By Brian Rosenthal / Huskers.com
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst watched the Husker men’s basketball team’s upset at Indiana while periodically glancing at his mobile device while having dinner on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.
Earlier in the day on Wednesday, Eichorst took in Nebraska’s football practice on the campus of Vanderbilt University, where the Huskers are preparing for Friday’s Music City Bowl against Tennessee.
During that practice, Eichorst visited with a handful of local Nebraska reporters about the future of both football and men’s basketball, and expressed excitement and confidence in the direction Mike Riley and Tim Miles have their programs headed.
Riley has a chance to lead Nebraska to a 10-win season and a second straight bowl victory, even though the Huskers fell short of their goal of winning the Big Ten West Division, that eliminated with a disappointing 40-10 loss at Iowa in the season finale.
That hasn’t deterred Eichorst’s enthusiasm for the program’s growth.
“I know this: We played hard. We prepared hard. We had a chance to win a championship this year, and we came up a little short,” Eichorst said. “I think there’s great optimism and hope in the program. And I know that we are on some really good students — prospects — and we’ve redshirted some good players. And we have some good young players on this roster.
“We need to finish strong here. We play a really good Tennessee team, and we need to play well — which I know we will. Let’s get headed in the right direction. But I feel really confident about where we’re at.”
To that end, Eichorst continues to stress the importance of recruiting, noting that he and Riley are on the same page in that regard, and the program has the necessary resources to put together a top-level team.
“We were in the hunt for the championship, but we have work to do. I think all of us recognize that,” Eichorst said. “We’ve talked about building a roster. Recruiting is extremely important. I know you guys have analyzed that, up and down, looking back the last 15 years. The acquisition of talent is really, really important.
“Let's work together, putting our resources and support all in the same direction — that's both inside and outside the building. And let's get better. I know we have a leader who thinks that way, who's very positive and has a bunch of really good people around him, both from a coaching perspective and from a student perspective.
“But this team’s stronger today. I think the nutrition is stronger today. I think the familiarity with coach to player and student to coach, we’re making progress there. This is a good group of players. They work hard. But they’d be the first to tell you — the athletes would, the students would, if you asked them and I know you have, same thing with the coaches, same thing with the personnel department — we have room to grow. That’s what’s exciting. There’s a lot of optimism and a lot of energy.”
Eichorst also praised Riley for his handling of significant, challenging off-field events, including the summertime death of senior punter Sam Foltz.
“Those situations, there’s no textbook on how to handle them, but I think we’ve been around Mike long enough to know that he could write a textbook on how to handle adversity, very sensitive topics and issues with grace, professionalism, kindness, thoughtfulness,” Eichorst said. “He’s a very, very special leader who’s equipped with these qualities that allow him to manage really tough, sensitive situations and topics, and in some ways make it look effortless.”
As for men’s basketball, Eichorst gave his full support to Miles – hours before Miles’ team defeated No. 16 Indiana on the road 87-83 to begin Big Ten Conference play. The Huskers had gone 6-6 in a challenging nonconference schedule.
Eichorst sees continued growth.
“They've really worked hard. Tim has worked his tail off. He's got a great group of assistants around him,” Eichorst said. “I really like the nucleus — the young nucleus. Obviously, I think he would want them to be a little bit further along. But they've played a really good schedule up to this point. No one’s making any excuses. We will never do that. I just think we want to see improvement.
“And I think we just need to have reasonable expectations around it, and support. We’ll kind of dissect it all at the end. We’re in the middle. The Big Ten’s a formidable league. I know this: The effort’s been there. The preparation’s been there, from what I've seen in practice. And we’ve had some guys dinged up. Again, there are no excuses there, but you have to take that into consideration as you look at the whole thing. I’m very, very optimistic about where we’re at.”
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