After a weekend of major college football misery in America’s heartland, the first move was made Thursday.
Nebraska fired athletic director Shawn Eichorst a few days after the Cornhuskers embarrassingly fell to Northern Illinois.
“Our fans and our student-athletes deserve leadership that drives the high level of competitiveness,” Nebraska chancellor Ronnie Green said.
About the fans …
I spoke to the Nebraska Alumni Chapter of Kansas City at a breakfast a few hours before the announcement. Based on the conversation, the news will be met favorably with the group.
These are invested fans. Nearly every hand went up when asked who attended last weekend’s flop. The prevailing sense was that change was needed, whether Eichorst or coach Mike Riley or both went.
The breakfast vibration must have carried to Lincoln. Now, we’ll see if the Tiger Club of Kansas City can have the same effect.
I spoke to that group on Tuesday.
Invitations were offered and accepted weeks in advance, and timing seemed ideal to talk football. Missouri and Nebraska were both favored on Saturday, so the booster club chatter would digest easily with bowl destination possibilities and recruiting prospects shaping the conversation.
But the script flipped with Saturday’s outcomes. Add the Huskers to Mizzou’s head-shaking home loss to Purdue, Kansas State’s gut-punch loss at Vanderbilt and another Kansas defeat, this one at Ohio, and the four closest FBS programs to Kansas City turned our burg into the most depressed in college football last weekend.
Eichorst’s firing should be noted at Kansas, where the Jayhawks have dropped two straight games to Mid-American Conference schools, and appeared headed for a third straight painful season under David Beaty. Could athletic director Sheahon Zenger pay for KU’s football follies with his job?
About the only thing Missouri and Huskers fans have agreed on over the years is that the Big 12 was no longer for them. But Saturday and in the following days they have been bound by anger, bewilderment and sadness over proud football programs, and those feelings hung over the fan gatherings.
A Missouri fan told me his 86-year-old father went to the car at halftime. He could no longer bear to watch.
A Nebraska fan who had attended the game at Oregon the previous week couldn’t get back to Lincoln for the Northern Illinois game but taped it. He heard the score before getting on his plane and can’t bring himself to watch it.
A Tigers’ season-ticket holder since 1971 said the school will lose his attendance if Barry Odom returns to coach.
A noticeable lack of energy coming out of the tunnel at Nebraska, said a fan. Played like they didn’t give a damn, a Mizzou fan told me.
Huskers fans said they don’t expect a mid-1990s run of three national championships in four years, but given the support and budget they believe consistent winning and a run to the Big Ten championship, say on the level with Wisconsin, is a reasonable goal.
Missouri finished the 2013 season, its second in the Southeastern Conference, ranked fifth. The Tigers also spent most of the next season ranked. But the November 2015 campus protests, the departure of Gary Pinkel, three athletic directors in fewer than three years and declining enrollment paint a picture of instability.
The inexperience of Odom, a first-time head coach and former Mizzou linebacker, figured to be offset by his familiarity with the program.
But Saturday’s effort felt a point of no return to some fans … at both schools.
As the final seconds ticked away in Columbia and Lincoln, pictures of empty stadiums were posted on Twitter, message boards lit up and reporters at the games asked to speak to athletic directors. Eichorst made a surprise appearance at the Nebraska postgame news conference. Missouri’s Jim Sterk didn’t avail himself to reporters until midweek.
“Really bad,” said Sterk.
“Not acceptable,” Eichorst said.
Thursday, Eichorst found out just how unacceptable the loss was, and that an athletic boss’s fate can be tied to football fortunes.