Eichorst sends strong message at Nebraska

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Some 46 hours before Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst stepped out from behind the curtain of silence and explained his decision on Sunday to fire Bo Pelini as coach, the Huskers celebrated an emotional overtime victory at Iowa.

It marked the second-largest comeback in school history. Players and coaches rejoiced.

"We kept fighting and swinging and needed something good to happen," defensive coordinator John Papuchis said in the aftermath on Friday, "and something good did happen."

The athletic director's clear message at the end of this holiday weekend? Not good enough.

Credit Eichorst, in his second year at Nebraska, for removing the emotion of the regular-season-ending victory from his decision on Pelini. Credit him for recognizing that, if Nebraska expects to reach its desired position in the Big Ten and beyond, it's not about beating Iowa.

"In the final analysis," he said, "I had to evaluate where Iowa was."

The truth hurts. It hurts for Nebraska, too. Look, the Big Ten West is a hard place to thrive. It'll lull you to sleep, then punch you in the mouth. Nebraska's next coach will learn that lesson in time, but Eichorst on Sunday sent a strong message about his belief in the Huskers to advance as a program.

To rise above Iowa and Minnesota to the level of Wisconsin. And bid to go higher.

Eichorst ended his epidemic of silence, which -- in the face of uncertainty -- conveyed a vacuum of leadership.

He took a step in the right direction, dragging Nebraska toward a place it has not dared to venture in the past four years as a Big Ten program -- a place in which it thinks strategically about its place in college football.

Sure, Pelini said he wouldn't be satisfied until the Huskers won every game. But how did he plan to get there? And where was the progress?

The coach, in recent weeks, wouldn't discuss the big picture.

Eichorst demanded such talk on Sunday.

"We just, for whatever reason, weren't good enough in the games that mattered against championship-caliber opponents," Eichorst said. "And I didn't see that changing at the end of the day."

A bit shaky at the start on Sunday, Eichorst grew comfortable as he answered questions. He displayed leadership. He showed respect in the right moments. He illustrated that this matters to him, like it does to fans who have contributed to 340 consecutive sellouts.

He showed he has a vision. Some Nebraskans had begun to wonder.

Asked how he plans to unite the fan base in this period of trepidation, Eichorst said he would do it through communication.

It's a vow worth remembering.

"I'm compassionate about that," Eichorst said. "This isn't a day of celebration for me. We've got a lot of good, young people in our program who are hurting. And I get that. My focus needs to be on that."

Pelini's players, former and current, chimed in loudly on Sunday.

Recruits Kendall Bussey, a star running back out of Louisiana, offensive lineman Mirko Jurkovic and receiver Stanley Morgan, reportedly decommitted on Sunday.

The healing process may take a while. Nebraska will likely step back before Pelini's successor creates an opportunity to break through the 10-win ceiling in place since 2001.

More than ever, Nebraska needs strong leadership.

"The people of Nebraska deserve not only high standards and expectations," Eichorst said, "but they deserve seeing our people and our teams reach them."

Pelini's teams won 40 of 42 games since 2008 against opponents that finished at .500 or worse. They lost 25 of 51 games against winning teams, went 4-9 since 2011 against ranked foes, and lost by 20 points or more 10 times.

Not good enough, said Eichorst, who won't hire a search firm to help him find a new coach.

Asked if he was concerned over how coaching candidates might view a program that fired a coach with Pelini's nine- and 10-win history, Eichorst sounded irritated at the suggestion.

"No," he said.

Right answer.

Now is not the time for excuses. Now is not the time to hide among the Big Ten West, where Illinois issued a statement of support on Sunday for coach Tim Beckman after a 6-6 finish in his third year. Now is not the time to gauge your program against Iowa, where the status quo reigns after a 7-5 finish under a coach in his 16th season.

"This is what's best for the university," Eichorst said in a decisive tone to open his remarks Sunday.

He started on a strong note.

For the sake of the program's future, Nebraska needs its athletic director to stay strong and lead.