Published Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 1:37 pm
FOOTBALL
Barfknecht: Husker A.D. Eichorst is quiet, but Bo Pelini's ice may be thin

No one outside of Chancellor Harvey Perlman and Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst knows for sure if Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is truly on the hot seat.

What is clear is that mind-numbing losses like Saturday's in the sixth year of a regime are what put coaches in administrators' crosshairs. So I wouldn't be shocked if things have heated up substantially following the debacle at Minnesota.

Just don't confuse “hot seat” with “automatic removal.”

Slow down, now. I'm not advocating Pelini stay, nor am I calling for his head. The idea here is to understand the processes a school might consider in Nebraska's stuck-in-neutral situation.

Any official account must come from Eichorst, who in his one year at NU has shown zero inclination to speak publicly on anything, much less offer opinions on football. Eichorst politely declined to be interviewed Sunday.

His reticence doesn't make him a good guy or a bad guy — just a quiet guy who is a lawyer by trade and approaches things with disciplined thoughtfulness.

Unfortunately, that doesn't make for good copy or a well-informed shareholder fan base.

Remember that Eichorst told Perlman that if in five years Husker student-athletes are flourishing and no one knows Eichorst's name, “it will be a success.” Good luck with the not-knowing-your-name part.

When there is an information vacuum, speculation rushes in. Let's try to fill in a few gaps from what I've seen before in these deals.

First, forget the notion that Nebraska makes an in-season change.

About the only time that happens is when the coach is breaking rules or the law, or if his relationship with the athletic director becomes utterly toxic.

USC fired coach Lane Kiffin in late September because A.D. Pat Haden couldn't stand the sight of him any longer. That's not the case at Nebraska by any means. Eichorst has spoken well of Pelini in public, and from what I've been told, in private, too.

As for ousting Pelini after the season, several message boards and talk jockeys have declared that a done deal.

It's not.

Here's why: we don't know who Eichorst would want to hire, or if he could persuade that person to accept.

When changing coaches in this high profile a sport, the guy doing the changing had better have his man in hand. Remember how a former Nebraska A.D. who shall not be named botched that for 40 days and 40 nights.

Eichorst has a long and interesting résumé as an administrator, except in one area: hiring big-time coaches.

In his only previous job as A.D. at a power conference school — 18 months with the Miami Hurricanes — he extended some head coaching contracts. But it looks like his lone hire of consequence was Jim Larranaga for men's basketball, and that process reportedly had begun before Eichorst arrived.

Does Eichorst have names of potential football coaches on the ready? All A.D.s worth their pay do, and I'm betting he does.

Former Oregon, Nebraska and Texas A&M A.D. Bill Byrne used to call it his “hit by a bus list,” meaning if my coach gets hit by a bus today, here's who I try to hire tomorrow.

It's like chess, thinking two moves ahead. When the stakes are this high, an A.D. had better have done his homework on the next guy instead of scrambling to react to the moment.

In the meantime, stay far away from people who claim Nebraska can't financially afford a coaching change. That's laughable. The bump NU will get in Big Ten profits when the league signs its new TV deal in 2016-17 could pay for five firings and hirings.

Also, steer clear of the gloom-and-doomers who claim no one would want the Nebraska job if you fire a nine-win-a-year coach. Smart people in this business know there are far different kinds of nine-win seasons.

Nebraska is a job in which you essentially start each season 6-0 based on schedule, home games and conference affiliation. (Draw your own conclusions on Bill Callahan, who managed to hit six wins only twice in four seasons.)

It's the other six or seven “tight-fit” games, as Barry Switzer called them, that determine your coach's chops. The coaching community knows that. So do Perlman, Eichorst and Pelini.

That's why this is a hot topic at Nebraska. Or, more correctly, a hot-seat topic.

Other things on my mind on a Monday morning:

»  Husker fans, if you got sick of watching Minnesota tight ends running free on bootleg fakes, wait until you see Iowa use that action — only three times more efficiently and with better players. Penn State, too.

» Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald needs a hug. The Wildcats, who come to Lincoln on Saturday, are the first Big Ten team to start 4-0 and then lose at least the next four since the 1985 Indiana team started 4-0 and lost seven straight. (Thanks to BTN's Tom Dienhart for that tidbit).

»  The postgame handshake between Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and Penn State's Bill O'Brien was a one-second blow-by. Think it had anything to do with Meyer challenging the spot of the ball late in the third quarter with a 56-7 lead? The ruling went in OSU's favor. But, man!

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht

lee.barfknecht@owh.com    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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