LINCOLN, Neb. – Incoming Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst vowed Tuesday to keep the department largely unchanged once he replaces Tom Osborne, saying he wanted to immerse himself in a Husker culture known for integrity, trust and respect.
"I don't think this is a place that you have to reinvent the wheel," Eichorst said as he was formally introduced to the media. "I think what you've got to do is get yourself immersed in everything Nebraska. My goal is to make something that's already great better."
Eichorst left his job as athletic director at scandal-ridden Miami last week for a five-year contract to succeed Osborne, the storied former coach who announced last month that he will retire Jan. 1 after five years on the job.
Eichorst said the scandal at Miami had "zero" impact on his decision to accept the Nebraska job. He said he did not actively seek the position, but was recruited and interviewed by Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman. Perlman interviewed Eichorst and one other unidentified candidate.
Perlman said he was drawn to Eichorst because of his experience at Wisconsin, where Eichorst grew up, and his work at that university's athletics program.
"He's had experience across the range of the complexities of running a modern athletic department, which is far beyond what people see," Perlman said. "The second reason was, I connected with him. And the reason I connected with him and he connected with me was he fits the culture of Nebraska."
Osborne, 75 said the selection helped eliminate any concerns about his age.
"Doubt and uncertainty is the enemy of progress, and at some point I knew we had to eliminate that doubt," Osborne said. "That's what we're doing at this point. We've got a guy, obviously, who has another 20 or 30 years in him, and so you don't have to worry about that anymore."
Eichorst will start at Nebraska on Oct. 9, first as a special assistant to Perlman, then assume Osborne's role on Jan. 1. Osborne will become athletic director emeritus and stay involved in department operations through July 30 at Nebraska, where he won 255 games, 13 conference titles and three national championships as football coach.
Eichorst was hired by the Hurricanes after serving as Wisconsin's chief operating officer for athletics, overseeing a $90 million budget and being closely involved with a $100 million construction project for ice hockey, swimming and football. Eichorst was highly recommended for the Miami job by his one-time boss at Wisconsin, athletic director Barry Alvarez — a close friend of Shalala and a Nebraska alum.
Nebraska basketball coach Tim Miles said he had "done some digging" on the new director, and came away impressed after talking to Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan and other former Eichorst colleagues.
"Everyone I've talked to who has worked with Shawn admires him," Miles said. "They love his energy level. He's really sharp. He's a lawyer, you know, so he's a process guy, and he has the highest accolades."
Eichorst's salary at Nebraska will start at $973,000 annually, believed to be a significant raise over his Miami deal. As a private school, the Hurricanes typically do not release contract information.
Eichorst arrived with Miami's athletic department in flux: Funds were being raised for facility upgrades, and the school was in the process of hiring a basketball coach to replace Frank Haith, eventually deciding on Jim Larranaga. Quietly, though, the Hurricanes were also under NCAA investigation over their compliance practices, which wound up overshadowing everything Eichorst did at Miami.
The story over Miami's NCAA mess broke publicly in August 2011, when claims made by former booster and convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro — now serving a 20-year prison term for his role in bilking investors out of $930 million — were published by Yahoo Sports. Shapiro said he provided dozens of Miami athletes and recruits with impermissible benefits over an eight-year period starting in 2002.
Eichorst will receive a $750,000 retention bonus if he stays at Nebraska for five years. He'll pay a $2 million penalty if he leaves within a year. That penalty decreases $500,000 for each year he stays through the fifth year overseeing a 23-sport department with an $85 million annual budget.