Shawn Eichorst left his job as athletic director at scandal-ridden Miami on Thursday and accepted a five-year contract to succeed Tom Osborne at Nebraska.Eichorst's departure comes at a particularly curious time with the Hurricanes set to play Notre Dame in the rekindling of a college football rivalry on Saturday, and as the school braces to receive potentially crippling NCAA sanctions in the coming months for compliance violations.
Former Maine athletic director Blake James will become the acting AD at Miami, filling the role that Eichorst held for just under 18 months.
"I am deeply disappointed in Shawn's departure to the University of Nebraska as I thoroughly enjoyed working with him," Miami president Donna Shalala said in a statement. "We wish Shawn and his wonderful family the very best at their new post."
Eichorst's starting salary at Nebraska will be $973,000 annually, believed to be a significant raise over his Miami deal. As a private school, the Hurricanes typically do not release contract information.
At Nebraska, the 75-year-old Osborne one of college football's legendary coaches announced late last month that he will retire Jan. 1 after five years on the job. He'll become athletic director emeritus and stay involved in department operations through July 30 at Nebraska, where he won 255 games, 13 conference titles and three national championships as football coach.
Eichorst will start at Nebraska on Oct. 9, first as a special assistant to Chancellor Harvey Perlman, then assume Osborne's role on Jan. 1.
"I am humbled by both the responsibility and opportunities that lie ahead and I hope to carry on the rich tradition of Husker excellence set by Coach Osborne and so many others," Eichorst said in a statement released by Nebraska.
Eichorst has not spoken with Miami reporters in months, citing the ongoing NCAA investigation as the reason why requests were declined.
Perlman interviewed Eichorst and one other unidentified candidate. He said Eichorst, who previously worked at Wisconsin and grew up in that state, is a natural fit for Nebraska.
"I have no reason to believe Shawn was unhappy at Miami," Perlman said. "He saw this as an attractive opportunity to get back to the Midwest and to get back to the Big Ten."
Perlman said the problems at Miami were a prominent aspect of his discussions with Eichorst.
"It's probably not a situation that anybody would like to be in," Perlman said. "Everyone's view is that he was surprised by it (NCAA violations) when he got there and that he responded in the way that I think we would want had a similar circumstance arose here, which we hope it doesn't. It's part of the reason why looking at a person who's been in that role is helpful because you can see how they respond in difficult circumstances."
Eichorst was hired by the Hurricanes after serving as Wisconsin's chief operating officer for athletics, overseeing a $90 million budget and being closely involved with a $100 million construction project for ice hockey, swimming and football. Eichorst was highly recommended for the Miami job by his one-time boss at Wisconsin, athletic director Barry Alvarez a close friend of Shalala and a Nebraska alum.
Eichorst arrived with Miami's athletic department in flux: Funds were being raised for facility upgrades, and the school was in the process of hiring a basketball coach to replace Frank Haith, eventually deciding on bringing in Jim Larranaga. Quietly, though, the Hurricanes were also under NCAA investigation over their compliance practices, which wound up overshadowing everything Eichorst did at Miami.
The story over Miami's NCAA mess broke publicly in August 2011, when claims made by former booster and convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro now serving a 20-year prison term for his role in bilking investors out of $930 million were published by Yahoo Sports. Shapiro said he provided dozens of Miami athletes and recruits with impermissible benefits over an eight-year period starting in 2002.
The NCAA is expected to provide Miami with its notice of allegations later this year. Once that happens, sanctions typically follow in about 90 days.
Miami's athletic director for the period of some of those alleged violations was Kirby Hocutt, who left for Texas Tech last year. And now, the person who replaced him and vowed to help clean up the NCAA mess is also gone.
Eichorst was believed to be working closely with the NCAA during the joint inquiry into the athletic department, so his departure comes at a difficult time for both the department and the university, which is already dealing with a number of issues unrelated to the investigation, such as dwindling football attendance and major financial problems involving its highly touted medical school.
Eichorst addressed the scandal in a roundtable interview with Miami reporters on Nov. 1, 2011.
"I'm not making any excuses. I'm not asking anybody to feel sorry for me or anybody else," Eichorst said. "I've got a job to do and I'm only looking forward. I'm not looking backward."
Eichorst will receive a $750,000 retention bonus if he stays at Nebraska for five years. He'll pay a $2 million penalty if he leaves within a year. That penalty decreases $500,000 for each year he stays through the fifth year overseeing a 23-sport department with an $85 million annual budget.
"I asked him, 'If you were here five years from now, how would I be able to measure his success?'" Perlman said. "His response was, `If the coaches and the student-athletes have been successful and nobody knows my name, it will be a success. The athletic department is all about the success of coaches and student-athletes.' "