At least it seems that way.

He has a firm handshake. When he talks to you, he looks you right in the eye.

He wore a tie and suit on Thursday (and held a bottle of red Gatorade). But he said the get-up was rare. Eichorst is a jeans and pullover guy. That's what he wore recently when he went to Columbus, Neb., to see former Husker Jim Pillen's “hog operation.”

And though it's early, the new conscience of Husker sports is saying all the right things.

Conscience? That's the athletic director's unofficial title at Nebraska. For as long as he was head coach and A.D. — or just in the building — that was Osborne's job. The Yoda. The guru. The headmaster of the Nebraska Way, in a state that prides itself on doing it differently.

Now that Osborne's retired, this red-headed Wisconsin native is now in charge of setting the tone, the priorities: dealing with the obsession for winning, the losing, the rising coaches' salaries and the tricky job of putting ethics and championships in the same sentence.

This is Eichorst's job now. He'll lead Nebraska into a future full of playoffs and Big Ten monopoly money and arms races that never end. A world of college sports that has become as fluid as social media, a world of anger and instant gratification. A world where an athletic director must compete with video games and HDTVs for the attention of a younger generation.

What kept coming back in our conversation is that NU will be led by old-school values. As if Osborne left behind his compass.

Ľ “I'm really pleased with how (Nebraskans) view the game, this game of college athletics. The balance. Because the expectations are so unrealistic, everywhere.”

Ľ “I think Nebraska can play a role in keeping things balanced and real. It's tough to be perfect in an imperfect world. But you can certainly strive to do things the right way. And if you come up short, you can always fall back on doing things the right way. I'd hate to cut corners to get things done.”

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Ľ “What you do in the dark always comes to light. With this awesome history and tradition here at Nebraska comes a lot of responsibility. I just hope I can play a role in continuing to do things the right way. It takes a lifetime to build this sort of thing, only a second to destroy it.”

Eichorst has the look and sound of an able caretaker for Nebraska's program and what Osborne handed off to him. But can he be an innovator? Eventually, Nebraska will need Eichorst to step out of the background and lead a fan base that craves elite status.

He'll make his stamp. What will it be? Return Husker football to national power status? Transform NU into a player in men's hoops? Reach the Facebook generation of Husker fans? Lift Nebraska to Ohio State status in the Big Ten?

You can learn something about a person by looking around his office. Eichorst's interior decorating is pretty basic. Husker sports helmets and trinkets and photos on the wall. There are a couple of family photos behind the desk, but the office does not tell the tale of Shawn Eichorst's life.

I told Eichorst that I always enjoyed going to Bill Byrne's office because he had a giant bookcase filled with the books he was reading. Eichorst said his books were hidden behind the closed cupboard doors behind his desk.

Maybe one day those doors will open.

Whatever he has planned, Eichorst doesn't show his cards. That's the former attorney. He's friendly and makes visitors comfortable, but he's more comfortable in the background.

Then again, athletic directors aren't supposed to be celebrities. But they are supposed to lead. Eichorst will do it his way, and he talks about it in the accompanying Q and A. The words sound good. Actions will be forthcoming.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1025, tom.shatel@owh.com, twitter.com/tomshatelOWH

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

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

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