Shawn Eichorst

Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst played a big hand in the Huskers' new 11-year, $128 million deal with Adidas.

LINCOLN — Nebraska athletics just got a standing reservation at the hottest restaurant in town.

Adidas struck shoe oil in the last three years. The company revived itself after appointing Mark King to be president of its North American operations in 2014. Sales are up 26 percent this year in North America. Yahoo Finance named it 2016 sports business of the year. A collaboration with Kanye West helped, as has the “Boost” shoe line, which uses unique, light material in its soles.

When Adidas lost college apparel contracts with Michigan, Tennessee, Wisconsin and UCLA in the past three years, it set up Nebraska to get a good deal. Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst said NU never talked to any other company.

But 11 years and $128 million? With two look-in periods that could bump up the money? When the previous deal signed in 2013 was five years, $15.53 million?

Nebraska just got three times as much money and Adidas apparel per year at a time when the Big Ten’s full share is about to kick in. How did Eichorst pull that off?

Last fall, he invited King to Lincoln. They had what Eichorst called a “long conversation.”

“I talked at length about my vision, our vision, our mission, our plan, our people,” Eichorst said.

King talked about where Adidas was headed.

“He was a believer,” Eichorst said. “I was a believer. We said, let’s come together and do something very, very special. And this is.”

Rumors of the Adidas deal bounced around Nebraska walls for months. Perhaps fans expected NU to look at Nike and Under Armour, since the previous deal was so modest. Eichorst presented that extension to the Board of Regents in March 2013 right after he’d taken the full-time job, but he had nothing to do with negotiating the deal.

Nebraska was a different athletic department then. Adidas was a different company.

Now, with a massive agreement in hand and the full Big Ten share of money coming in — published reports suggest north of $50 million per team per year — Nebraska athletics has more money to spend. Asked what fan feedback he’s received on how NU will spend it, Eichorst said: “If I need a fan to come tell me what we need to be successful, I don’t know if I’m doing my job.”

He has a plan. He rattled off a list of to-do items. The new gymnastics training facility — approved by the Board of Regents on Friday — is the start.

» Finding a way to get Nebraska’s men’s and women’s golf teams to practice on campus. Currently, they practice at local courses. “They’re our only program now that trains off campus,” Eichorst said.

» A new natatorium. Nebraska’s swimming pool inside the Devaney Center is outdated and only 25 yards long. Woods Pool, a city-owned outdoor venue in central Lincoln, is longer. “That’s a big project and a big question,” Eichorst said. “Campus and I have talked about a collaboration over a period of time, so we’ll continue to explore that.”

» Finally, the big-ticket stuff inside Memorial Stadium — especially in the end zones, where more than half of Husker fans sit. The curved video boards, designed to serve North Stadium fans, is one step. Eichorst said more are to come. Easier access to seats in South Stadium. More concessions and bathrooms. More “seat comfort,” which translates to bigger seats. That’s the complaint I get from fans.

“We need to ‘right size’ our capacity a little bit relative to where we’re at,” Eichorst said.

Don’t overlook the $5 million annual scholarship fund — for non-athletes — that NU athletics is willing to provide. That announcement was a wow moment for the regents. Remember: The University of Nebraska system is facing a $49 million budget shortfall.

“The increase in the Big Ten money is phenomenal, and the commitment of the athletic department and the campus to put it to use beyond athletics is even more important to the people of the state,” Eichorst said.

Nebraska athletics was already giving $5 million per year to the academic side.

“Now we’re going to do 10,” Eichorst said.

Fans like to debate about the job Eichorst has done. The media do, too. But remember Friday when assessing his work. Eichorst said it was a “great day to be a Husker.” It was a pretty good day for him, too.

I see you

» Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle: I’ve heard good things about him in camp and saw a few good plays Thursday, too. Bootle has to be ready to roll, especially at Oregon.

» Defensive tackle Carlos Davis: Quick twitch, agile, strong.

» Guard Jerald Foster: Caught Caleb Lightbourn’s shanked punt on a dead sprint to end practice early Thursday. Foster appears to have been NU’s best offensive lineman in camp, too.

» Outside linebacker Luke Gifford: He’s found his spot and clearly loves the moment. Confidence, often hard to measure in recruiting rankings, matters so much in a player maximizing his potential.

» Tight end Tyler Hoppes: Hoppes has some hops. He’ll give some defenses trouble with his speed. I’ll be curious about his long-term durability.

» Safety Joshua Kalu: As one of Nebraska’s quarterbacks on defense, he’s taken a natural leadership role. Will he be a captain?

» Quarterback Tanner Lee: Nebraska’s starter looked sharp in a red zone drill Thursday. Phil Savage, Senior Bowl executive director and former NFL general manager, was on hand, too. His praise is no small deal.

» Running back Devine Ozigbo: He has worked his way back into the starting running back race. He can catch and run, and he’s good in space for a big guy. Can he get the tough yard with traffic at his feet?

» Receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El: He looks like an all-around receiver now. He runs all the routes crisply, and he has the acceleration jets back.

» Linebacker Dedrick Young: Nebraska continues to lean on him as a nickel and dime linebacker. It’s his time, if he can take it.

Five stats

» 43.88 percent: Nebraska’s third-down conversion rate last season, which ranked fourth in the Big Ten. Nebraska converted 51.8 percent of its running plays into first downs — second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State. NU converted 37.8 percent of its third-down passes into first downs. That was by no means the league’s worst ratio — Illinois converted 24.8! — but one figures it could improve in 2017 and be a notch above 40 percent.

The Huskers were a poor passing team on third-and-short under quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who completed 42.4 percent of his passes on third-and short (3 or fewer yards) in 2015 and 2016. If you’re looking for a comparison — and I know you are — Taylor Martinez completed 67.6 percent of his passes in those situations over 2011, 2012 and 2013.

» 37.43 percent: Opponents’ third-down conversion rate against Nebraska. That ranked seventh in the Big Ten.

Cut out the games against Fresno State and Wyoming, and the rate creeps to 38.96. In 2013 and 2014, the Huskers had national top 10 third-down defenses. It’s a bit of an offense-challenged league.

» 62.22 percent: Nebraska’s rate of scoring touchdowns inside the red zone. That ranked 59th in the nation last season; mediocre. That was NU’s worst touchdown conversion rate since 2009.

NU’s overall red zone scoring rate — 82.22 percent — was also the Huskers’ lowest since 2009. The Huskers ranked 15th in touchdown rate and 21st in scoring rate in 2015. In 2009, Mike Riley’s Oregon State offense was the nation’s best red zone attack, scoring on 96.43 percent of its possessions and scoring touchdowns on 73.21 percent.

» 64.71 percent: Nebraska’s opponents’ rate of scoring touchdowns in the red zone. These numbers got skewed pretty badly in the losses to Iowa and Ohio State — 10 combined opportunities, eight touchdowns — but it’s not like you wipe the games off the board, either.

NU finished 11th in the Big Ten in this category. Since joining the Big Ten, NU has never ranked higher than fifth in the league in this category — and never higher than 35th nationally. That’s something.

At Notre Dame, Bob Diaco’s defenses — 2010 through 2013 — were ranked seventh, 46th, third and 18th nationally in that category. That’s something, too.

» 11th: National attendance rank in men’s basketball. NU averaged 15,427 at Pinnacle Bank Arena last season. Better than Michigan State, Arizona, Iowa State, Purdue, UCLA and others. The women’s basketball team — arguably the weakest in school history — finished 17th nationally. When Nebraska administrators say the deal with Adidas was built in part because of the Husker fans, they’re right.

Opponent watch

» Rutgers held its open fan practice Saturday and, according to reports from, Louisville transfer Kyle Bolin may have the slight edge in a three-man quarterback race. And according to Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, Rutgers has moved away from a spread team and toward more of a physical, power style preferred by new offensive coordinator Jerry Kill. The best Rutgers can hope for this year is a 5-7 squad that loses some close games.

» There’s no quarterback controversy at Illinois, where Lovie Smith anointed Chayce Crouch — a run-first, oft-injured guy last season — the No. 1 man. Look for the Illini to run a lot and, like Rutgers, try to keep games close. Talking to Smith and Illinois players in Chicago, they think they should have beaten Nebraska last season. NU’s visit on that Friday night will be the game of Illinois’ season.


The grind will set in. Does NU squeeze in an extra day off?

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