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Nebraska AD backs Bo Pelini, but that’s not the real story

Nebraska Cornhuskers athletic director Shawn Eichorst hasn’t been on the job for even a year, but he’s already had to issue two public statements of support for football head coach Bo Pelini. On Wednesday, Eichorst sat down with two Nebraska newspapers and the AP for a 45-minute interview, and during that time the subject of Pelini’s performance as football head coach came up.

Eichorst delivered a strong statement of support for the man who’s entering his seventh season at the helm of the Huskers’ flagship program.

“We’ve won a lot of ballgames, and we’ve got a lot more ballgames to win,” he said, via ESPN.com. “We’re entering a neat era in college football. I think we’re stable. We have a seasoned coach who has won a bunch of games. We’re resourced the right way. So we should be optimistic. We have good kids in our program. It’s never been about a lack of effort or passion.”

He’s right…Nebraska has won a bunch of football games, but buried in the story is perhaps the real headline — Eichorst is OK with mediocrity.

During the interview, Eichorst laid out three principles he expected every head coach to live by:

“Represent the University of Nebraska with honor and distinction, No. 1. No. 2, give our kids, our students, an exceptional opportunity they can’t get anywhere else. And then compete for championships. Everybody wants to win. But you can’t win ’em all. And you’ve got to have reasonable expectations.”

The last two sentences should be really telling of where Eichorst’s head lies at. It’s a statement of true feelings, and he deserves credit for being honest, but at the same time you have to marry “reasonable” expectations with the history of a program like Nebraska football to those expectations.

One has to ask oneself what exactly should a Nebraska fan, let alone the athletic director, have as expectations then? Should the Huskers head coach be expected to consistently compete for not only conference titles, but be relevant on the national level?

Some may say consistently winning nine games a year is a good thing, and there is merit in that argument. However, when you are staring up at a ring of national championships over multiple decades being just one of the bunch of winners isn’t good enough.

Let’s not forget that since 1970, Nebraska has the second-most national championships in the country. Let’s also remember that this program has also gone from winning five national titles in just over 20 years to going nearly 15 years without a conference championship to even hang its hat on.

Eichorst’s faith in a coach that wins football games, but not championships, is admirable, but it also puts a direct target on his job status along with that of his head coach.

When your program has slid so far down the pecking order that it no longer is one of the first or second group of names people talk about when discussing national titles, well, things have indeed changed in Lincoln, Neb.

The question is, should fans and the athletic department be OK with this new reality or should there be change to strive for something more?

For a vocal part of the Huskers fan base and for some of those that are donors to the program, being just another program isn’t OK. Additionally, it appears that students aren’t all that enthused by the Huskers football program, with over 1,000 student tickets still left to sell earlier this month.

Enthusiasm and hope are just as much a part of the fan experience, and when hope of winning a national championship turns in to just pure hope that the team is good enough to win a division title things have gone off the rails a bit.

While Eichorst may be talking the language of the new reality of Nebraska Cornhuskers football, the real question is if people want to hear that message.

By stating what he did, Eichorst runs the risk of losing the fan base he’s hoping to connect with early in his tenure as athletic director. Ultimately, these public statements mean Eichorst’s future at Nebraska is tied to Pelini’s performance.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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