Published Sunday, December 1, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 2:55 pm
FOOTBALL
Shatel: A.D.'s statement raises questions but is worth taking at face value

So, Shawn Eichorst is handy with a fire extinguisher.

The first-year Nebraska athletic director sent out a one-paragraph statement on Saturday concerning Nebraska football. It had a lawyer's touch, with the open-ended phrase “we look forward to Coach Pelini leading our program in the future.”

If this was meant to squash speculation, it may have added fuel. As soon as it was released late Saturday morning, fans started throwing around theories as to what it all meant.

Oh, great. More tea leaves to read.

If Eichorst doesn't comment during the season, does that mean the season is over?

OK, so he broke his rule. My biggest question then is why couldn't he have offered this support, say, last Wednesday? Or earlier?

What does “in the future” mean?

I'm not going into all the theories I heard on Saturday. It's just more speculation and conjecture.

When the season is over — assuming that means after the bowl game — it would be nice to have Eichorst expound on this statement. What did he like about this season? What did he not like? What are his expectations for this coaching staff? Are there any changes he'd like to see? What could the athletic director do to help the program move to the next level?

Put him and coach Bo Pelini together at the same press conference and that's a savvy public relations moment. Give Nebraskans some straight talk. More than a couple of releases issued through the university.

A lot of people want to blame the media for the speculation. Fair enough. But let's remember when it started: during the release of the Pelini audiotape back in September.

It took two days for Eichorst and Chancellor Harvey Perlman to release a comment on the matter. Two days. And their joint statement was not a hearty show of support.

This is the Nebraska athletic director. You may want someone who is more vocal, more visible. That's not Eichorst. Whatever he says, whenever he says it, it will be measured.

And when he issues statements, they can be left open to interpretation.

Here's my interpretation of his latest statement: His support for Pelini hasn't changed. He supports him now, despite what happened this season and what happened on Friday. Pelini will be back in 2014 and he'll support him then.

There don't have to be any hidden agendas. Eichorst could have evaluated a season of youth making adjustments and a coaching staff adjusting to an abundance of injuries, including ones to the starting quarterback.

Eichorst very well could have had Pelini coming back the whole time. As for Friday's actions, he's writing them off as a coach under pressure from speculation by media and fans who can't wait for the end of the season. Or maybe he thinks it was much ado about nothing.

It could very well be that Eichorst is willing to give a coach an extra year, that he sees big things from this young team, and he thinks they'll arrive next season.

He wouldn't be alone in that line of thinking.

I know this doesn't mean that Eichorst is planning to make a change after the bowl game, because that's a horrible idea, from every possible angle.

Whenever his calendar says end of the season, Eichorst may have seen a fire about to blaze out of control, and so he stepped in to put it out and restore calm.

In that sense, he was right on time. State your support and tell everyone to move on, nothing to see here.

I don't mean to speculate, but I think that's exactly what happened here.

It's worth noting that Eichorst's no-comment policy contributes to the speculation. There's a lot of merit to that policy, except when a coach you support is left flapping in the wind.

I'll state again what I stated in various emails to readers on Saturday and what I wrote in my two previous columns. I'll defend what happened on the field this season. But I can't defend what was said and done on Friday. And I thought, given the climate, it would be enough to warrant a serious reaction from Perlman and Eichorst.

As it turns out, it did not.

And now Nebraska football moves on. To the likely bowl destination, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and possibly a match with Texas, on Dec. 28.

To an offseason that hopefully merits some serious evaluation of special teams, the injury situation (strength and conditioning?), an offensive line that will be retooled, and settling a quarterback position that Tommy Armstrong did not seize.

And on to a schedule with road games at Fresno State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa. And don't forget the Miami Hurricanes in Lincoln.

And the train moves forward with Bo Pelini in the conductor's seat.

The athletic director has spoken, in 106 words or less.

* * *

Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini at the postgame press conference:



Video: NU's Jeremiah Sirles at the postgame press conference:



Video: NU's Kenny Bell at the postgame press conference:



Video: Husker seniors honored before the Nebraska-Iowa game:



Video: Sam McKewon's postgame analysis:

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

PHOTO GALLERY AND VIDEO »

 

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