It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We hit Shawn Eichorst and Harvey Perlman, Gene Chizik and Barry Switzer, Royce White and Jay Bilas, Geno Smith and Charlie Weis. But first, a disturbing pattern by Nebraska’s defense.
Look at when these opponents scored their first touchdown against the Blackshirts.
Wisconsin 2011: 2nd drive (9 plays, 91 yards)
Ohio State: 2nd drive (7-80)
Northwestern: 2nd drive (13-80)
Michigan: 2nd drive (8-79)
South Carolina: 2nd drive (11-55)
UCLA: 2nd drive (1-27)
Wisconsin ‘12: 1st drive (5-71). The Badgers also scored a TD on their second drive.
So in each of those seven prominent games (five of which Nebraska lost), the Blackshirts allowed a touchdown drive on at least one of the first two possessions. Bo Pelini’s defenses have clearly been slow out of the blocks. That’s a recipe for trouble against Braxton Miller. The Huskers need to seize momentum early. It starts with defense.
>> Then there’s the NU offense. I wrote a column in Friday’s World-Herald about Nebraska’s struggles to score on the road. Taylor Martinez and Tim Beck have a great opportunity Saturday night to erase bad memories.
>> Should Harvey Perlman have interviewed internal candidates like Jamie Williams and Paul Meyers? Should he have given Tom Osborne more influence on the final decision? Practically speaking, this is Perlman’s hire. He got his guy. And he executed the search quietly. Mission accomplished. But politically, Perlman opened himself up to criticism and potential division. The last thing you want is Osborne sitting out the press conference.
What will fans think of Eichorst? What will coaches and athletic department employees think? How much will he want to change the routines and strategies of Husker athletics? We don’t know that yet. We do know that Eichorst would be wise to make a very good first impression.
>> Eichorst comes to Lincoln with a wealth of experience. But according to Brian London, who runs a Miami fan web site and appeared on 1620 The Zone’s “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” Thursday, Eichorst was barely visible in the Hurricane community — or in the media. He didn’t fit the Miami culture. He didn’t raise funds effectively. Nor did he rally the Miami fans and boosters during an anxious time.
“He became known as the invisible athletic director,” London said.
That’s a biased Miami fan, so take it for what it’s worth. But it looks like Eichorst didn’t have much fun during his one year in the sun.
>> On Twitter Wednesday night, I posed a random question: Is Gene Chizik the worst coach ever to win a college football national championship? It’s amazing how many people said yes. Aside from 2010, when Auburn went 14-0, Chizik’s best season anywhere is 8-5. His career record is 36-32, including 1-3 this year. That’s remarkably bad for a man with a big gold ring. Cam Newton should probably receive a cut of Chizik’s $3.5 million salary, huh. Oh, nevermind…
>> In last week’s Chatter, I made note of three native Nebraskans — Darin Ruf, Tyler Cloyd and Jake Diekman — playing for the Philadelphia Phillies on the same night. Was it unprecedented? According to Tony Connelly from Omaha, the answer is no.
“In 1962,” Tony wrote me, “three Nebraskans played almost the whole season for the Baltimore Orioles. They included Omahan Jackie Brandt, Russ Snyder from Oak, and Ron Hansen from Oxford. Each one of them played in 70+ games (Brandt 143 games, Snyder 139, and Hansen, who suffered a broken finger that year, 71). It is amazing that it took 50 years to do it again. After the 1962 season, Hansen was traded to the White Sox, where he teamed up at shortstop with future Hall of Fame second baseman Nellie Fox.”
Great email. Thanks, Tony.
>> Here’s another good email, from Michael Larimer:
“In my mind, Nebraska has a very weak pass rush, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that. However, while wasting time at work, I was browsing through ESPN’s stats and noticed Nebraska is currently sitting at eighth nationally in sacks, with 19 – only two fewer than their 2011 total.
“My initial reaction was: ‘Wow, did they really sack Idaho State 18 times?’ In actuality, it was seven. My fall-back theory was that some other game was skewing the stats; however, all other opponents were sacked precisely three times each. Even if you subbed out that seven against Idaho State for their otherwise-standard three, Nebraska would have 15 sacks, which would be a respectable 15th nationally.
“My question for you is, why does Nebraska’s pass rush have such a bad reputation? Is it fair (i.e. are the numbers misleading)? One theory I have is Nebraska suffers, perception-wise, because it lacks a major individual threat. Eric Martin predictably sits atop the team standings, but his 3.5 sacks are only good for 47th nationally. Nebraska has had 13 different contributors to their 19 total sacks. The pass rush has no face.”
Here’s my opinion, Michael: The perception of Nebraska’s pass rush has improved since Martin’s emergence. But not enough to make believers out of Husker fans. Only half of the 19 sacks (9.5) have come from defensive linemen, which means Bo Pelini is relying on blitzes more than in past years.
And remember, in Nebraska’s only loss, the defensive line barely laid a hand on UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. We all tend to remember the losses more than the wins.
>> Happy 75th birthday, Barry Switzer!
>> Two compelling interdivisional Big Ten clashes are coming Saturday — and I’m not talking Ohio State-Nebraska. Michigan goes to Purdue and Northwestern travels to Penn State. For the Wolverines, it’s desperation time. They need to get this season turned around immediately. For Northwestern, it’s a chance to win another 50/50 game. By Saturday night, we’ll know more about the strength of the divisions.
>> Can Ohio State really go undefeated? If the Buckeyes get past Nebraska, this is their road:
at Penn State
You can immediately eliminate Indiana and Illinois. Purdue shouldn’t be a problem at home. That leaves Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan. My hunch is Ohio State loses one of those — but only one. But can you imagine if Ohio State is 11-0 when Michigan comes to town?
>> Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated says with Urban Meyer rebuilding in Columbus, the Big Ten is “screwed.”
>> As if Kentucky basketball didn’t have enough of a recruiting advantage with World Wide Wes and Nike in its corner. Now ESPN is getting in bed with the Wildcats, starting an all-access show this October. Here’s an excerpt of the press release:
“All-Access Kentucky will provide a never-before-seen perspective of the Wildcats preparation for the basketball season. The episodes will chronicle teaching six new players the Kentucky system and trying to mold high school superstars into instant national champions, all while recruiting the class of 2013. The cinéma vérité series will showcase what life can be like on a top-level collegiate basketball team, providing a unique window into the first step in building a national champion. …
“The series will be a trip inside the lives of Coach Cal, his staff and the players, the fight for playing time, what happens in the weight room, the inside jokes and pranks. All-Access Kentucky will highlight UK’s seemingly unrivaled ability to land top players and quickly build them into a cohesive team, as they try to repeat as national champion with four freshmen and no starters from the previous season.”
Here’s my question: If those ESPN cameras witness an NCAA violation, will they report it or will the footage end up in the trash? I think we know the answer to that question. Get used to John Calipari winning national championships, folks.
>> On Twitter, Jay Bilas released his personal preseason All-American team.
Cody Zeller, Indiana
Doug McDermott, Creighton
Mike Moser, UNLV
Isaiah Canaan, Murray State
Peyton Siva, Louisville
His sixth and seventh spots went to Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum and Pierre Jackson of Baylor. Aside from Doug, a returning All-American, there’s not much star power on that list.
>> Bad luck for Colorado State point guard Jesse Carr, an Ainsworth native, who tore his ACL and will miss the 2012-13 season. Husker coach Tim Miles sent his regards to Carr via Twitter on Thursday.
>> As Kansas gears up to get blown out by Kansas State, Charlie Weis is ticked off at the KU student newspaper over this illustration. Wait a minute, I thought coaches didn’t read the papers.
>> Can the sportswriting farce known as “Bleacher Report” be saved? A fascinating read.
>> World-Herald Hall of Famer Liz Merrill (and Wayne Drehs) profile NFL replacement refs. What are they doing now? One was officiating an eight-man JV game in Kansas last week.
>> Pat Forde on Geno Smith, the Heisman frontrunner. West Virginia faces its first big test this week going to Texas. I think they win another shootout. I’ll take South Carolina and LSU in the other marquee games Saturday.
>> Nebraska isn’t the 20th or 21st best team in the country. It’s 14th! At least according to the Vegas oddsmakers.
>> This could be the best baseball day of the year. I’m a huge fan of the new wild-card system. And I love the one-game playoff. Tonight, we get two of them. Here are my full MLB playoff picks:
Wild card round: Rangers over Orioles, Braves over Cardinals.
Divisional round: Tigers over A’s, Yankees over Rangers, Reds over Giants, Braves over Nationals.
League championship series: Yankees over Tigers, Reds over Braves.
World Series: Reds over Yankees
Where am I wrong?
>> With Perlman’s pick of Eichorst to be the next AD, you’ll hear plenty of comparisons to Bill Byrne, another outsider who followed a legend (Bob Devaney) 20 years ago. Let me leave you with this story from Byrne’s introductory press conference in 1992; he was hired by then-NU chancellor Graham Spanier. I think you’ll parts of it very intriguing in hindsight. Have a great weekend and thanks for reading.
An increase in sports at Nebraska or cutbacks? A change in conferences? Skyboxes at Memorial Stadium?
Bill Byrne said Friday that he wasn’t ready to answer those questions – not on the day he was nominated to become the 11th athletic director in Nebraska history.
“Fellas, I’ve only been here a day and a half,” said the eight-year AD at Oregon. “I haven’t had a chance to analyze budgets or talk to coaches or spend much time with the chancellor.
“All I know right now is that I am thrilled to have the opportunity to try to keep the University of Nebraska moving in the same direction as under Bob Devaney’s leadership.”
Devaney, 77, will retire in January after 25 1/2 years as athletic director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln — the fifth-longest stint in Big Eight Conference history.
The 47-year-old Byrne has been appointed for three years at Nebraska at an annual salary of $110,000. He makes $88,000 at Oregon.
Devaney makes $94,034 yearly, a salary he will retain Jan. 4 when he becomes a fund-raising consultant to Chancellor Graham Spanier.
Spanier’s nomination of Byrne over two other finalists — Iowa State AD Max Urick and Ohio State Associate AD Bill Myles — is subject to N.U. Board of Regents approval.
At least six of the eight regents have said they would back Spanier’s choice. A simple majority is needed, with a vote expected at the regents’ July 11 meeting in Scottsbluff.
Byrne, who will come to Lincoln Nov. 1 to begin orientation with the title of athletic director designate, said he is happy to follow Devaney.
“I use the word ‘follow’ deliberately,” he said, “because no one can replace Bob Devaney.
“Bob Devaney is a living legend. A giant. He is one of the greatest American college leaders. He has built a legacy at Nebraska – something I would hope we could continue.”
Devaney, who openly backed Nebraska Assistant AD Al Papik for the job, spoke briefly at the end of Byrne’s introductory press conference Friday at the Nebraska Union.
“The media in the state of Nebraska has been the best in the world as far as I’m concerned,” Devaney said. “It’s been great working here.
“Give Bill that same support and I’m sure everything will go along real well.”
Most senior athletic department staff members attended the press conference, as did head coaches from men’s basketball, women’s basketball, men’s gymnastics, baseball, wrestling, men’s and women’s swimming, men’s golf and strength and conditioning.
No assistant football coaches attended. Head Coach Tom Osborne, fishing in South Dakota, gave a statement Thursday night by phone that Spanier read Friday.
“Since the overwhelming majority of our coaches, staff members and others involved with the search process are in strong agreement with the selection of Bill Byrne, I support their judgment.
“While I was unable to meet with Bill in person because of my vacation, I did talk to him at some length and we had a good conversation.
“Now my hope is that everyone will get behind Bob Devaney, our present athletic director, and Bill Byrne next January, and make it work for the good of the University of Nebraska.”
Spanier said Byrne was a unanimous choice of all head coaches who personally interviewed the three candidates, and the first choice of “the overwhelming majority” of senior athletic department staff, university officials and faculty members involved in the search.
Byrne expressed surprise at newspaper reports this week pegging him as the front – runner.
“How did you know? I didn’t,” he said. “There were no promises made to me. I was told I was one of three finalists, and that a decision would be made after recommendations from coaches.
“I came here with no preconceived ideas that I was going to be selected.”
Spanier, who came to Nebraska in November from Oregon State, emphasized Friday that he and Byrne — though 60 miles apart in Oregon — had attended only one meeting together.
“There must be an intense curiosity about the Oregon connection,” Spanier said, “since one reporter asked for all of my telephone records yesterday, wanting to discover if I had made calls to Bill to arrange the whole thing.”
The World-Herald requested those public records. University officials have acknowledged the request, and are in the process of compiling a complete list.
“Let me assure you,” Spanier said, “that Bill was duly nominated by three individuals — not me — and many others commented positively about him to the search committee.
“Bill was identified, interviewed and selected as a finalist by the search committee without any input from me. I did not interview Bill for the position until this week, and the only phone call I had with Bill prior to his recommendation as a finalist was related to his inquiry last month about the true openness of the search.”
Byrne, who says he doesn’t know who nominated him, said he called to check on a rumor about the Nebraska search.
“The story in the ADs’ grapevine was that it wasn’t going to be open,” he said. “It was going to be an automatic move up of one of the current staff members.
“So I asked that question. I was told it was wide-open. And I was told to call Graham Spanier. That was the first I knew he was at Nebraska.”
Byrne, whose first interview was at Stapleton Airport in Denver earlier this month, said the Nebraska opening was intriguing.
“You have to be interested in Nebraska,” he said. “This is one of the best programs in the United States.
“And with Marilyn’s family ties, we knew about Nebraska.”
Marilyn, Byrne’s wife, spent part of her childhood in Ainsworth, where her parents are this weekend attending a 55th high school reunion.
“The last time we were out here,” Byrne said, “we were in Ainsworth for a family thing. Everybody was talking about football season, and it was three months before teeing it up.”
Such intense interest is what led in part to disputes the past week between longtime boosters and Spanier over hiring a new AD from the outside.
Byrne said such skirmishes don’t scare him.
“What that shows me,” he said, “is the keen interest in the program. People have an extreme desire to keep Nebraska moving ahead.
“I see that as a positive. They want to continue winning Big Eight championships, and I like that.”
In an attempt to soften any hard feelings between fans and the program, Byrne said he has asked Devaney to travel the state with him.
“He’s going to be with me and introduce me to the right people and make sure I get off on the right foot,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Byrne said he has had a similar relationship with an Oregon coaching legend — 87-year-old Len Casanova, for whom a new $12 million athletic center was named.
Byrne, born in Boston, grew up in Idaho and earned bachelor’s (1967) and master’s (1971) degrees in business administration from Idaho State.
He was alumni director at Idaho State, executive director of the University of New Mexico Lobo Club and assistant AD for external affairs at San Diego State before arriving in Oregon in 1982 as associate AD.
Since being named AD, Byrne has helped the Ducks’ athletic department budget grow from $5 million a year in 1984 to $12.5 million in 1992.
Byrne’s work has earned him national respect among his peers.
In 1985, he was named fund-raiser of the year by the National Athletic Fund-Raisers Association.
He also was president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics in 1991-92, and has served four years on that group’s executive committee.
He previously has been a finalist for AD jobs at Florida and Illinois.
Byrne said there was no arm wrestling late Thursday night over terms of his contract.
“Heck no,” he said. “I’d lose to the chancellor. He’s stronger than I am.”
Among the attractions in Nebraska, Byrne said, are more chances to have greater success.
“I’m not coming here with any idea other than living in Lincoln, Nebraska, for the rest of my life,” he said.