University of Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman announced at a news conference Thursday afternoon that former University of Miami athletic director Shawn Eichorst would be Nebraska's next athletic director.
Eichorst, who was not present for the announcement, will start Oct. 9 as a special assistant in the athletic department. He'll take over from current athletic director Tom Osborne on Jan. 1, 2013.
"I am very excited to announce that Shawn Eichorst is the next athletic director at the University of Nebraska," Perlman said. "He will be in Lincoln on Tuesday. I was surprised and delighted to be able to find in this search an individual that had all the sets of experiences and talents that the University of Nebraska needs."
Nebraska held a press conference last week to announce the impending retirement of Osborne. However, Perlman's search started months ago. The chancellor and executive search firm Korn/Ferry International began putting together the parameters for the search after Perlman learned in August that Osborne planned to retire.
Perlman also put together an advisory board to help identify what qualities and characteristics Nebraska should seek in its next AD. Perlman said many candidates were considered, including several inside Nebraska's athletic department. Eichorst's name came up early in the search, and Perlman said the former Hurricane athletic director's qualifications stood out on paper.
After identifying two primary candidates, Eichorst and another sitting athletic director interviewed for the position. Perlman conducted both interviews, without the presence of Osborne or other members of the advisory board.
Eichorst made his first appearance in Lincoln on Sept. 9. He drove up from Manhattan, Kan., after the Hurricanes lost on the road to Kansas State. Perlman said he took Eichorst around and showed him the facilities. From there, Perlman said the process narrowed down quickly.
Following Eichorst's visit, he became the lead candidate. Perlman then informed Osborne of his interest in Eichorst and requested he talk about the potential candidate with Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, under whom Eichorst had served as deputy director from 2009 to 2011.
Nebraska eventually offered Eichorst the position and he accepted the job Wednesday afternoon, resigning Thursday morning.
The hiring process moved a little quicker than Perlman's intentions because of the threat of media leaks. He said he felt the timing could have been better, but he needed to move quickly. The chancellor said he felt it was important for extreme confidentiality throughout the process.
"If you're the athletic director at the University of Miami, the first time someone says you're interviewing for another position you've lost credibility for the job," Perlman said. "If you're interviewing assistant athletic directors then, of course, they want to be athletic directors.
"If you're an athletic director at a smaller school, you could say of course that's a logical thing. But athletic directors at universities the stature of Miami and other BCS schools are not going to play if they think there's a risk confidentiality. We are here today and not next Tuesday because of the risks associated with that."
Eichorst's experience wins over Perlman
Throughout the news conference Perlman said the totality of Eichorst's experience made him an obvious selection.
"When you look at that resume, he's hired a coach, he's supervised sports, he's engaged in media relationships and negotiated contracts," Perlman said. "He's done all the kinds of things an athletic director has to do. It's pretty unusual you find all those things in a single package."
Eichorst has spent the last 18 months as the athletic director of Miami. Prior to that he was the deputy athletic director at Wisconsin from 2009 to 2011, moving into that role after joining the staff in 2006. While with the Badgers he oversaw a department of 23 athletic programs, 850 student-athletes and 320 full-time employees. Eichorst was involved with the deisgn and planning of Wisconsin's new ice hockey and swimming facilities, as well as a student-athlete center. From 2004 to 2006 he served a senior associate athletic director for South Carolina, and was the interim athletic director in June 2005.
In addition to his practical work experience, Perlman said he believed Eichorst would understand the culture at Nebraska. The chancellor touted the new athletic director's Midwestern roots several times during the news conference.
"Here is a guy that grew up in the Midwest, was educated in the Midwest and has professionally developed in the Midwest under a mentor who has a passion for Nebraska athletics in Barry Alvarez," Perlman said. "He's had a broad range of experience, the kinds of things that an athletic director in a modern athletic department has to deal with. I think he understands the culture and respects the culture."
One thing that Perlman liked about Eichorst right away was his humility. The chancellor recalled asking Eichorst how he would measure the success at Nebraska after five years.
"His response was, 'If the coaches and the student athletes have been successful, then nobody knows my name, it would be a success,'" Perlman said. "The athletic department is all about the success of coaches and student athletes."
Eichorst's bevy of Big Ten ties did not hurt. Perlman said he spoke about Eichorst to Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany prior to announcing the decision, and the hire was met with enthusiasm.
"He's very, very happy with this selection," Perlman said. "Shawn is an extraordinarily bright athletic director and he is bringing all the things that Delaney thinks Nebraska needs."
Big pay day
The hiring of Eichorst will not come cheap. He has a five-year contract with an annual salary of $973,000. The contract makes Eichorst the third highest paid athletic director in the Big Ten and the sixth highest paid in the country.
Perlman said one of his concerns was making sure Eichorst was content to settle down at Nebraska. The contract has a fairly severe financial penalty if Eichorst were to leave before the end of his five years. The chancellor said the penalty starts at $2 million and goes down roughly $500,000 each year he stays at Nebraska.
Eichorst stands to make an additional $750,000 if he remains at Nebraska for the full term of the contract.
Salary wasn't a concern for Perlman, who said Nebraska paid the going rate in a highly competitive marketplace.
"That's the world we live in," Perlman said. "We are sucked into the marketplace. We either play in the marketplace or we don't play. That's where we are. Athletics are always higher. Here we are extraordinarily fortunate that no tax money, no student fee money goes into those salaries. It is all money that is generated by the athletic department. I'm comfortable that the salary is fair in relationship to his peers and the University of Nebraska."
- Perlman insinuated several times that Osborne was not involved in the process.
"A couple weeks ago I was interviewing people," Perlman said. "Last Wednesday I told him that Sean was a candidate and that Tom should talk to Barry (Alvarez) when he was up here."
- No internal candidates were interviewed. Perlman said he felt Nebraska needed to go outside the program for the best candidate. He also said the program needs to do a better job of making sure associate athletic directors get the necessary experience to allow them to move up some day.
"We just haven't done it, we just haven't moved people around and given people other responsibilities," Perlman said. "They've been in their positions for a long period of time.
"It's not a criticism of Tom, and maybe it wasn't possible. There are just some people there who I think have good potential to be athletic directors, but need a broader range of experience within the athletic department to market themselves to schools that are this stature."
- Perlman said Bo Pelini was contacted by the search firm regarding Eichorst, but the Nebraska coach was unable to talk with anyone from Korn/Ferry.
"I wish they would have had a chance to talk to Bo, but Bo was busy," Perlman said. "You'd like to have a nice long search, but that's not possible in these circumstances."
- Perlman said he won't restrict Eichorst from bringing in his own people once he takes over officially on Jan. 1.
"I would not hire a manager of any department and impose conditions like that. He is going to be the athletic director. I'm not going to micromanage him. Like I said before, nothing in my conversations with him tells me that he has a plan for coming in and overhauling the athletic department. He doesn't think it's needed, and I don't think it's needed. I'm not going to manage the athletic department."
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