Published Thursday, November 28, 2013 at 8:16 pm / Updated at 1:50 pm
football
Barfknecht: Elusive Eichorst must end silence soon
Iowa at Nebraska
When: 11 a.m. Friday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln
TV: ABC
Radio: 1110 AM KFAB

So what do we know about the status of Bo?

Officially, zip, entering Friday's Nebraska home football game between coach Bo Pelini's Huskers (8-3, 5-2) and Iowa (7-4, 4-3).

NU Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, nicknamed “The Invisible A.D.” by the Miami press corps when he was there, has been in full stealth mode on football in his 11 months on the job in Lincoln.

Chancellor Harvey Perlman generally has deflected questions on the topic, though this week he said: “This uncertainty doesn't last forever.”

That's good because this state, which has the ability to gossip itself into a stupor, needs a thumbs up or down real soon on Pelini's future.

My first sentence of this column was serious. What really do we know about the main decision-maker on Pelini?

I had a 25-minute interview with Eichorst on his first day of work in January; 10 minutes on the phone at the Big Ten meetings in Chicago in May when he had to leave early for a family matter; and another 30 minutes in July to talk about the athletic department budget.

Other than that, it's been little more than a “Hi, how are you” at a game or event. And that's more access than any other media organization.

People ask what I think of Eichorst. What I know of him personally, I like. What I hear about him from people I trust, I like.

But that information is extremely limited. Phone calls and emails to comment on issues in which the Husker fan base is interested usually go unacknowledged or lead to a tardy, boilerplate reply.

Professionally, he has a long and diverse résumé, with one glaring gap: hiring big-time coaches in revenue-producing sports.

Nebraska hired Eichorst at $973,000 a year. His pay now has grown to $1.1 million. Perlman, when I asked about the handsome salary for someone with 18 months' experience as a big-time A.D., told me it was “market price.”

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We soon learned, according USA Today's salary data base, Eichorst's salary is No. 5 nationally among the 124 Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Whatever the ranking is, he's about to earn his money as this state rages about the future of its football program.

Again, what facts do we know? Tea leaves to read on this deal are difficult to find, much less line up. Here are a few:

1. Eichorst makes no comment on a coach's performance during the season.

If that's your policy and you stick to it, fine. It may rankle some, but it's defensible. Besides, votes of confidence from A.D.s or chancellors are meaningless unless they include a contract extension.

2. In my January interview, Eichorst said his style isn't to micromanage or “lead by fear.” Then he added:

“I'm not a yeller, screamer or cusser. I've never thought that was an effective way of getting anywhere.”

Be careful about drawing broad conclusions with limited facts. Still, you think it's coincidence that Pelini's sideline behavior and media dealings have changed radically since Eichorst took charge?

3. In my July interview, Eichorst said his goal is to provide whatever a sport needs to be successful, then watch the team challenge for and win championships.

Hardly a shocker, but the guy at least knows that we keep score here and why. That means Nebraska's 14-year streak without a conference football title is front of mind.

4. Eichorst and Perlman's response to Pelini's profanity-filled audiotape from the 2011 Ohio State game drew interest more for what wasn't said than what was.

The two men called the remarks “unfair” to fans and “not what we expect from a representative of this university.”

But nowhere in that 174-word statement was a line that says “we are happy he is our coach” or “we're gung-ho about his future here.” The cold-blooded line toward the end: “We are prepared to put the matter to rest.”

5. Perlman has set a goal to boost Nebraska's enrollment from 24,000 to 30,000 over the next six years.

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A big-time football program, like it or not, serves as the front porch to the whole university. That makes the head coach the unofficial greeter to the nation. Also, anecdotal evidence exists that championship football seasons can boost enrollment.

What does the chancellor think of his current “face” of the university?

We know Perlman publicly reprimanded Pelini for his behavior in the 2010 Texas A&M game. We know Perlman was deeply upset upon hearing Pelini's scorched-earth remarks from the 2011 Ohio State game.

And because I was standing directly to Perlman's right, I saw the “oh, my god” look on his face after the 2009 Big 12 championship game loss to Texas when Pelini emerged from the locker room spewing venom.

So let's go back to the beginning. What do we know about the status of Bo?

Nothing for sure, except the expiration date on that answer has arrived.

Big Ten picks

Iowa (7-4, 4-3) at Nebraska (8-3, 5-2), 11 a.m., ABC: Will anybody from Nebraska focus on the game? Questions abound about Bo Pelini's job and Taylor Martinez's Senior Day reception and Tommy Armstrong's ankle and which Husker coach is going to bag on the fans next. Iowa has similarities offensively to Minnesota. Not similar is how the Hawkeyes hammered the Gophers in Minneapolis while NU lost up there. Iowa 27, Nebraska 24

Saturday:

No. 3 Ohio State (11-0, 7-0) at Michigan (7-4, 3-4), 11 a.m., ABC: Now that Michigan coach Brady Hoke got the dreaded “vote of confidence” from his athletic director, Ohio State can commence with completing its undefeated regular season by drilling UM. OSU 41, Michigan 17

Minnesota (8-3, 4-3) at No. 11 Michigan State (10-1, 7-0), 11 a.m., BTN: Even if the Spartans get caught looking ahead to the Big Ten title game, they should have enough to squeeze past the Gophers' beat-up offense. Michigan State 23, Minnesota 13

Penn State (6-5, 3-4) at No. 14 Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1), 2:30 p.m., ESPN: Wisconsin has a BCS bid in sight. Penn State has played miserably on the road, and is close to out of gas. This will get ugly. Wisconsin 48, Penn State 10

Purdue (1-10, 0-7) at Indiana (4-7, 2-5), 2:30 p.m., BTN: This is a meeting between an especially bad offense (Purdue is 123rd out of 125 teams) and an epically bad defense (Indiana is 122nd), likely seen only by friends and family. Indiana 49, Purdue 24

Northwestern (4-7, 0-7) at Illinois (4-7, 1-6), 2:30 p.m., BTN: With Northwestern's Kain Colter iffy (head, right shoulder injuries), Illinois has a real chance for a second straight Big Ten win after 20 straight losses. Illinois 27, Northwestern 26

* * *

>> Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after Wednesday's practice



>> Video: The Big Red Today Show, Nov. 26

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht

lee.barfknecht@owh.com    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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