Shawn Eichorst Tuesday showed he’s a man of action. Guided by a well-written script that reinforced why Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman used a search firm to identify and then lure Tom Osborne’s successor from his first Division I athletic director job in Miami, Eichorst emulated some Osborne characteristics. He was more substance than style, more steak than sizzle and more humble than enthusiastic.
Nebraska’s new athletic director “in waiting” said all the right things. More importantly, he hit the daily double for Nebraska student-athletes, coaches and fans. First, he told athletic department workers and then later members of the media that he was in Lincoln to launch himself into what he liked to call the four L’s – To Look, to Listen and to Learn from a Legend.
Secondly, everything about Shawn Eichorst seemed to scream Midwest, which bases its values on faith and family and an honest day’s work. There’s not even a hint of flash or fame with this hire. “I am humbled and honored to be chosen to lead one of America’s best athletic programs at a phenomenal university,” Eichorst said. “This is a special place, a special city and a very special state.”
Growing Up on the Farm, Watching Football
Eichorst isn’t a native, but he seems to fit the Nebraska culture like a glove.
“As a young boy growing up on the farmlands of southwest Wisconsin, my days were filled with family, church, school, work. I worked in the fields. I bailed hay, fed the pigs, milked the cows and detasseled corn, believe it or not ... and yes sports, particularly football,” Eichorst said.
“Like my friends,” he added, “I lived for Saturdays in the fall to watch Big Ten and Big Eight football, staring in awe at the great athletes on the television, including your own and soon-to-be my own Mike Rozier, Dave Rimington and Roger Craig.
“I remember watching the famed Blackshirts of Nebraska playing so many classic regular-season and postseason games. As a kid growing up in Wisconsin, I must admit that I had to cheer for the Badgers and, of course, the Packers. I'm so very pleased that I get to cheer for at least one of those teams, and that would be the Packers,” Eichorst said, getting a laugh from the media at UNL’s Visitors Center.
Eichorst focused his prepared remarks on Nebraska’s vision and values, its elite status in academics and athletics, why he pursued a job that sought him rather than the other way around and the impact that Barry Alvarez and other mentors had in helping him to make his decision to leave Miami.
Eichorst Will Take the Reins on Jan. 1, 2013
Nebraska’s new athletic director will be a special assistant for Perlman and serve alongside Osborne to “immerse” himself into both the University of Nebraska and the Athletic Department for the remainder of the year. He will replace Osborne as AD on Jan. 1, 2013, and mentioned how happy he is that Osborne has agreed to stay the first six months of next year to see some major projects through and to help Eichorst transition into his new job.
After thanking Perlman for “an amazing opportunity”, Eichorst expressed his appreciation for Nebraska’s administrative and athletic staffs for making his family feel welcome in Lincoln. He thanked Osborne for his “support and willingness to allow me to learn from a legend.”
To frame his own opinion, Eichorst used a quote from mega Nebraska fan Warren Buffett, who said: “When most people think of Tom Osborne, they think of a great football coach. When I think of Tom Osborne, I think of a man of character who quietly but effectively improves the lives of everyone he encounters.” That, in a nutshell, explains why Eichorst looks forward to improving his life while working for Coach Osborne.
Eichorst also thanked Husker Nation for its “warm embrace” and said Big Red fans are“proof that passion and class go hand-in-hand.”
‘The Legacy of Those Who Came Before Us’
When Eichorst thinks of Nebraska, he sees the momentum of continued excellence and Osborne’s leadership in “solid red” sellout crowds at Memorial Stadium. He sees the steel structures of Pinnacle Bank Arena. He even sees the faces of Nebraska volleyball players “after yet another win.” It all adds up, Eichorst said, to “the legacy of those who came before us and who laid the foundation for what comes next.
“I am so excited to be a Husker,” Eichorst said. “I have come to admire the sustained excellence that Nebraska represents on the field and in the classroom. With more academic All-Americans than any school in America, Nebraska has so much to be proud of.”
Steeped in his own Midwestern values, Eichorst has a pretty good idea of how Nebraska has won so many national and conference championships in a variety of sports and why Husker fans, young and old alike, are “wild, knowledgeable, supportive and enthusiastic.”
Because of his love for football, Eichorst feels fortunate to have played at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, a school that he later led as athletic director. When he played there, “It wasn’t big time, but it was big enough for me,” he said. “What I've learned on the football field – resilience, persistence, determination, work ethic, teamwork, toughness – would carry me through law school, the business world and college athletics. I have never wavered in my belief that athletics cannot only provide opportunity; it can be one of life's great teachers.”
Osborne to Help Eichorst ‘Get Comfortable’
Now, of course, after hearing Alvarez regale him with all kinds of stories dating back to his playing days for Bob Devaney, Shawn Eichorst – the farm kid who grew up watching the Big Ten and Osborne’s Big Eight juggernaut teams – gets the chance to spend the next two months alongside that living legend.
“I’m not here to look backward,” Osborne told a small army of reporters who stopped him on his way out the door of the Visitors Center. “I’m here to help Shawn get acclimated and get comfortable with the situation. That’s what we’re going to work on. Shawn was very kind in his comments, but he’s going to have to be his own person, and he will be.”
Osborne decided to retire to eliminate doubt about being 75 years old. "We have a guy (Eichorst) who has another 20 or 30 years in him, and so you don't have to worry about that (age) anymore," Osborne said.
Eichorst is not among the doubters. "Coach Osborne is probably going to get tired of seeing me,” he said. “I hope to be into his back pocket as much as I can. I think this is a wonderful setup for me to immerse myself in everything Nebraska, and it doesn't necessarily have to be athletics. I really want to get to know the people of the state and the culture, the academics and all the great research that is going on here at the University of Nebraska. It’s an opportunity for me to take a deep breath, and not on a shot clock or a play clock. I can just kind of see things play out ... a lot of looking, listening and learning from a legend."
There's No Need to Reinvent the Wheel
"My expectations are to carry on the history and tradition,” Eichorst said. “I don't think this is a place that you have to reinvent the wheel. I think what you have to do is get yourself immersed in everything Nebraska. My goal would be to make something that is already great, better.”
There will be two catalysts that can make that happen: 1) Osborne, who was teaching business classes at UNL when Perlman asked him to return to Nebraska as athletic director five years ago; and 2) Eichorst, who wants to be a sponge working alongside an Athletic Director Emeritus.
What a combination ... a teacher who will do everything humanly possible to ensure a smooth transition, so he can pass the torch to a willing student who wants to soak up everything he can in the opportunity of a lifetime.
Sounds like Harvey Perlman found the right man to follow a legend.