On Saturday night I wondered if Husker Nation would lay the blame for Nebraska’s 1-2 start at the feet of head coach Mike Riley or the man who stepped out on three limbs to hire him, athletics director Shawn Eichorst.
We now have our answer.
Nebraska chancellor Ronnie Green announced Thursday Eichorst has been fired.
“Shawn has led Nebraska Athletics in many positive ways, but those efforts have not translated into on-field performance,” Green said in a statement. “Our fans and our student-athletes deserve leadership that drives the highest levels of competitiveness, as well as excellence across all facets of Husker Athletics.”
At a press conference announcing the decision, Nebraska’s leadership was asked how secure Mike Riley was as football coach. After a pause, the response was, “Mike is our coach. We expect him to compete.”
The Huksers are 1-2 for just the third time in the past 56 years — and the second time in three years of the Mike Riley era. Nebraska started the season with a 43-36 win over Arkansas State, then lost to Oregon 42-35 after falling behind 42-14 in the first half. The final straw came Saturday with a 21-17 home loss to Northern Illinois.
Eichorst has been on the job since Oct. 2012, and his 5-year tenure was defined by two major moves — his uncontroversial decision to fire Bo Pelini after the 2014 season and his highly controversial decision to hire Riley away from Oregon State. While universally praised as the anti-Pelini off the field, Riley has been unable to take the football program beyond the 9-4 ceiling Pelini hit his head against time and again in Lincoln.
Riley was 85-76 in 12 years over his second Oregon State tenure from 2003-14 (he was also the Beavers’ head coach in 1997-98) and went just 5-7 in ’14. He has posted a 16-13 mark thus far in Lincoln, well below Pelini’s 67-27 mark, including the 9-3 record he compiled upon his 2014 firing.
“Winning can and often does happen in concert with well-run, quality college programs that work to ensure the success of the student,” Green said. “That’s our expectation. We take pride here in doing things right and doing the right thing, and that won’t change. This is not an either-or equation. We can and should win in that kind of environment.”
Nebraska’s announcement stated Green will “reach out to stakeholders knowledgeable of Nebraska Athletics, as well as those who have run successful college programs around the nation, for guidance and perspective in the search for a new permanent director of athletics.”
While Green reaches out for consensus on the Huskers’ new athletics director, Riley must navigate a schedule that includes three top-10 teams in Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State, in addition to playing a Big Ten West schedule that looks more difficult in late September than it did at the season’s onset.
As Riley’s own future hangs in the balance, it’s worth remembering that Eichorst earlier this year approved a 1-year extension for his head coach that runs through the 2020 season. Nebraska also owes Eichorst an additional $1.7 million.
If Nebraska does make another coaching change, they’ll be paying combined $300k a month to Bo+Riley for a long time. Not ideal.
— Max Olson (@max_olson) September 21, 2017
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