Dave Rimington is a familiar, comforting face for Nebraska fans who sorely need one. The Husker football legend’s stint as the interim athletic director, however, won’t last past Thanksgiving.
Administrators at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, working to hire a full-time successor for Shawn Eichorst, are clearly on an aggressive timeline. Haste aside, they must hire a candidate who understands the realities and challenges of this particular job – and the high expectations that accompany it.
In announcing Eichorst’s dismissal, UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said, “I’d love to be back in the mid-’90s. I don’t need to say more than that.” NU President Hank Bounds, a former football player and coach himself, echoed those sentiments: “Why shouldn’t we have those aspirations here?”
Both men know that the advantages that set Nebraska apart during that era have disappeared, through no fault of university leadership. Every football team plays on national TV these days, unlike the days of Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne, and all collegiate sports programs carry big-money apparel deals.
Fans longing for the golden era of Nebraska football, where the Huskers won three national titles in a four-year span, must realize the playing field is no longer tilted in their program’s favor. Instead, likely no Power 5 conference – ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC – school faces such severe disadvantages of geography and population as Nebraska.
In a state with an estimated 1.9 million people, Nebraska leads only West Virginia (by 75,000) in terms of population. The next closest states with Power 5 programs – Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi – each claim at least a million more residents.
As a result, Nebraska must import the vast majority of its scholarship athletes. From a purely numerical standpoint, there’s no other way for its teams to be competitive. By the Journal Star’s count, only 15 of 111 – 13.5 percent – of scholarship recruits in football, volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball hail from the Cornhusker state.
Furthermore, Nebraska is a significant distance away from major population centers. Beyond Lincoln and Omaha, the 500-mile radius from campus deemed so critical to football recruiting hits only Kansas City, St. Louis, Denver, Minneapolis and Oklahoma City, with the latter three on the very fringes.
Still, neither administrators nor fans want geography as an excuse, despite the obvious obstacles it poses. As Green and Bounds emphasized last week, they want wins and championships – demands well received by Husker fans.
This means that the new hire must have the experience to overcome a map that doesn’t favor Nebraska. Doing so will almost certainly require both past success as a Division I athletic director and being a quick study, given the statewide pride and investment in Husker athletics.
The clock is ticking. The stakes are high. We trust university leadership will make the right hire at yet another critical crossroads for Husker athletics.
—Journal Star Oct. 1, 2017