Calinger: Purpose for firing Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst is unclear

By J.W. Calinger
ISL Correspondent

Now that I’ve had time to think about things, I’m not sure whether the powers-that-be at the University of Nebraska really think firing athletic director Shawn Eichorst will do some good, or whether it basically is just an attempt to improve the morale of Nebraska Cornhuskers fans.

J.W. Calinger

J.W. Calinger

Gregg Easterbrook has noted that the firing of a head coach or general manager often brings hope to a team’s fan base, and he thinks at least some such terminations were for that result. In this case, while I can’t prove the firing is a morale booster, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is. I do know Huskers fans were in dire need of some hope after Nebraska started the season 1-2, and from what I’ve seen on social media, getting rid of Eichorst has been a shot in the bum, where hope is concerned.

The firing also may have been in retaliation for Eichorst giving a contract extension to Head Coach Mike Riley. Last week, according to the Omaha World-Herald, Riley received a contract extension through 2020, despite not having proven himself yet as a coach, at least in the eyes of many fans.

Of course, things could be somewhat reversed – there’s a “fan theory”, in TV and movie terms, that Eichorst knew he was about to get canned, and gave Riley the extension just so Riley would be more expensive to fire.

I’m pessimistic about how long this hope will last, and how much Riley will benefit from the temporary morale boost. The Huskers could bounce back against Rutgers and Illinois, but against Wisconsin and Ohio State, they’re getting crushed, period. I imagine that by the evening of October 14, if not before that, fans will resume calling for Riley’s head, in earnest, and I’d submit that the only reasons he isn’t out already are, that the University is not going to bring in another head coach in the middle of the season, and that there isn’t an assistant who necessarily could do a better job.

If Riley does go, of course, it will be a fine example of living by the sword and dying by the sword, as the saying goes. Riley’s hiring was for morale-based reasons, mainly for a fan base and administration that grew sick of Bo Pelini’s temper and abrasiveness. He was presented as more of a Tom Osborne type – he smiled more than Osborne did, to be sure, but he was, and is, the same sort of gentlemanly fellow who, older Nebraska fans imagine, wouldn’t say anything stronger than an occasional “dadgummit” on the field. The Woody Hayes type never has been welcome in these parts, after all.

The sad part is that Riley could have lived up to the hype, had he avoided a few mistakes – for instance, if he had recruited better offensive linemen. Now, however, I’m guessing the clock is ticking on his tenure at Nebraska, and my educated guess is that he’ll be off to a smaller FBS school or, like Pelini, he’ll head to an FCS school and do all right there.

As always, kicking someone out is easy; it’s the search that’s the tough part. Fortunately, hiring a new head coach shouldn’t be as difficult this time. A Medium.com article published this past December noted that finding replacements for both Pelini and Frank Solich was extremely difficult, simply because each coach consistently won at least nine games a season, with one exception for Solich. Though Riley’s team went 9-4 last year, he went 6-7 last year, and if he has the losing season I think he’ll have this year, firing him will be understandable in the eyes of good coaches who might be willing to come to Lincoln.

That, of course, may be another reason the University fired Eichorst. If a prospective coach is a little nervous about coming to Nebraska, given our history of firing winning coaches, part of the pitch might be, that we have a new AD, and we don’t have the same chancellor who made an awful mess of the coaching situation in the last 15 years. I suppose it isn’t just the fans who need hope and the sense of a new beginning.

While I don’t think the Huskers can be contenders for the National Championship every year, or even the Big Ten Championship – there are just too many good teams and coaches in this conference – I do think we can rebuild a reputation for longevity and excellence. Whether or not Eichorst was fired to boost a sense of hope and renewal, it exists, and now the question is, whether or not the administration can build on it.

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