Friday, April 10, 2009

Could Former Huskers Lead UNO Athletics?

Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star broke the news today that several former Huskers are interested in becoming UNO's next athletic director. Former all-American linebacker and television commentator Trev Alberts, former linebacker/catcher and radio commentator Adrian Fiala, and former all-American outfielder and UNL assistant athletic director Paul Meyers are mentioned as potential candidates.

The idea of looking to Lincoln to give UNO athletics a new direction is an intriguing idea, but it certainly raises some questions. Some Maverick fans maintain a dislike of anything associated with the "Skurs", while others (myself included) gladly support both programs. In my case, UNO is my alma mater, but I've been a Husker fan my entire life. I don't see a huge conflict of interest between UNO and UNL in terms of athletics. Nebraska-Lincoln will always be the premier collegiate program in this state; UNO and UNL will always operate on different levels. (Even if UNO upgrades to division 1 someday, UNO isn't jumping up to membership in a "BCS conference".)

That being said, UNO shouldn't be viewed as a training ground for UNL. UNO has had enough a revolving door at the top of their program; UNO needs an athletic director who'll stick around for five or ten years. Anybody interested in taking over the Mavericks needs to intend to stick around 60th & Dodge for an extended time, with no plans to move on until the job is done.

But that might just be the best reason to look to Lincoln for a model of leadership. Bob Devaney spent four decades running the show in Lincoln. Bill Byrne spent nearly ten years in charge. And now Tom Osborne is back as athletic director, following a 25 year run as head football coach. That record of continuity and vision is something that UNO certainly could use.

Hiring someone with a background at Nebraska isn't necessarily an assurance that you'll get that success. In fact, it's not a guarantee of anything. In 2002, Nebraska hired a native son to replace Bill Byrne. An alumnus and a long time member of the athletic department, he was in position to learn the "Nebraska Way", but chose instead to chart a bold new direction, and failed miserably.

That being said, looking to Lincoln for leadership for UNO could be an intriguing move. All of these candidates are connected to the "movers and shakers" of the state, and understand the what it takes to be a success in this area.

Some Mav fans express a healthy distrust of UNL athletics; it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's been long suggested that UNO could never go division 1 because of the perception that the state of Nebraska could only support one public D-1 institution. Of course, if that was truly the case, how do North Dakota and South Dakota support two D-1 programs? Is UNL holding UNO athletics down? Perhaps behind the scenes, but frankly, in recent years, UNO has been sabotaging themselves more than anything that Lincoln could do.

One concern UNO fans should not have is that this postion might be viewed by former Huskers as a "development" position to replace Tom Osborne in 2010. Barring any sort of health problems, I don't see Osborne retiring next year. When Osborne was named UNL athletic director in 2007, the plan was that Osborne would serve for a couple of years and "groom" a successor. But seriously...does anybody REALLY think Tom Osborne is ready to retire? He tried retiring as football coach in 1998, and couldn't do it then. He served in Congress, then decided to run for Governor. When that bid failed, he still didn't retire. I firmly expect that Harvey Perlman will ask Osborne to continue for another few years as UNL athletic director this summer. Will Osborne retire at some point? Maybe. But not next year, barring any health issues.

Would Trev Alberts, Adrian Fiala, or Paul Meyers be a good choice to lead UNO? That I don't know. Meyers has done wonders behind the scenes at UNL, but Alberts and Fiala haven't been in an formal position in athletics. Both men, however, have intriguing records. Fiala has spent his career as a lawyer, and as a broadcaster, he's been called one of the most prepared men in the business. Alberts certainly fights for what he believes in; he was fired by ESPN after Alberts protested how he, Mark May, and Rece Davis were being mislead about their role. I don't see Alberts being a lapdog for somebody else if he were put in charge of UNO athletics.

All three men would be excellent candidates to consider, and make this search a lot more interesting, as they would seem to be the types of candidates that break UNO out of the rut they've been in recently.

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