Big Red Ruminations: Shawn Eichorst Unplugs the Treadmill

Posted: December 3, 2014 in Sports
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There are precious few things that make the Nebraska football program unique anymore.

The facilities, once a crown-jewel of a program far ahead of their time, are still phenomenal.  But the memo got out.  Now there are absurdly cool, space-aged, facilities from Tuscaloosa to Eugene, Oregon that make the Death Star look like that old refrigerator cardboard box you cut out to let your kid play inside with one window and a instantly deteriorating door.

The money, which has never truly stopped flowing, is still outstanding.  Last year, the Husker football program made $35 million dollars in net profit.  That was good enough to rank them as the 10th most valuable football brand in the country according to Forbes.  But other schools are making money, too and will continue to do so in the hand-over-fist cash-cowing that is the NCAA’s profit-mongering mission.  In fact, the Huskers have climbed these ranks in recent years and continue to be highly profitable, due in part to the revenue sharing from the Big Ten Network.

But the gap has narrowed, there, too.

A coaching/support staff that used to be ahead of the curve.  From utilizing a unique and precise offensive scheme mixed with a terrifying defense, to a strength and conditioning program that revolutionized the sport, to a training table that was more MGM Grand while others were Truck Stop buffets.  All those advantages have either dissipated entirely or are sizzling towards evaporation in the pan of hot competition.

The winning has stagnated, the coaching staff is no longer the genius-level advantage that it once appeared to be, and the aforementioned peaks have been shorn off by that dreaded word we hear so often spoken into the microphones of our 24-hour news networks: parity.

No.  None of these make Nebraska what it is and none of them have brought Nebraska to where it is.

The one thing that makes Nebraska truly and utterly unique?  Our giveashit.  It’s still there.  In spite of national irrelevancy and coaching changes and 140 character soap boxes dividing fans on either side of the Bo-Son Dixon Line.  Our giveashit has remained steadfast while other coaches plead with their student sections to come watch their National-Championship-Caliber teams and attendance around the country is in a downward spiral.  Coveted by other programs around the nation, this insane give-too-much-of-a-fuck passion is exactly what gives our program its identity.

Image courtesty of: huskernsider.tumblr.com

But starting last season I felt something for the first time that stunned me to the core of my fanhood (*Author’s note: which I will readily acknowledge, isn’t nearly as important as “my being” in spite of what some people would like you to believe).  It lurched into the pit of my stomach at the end of the 2013 Iowa game, like a rickety elevator that drops a little further than it should when you finally reach your stop, and it resonated with me on a level – bouncing around between the foggy memories of Mackovickas and Peterbilt bicep tattoos of my youth and the foggier-still memories of Jungle Juice and Bill Callahan from my College days– that I hadn’t realized was there.  Imperceptible.  And not.  The tide starting to pull slightly at my ankles before it fully reverses out towards the ocean.

Our giveashit was waning.  Like the inevitable shifting of the prairie moon above our prairie state.  The full moon was starting to shrink.  Roaring forest fires had been reduced to manageable, Boy-Scout-Weenie roasts.  Tickets were on sale and eyebrows were raised.  1.8 million voices were murmuring about that exotic love-child our passion and our lack-of-options produces every Saturday: the sellout streak.  The sellout streak.  Of course fans still bought.  They bartered and begged.  Hell some probably stole.  But the ticket was not nearly as scalding hot as it has been in year’s past.  Scalpers weren’t getting a return on their investments.  Like a Bernie Madoff patsy, post-Ponzi, they were left wondering what happened to their once-“sure thing” investment.

While that giveashit was stalling out, bouncing forward in fits and spurts, herking and jerking like an ancient automobile trying to spark itself to life Nebraska football was doing what it always does.  Winning against teams they should beat.  Losing against teams that were equal or better.  It was like a room in the funhouse full of 9-3 mirrors.  And this funhouse wasn’t much fun anymore.

The Lake of Nebraska football had been, seemingly, perpetually still for the last few years.  On Sunday, Shawn Eichorst decided to make waves.  On Sunday Shawn Eichorst pulled the plug out from the treadmill we’ve been stuck on for the last 7 years and a lot of emotions went tumbling to the ground in a suddenly-nostalgic heap.  What Eichorst did was slide his chips onto the roulette table, pick red, and gamble his job that he could reinvigorate the key element in keeping Nebraska from fading like so many of those ancient trophies we can’t quite seem to forget around here.

And may people were upset with his decision.  Understandably so.  Coach here long enough, keep your players out of the Urban Meyer school for hard knocks, and win some games?  We’ll like you.  Bo certainly seemed like a decent enough dude.  Sure he F-Bombed the fans (*Author’s note: us, as I routinely refer to my fellow maniacs) in a hidden recording and turned into Mount Vesuvius on the sidelines.  But his players loved him – as you would hope they would – and he seemed genuinely interested in the program being like a family.  I can understand why so many of them lashed out at Twitter and the man who broke that would-be family apart in search of something better.

But sometimes that sense of togetherness can create tunnel vision.  A provincial clingy-ness that doesn’t allow for big picture views.  An “Us against the world” mentality that in the wrong hands can turn into a weapon instead of an open-arms embrace.  A fellow No Coast Bias writer, Doug Palmer, broke down this fascinating dichotomy better than I ever could in a post you can read here.

One of my favorite TV shows when I was in college and had more time to watch these things was Entourage.  It was surface level fun.  It had a group of buddies living every group of buddies’ dream: living large in Hollywood.  As it progressed, however, the formula began to repeat itself.

Image Courtesy of: deadline.com

Vince would get a big part, do something artsy and then make a decision that – inexplicably — didn’t involve money.  Ari would be a raging jerk to everyone, Turtle would get high and dream big, Drama would get a chance to reinvent himself and then botch it due to unchecked anger/anxiety issues, and E would try to squirm his way out from under Vince’s all-encompassing stardom to score a piece of the pie for himself based on his own talents.  When the time came: I was ready for the show to be done.  I didn’t dis-like it.  It was just time to stop it and for HBO to bring in some new talent.

I also understand Husker fans’ fear of the unknown.  It’s scary to walk up the steps of a new waterslide, only being able to see the stunning drop from over the railing’s edge.  But I’m ready for a new ride.  I’m ready for excitement.  Our giveashit isn’t dead, but I don’t want it to go comatose.

We’ve been trying the standing long jump for too long at Nebraska.  I’m ready to get a running start.  Even if that means we have to walk backwards to give ourselves some more room.

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