One word was used early and often during University of Nebraska chancellor Ronnie D. Green and president Hank Bounds’ press conference following the firing of NU athletic director Shawn Eichorst on Thursday.
It was a relatively broad term that focused not only on the Huskers’ football program, which is off to a 1-2 start and just suffered an ugly home defeat to Northern Illinois, but in every aspect of NU's athletic department.
An overall lack of competitiveness in football and across all sports was the primary reason Green and Bounds came to their decision to remove Eichorst of his duties on Wednesday and then made it official less than 24 hours later.
“Husker fans, as we know the best fans in the nation, deserve winning teams,” Green said. “While we’ve made much progress across many dimensions of Husker athletics, we expect more. Winning can and often does happen in concert with well-run, quality college programs that work to ensure the success of our student-athletes. That’s our expectation here at Nebraska.”
Both Green and Bounds praised Eichorst’s work in the realms outside of on-field competition, but in the end, the ultimate goal of the athletic department with the resources of Nebraska’s was to win at a championship level.
Bounds said that just wasn’t happening at a satisfactory level under Eichorst’s leadership, whether it was in terms of wins and loss or basic athletic competitiveness against peer programs.
“Clearly the most objective way (to judge athletic success) is wins and losses, but there are differences in wins and losses,” Bounds said. “There are programs that we compete with that we should compete with. Not everybody can win every game at the end of the day, but we expect to be in every game and compete in every game.”
Green said the process of finding a new athletic director had only just begun, and that Nebraska would utilize both a search firm and a consulting committee.
Green also said an interim athletic director would be announced “hopefully in the next couple of days” and that they’ve already had conversations with some potential candidates.
Green said they would reach out to “those knowledgeable about Husker athletics and those who have runs successful college programs around the country,” which included former legendary NU football coach and athletic director Tom Osborne.
As for the unusual timing of Eichorst’s firing, Green said he and Bounds had been having conversations about their eventual decision for a while, and as of Wednesday decided it was time to make a change.
Bounds said there was really no convenient time to make a move like this.
“Unless you do it in the summertime, there’s never a time when we’re not competing,” Bounds said. “So obviously we’ve had a conversation with Coach (Mike) Riley … We expect the Huskers to compete on Saturday regardless of where we are in the process.”
Of Riley, Bounds said he “is our football coach, we expect him to compete.” While he admitted football was obviously the major factor in Nebraska’s athletic department, this move went beyond what was happening with Riley and his program.
“This is not about Mike Riley right now,” Bounds said. “We expect him to compete. We expect our players to compete in volleyball, in baseball; you name the sport.”
Bounds said they have had no conversations yet with any potential candidates to replace Eichorst, but they hope to make a hire as quickly and efficiently as possible. That said, both Bounds and Green iterated that they would not rush such a critical decision.
“When we think about the next athletic director, we are going to go after the most talented person we can find,” Bounds said. “So we’re not limiting ourselves to anyone or any place, and at this point, we have not had any conversations with any individual.”
Said Green: “At the end of the day, we can’t make our decisions based on history. We have to look at a very competitive marketplace, we have to understand that we have the resources to absolutely be competitive. We’ve got make sure we assemble the talent at the top position to help us get there.”
Asked to point to a time when Nebraska was achieving the level of overall athletic success they want to return to, Green and Bounds echoed the feeling of many other Nebraska fans with their vision of what Husker sports could and should be.
“I’d love to be back in the mid-1990s,” Green said.
“The truth about it, why not?” Bounds followed. “Why shouldn’t we have those aspirations?”