Many people dismissed the idea of Tom Osborne being anything but an interim "hold-down-the-fort" athletic director when he returned to Nebraska after the failure of Steve Pederson. Of course "just a football coach" has since turned out to be a pretty darn good athletic director in reversing Nebraska's gravitation towards Pediocrity. The Husker football team rebounded well under Bo Pelini. Basketball seems to be on the upswing under Doc Sadler, though in all fairness, Pederson gets credit for hiring Sadler. But all throughout Husker athletics, you get the impression that everyone is back on the same page and a positive vibe is running throughout the athletic department.
That's the essence of the "Nebraska Way". Teamwork, excellence, a sense of family whatever aspects you want to add on, you name it. There's a certain way that things were done at Nebraska, and when a bureaucrat tried to remake it in his own image, even hiring "management consultants" (ala "Office Space"), it suffered until Nebraska returned to it's roots.
It's been often said that the days of former coaches retiring to the athletic director's office is over. With the requirements of managing multi-million budgets, facilites, fundraising, and personnel, it's not just a sport anymore, it's big business that requires an MBA, not X's and O's.
Or does it? Certainly there's no doubt that athletic directors need to be business-savvy, but not at the expense of truly understanding how athletics operates. Athletics IS the business, and an MBA needs to understand that degree is just a skillset they bring to the business.
When Trev Alberts was introduced as Nebraska-Omaha's athletic director two months ago, many people shook their heads and ridiculed the selection as a desperate move by a division 2 school who was completely lost.
Nobody's laughing at Alberts and UNO anymore.
In fact, much like the return of Osborne resulted in a huge wave of positivity within the Husker program, Alberts has presided over an incredible two months for the UNO Maverick program. And I don't think he's even had a chance to move his family to town yet.
At his introduction, Alberts made it clear he understood that UNO's hockey program needed to be the flagship of the Maverick program, much like football is the flagship in Lincoln. And he moved quickly to start solidifying the hockey program, bringing back 80 year old former athletic director Don Leahy as a consultant (there's that family aspect again) and promoting head coach Mike Kemp to be his top assistant athletic director. Then Trev opened up the search for Kemp's replacement and shocked all of college hockey. He targeted and convinced Dean Blais, who had won two national championships at North Dakota before trying his luck in the NHL, to take over as UNO head coach. Then to finish off that, he negotiated with the WCHA (with members such as Minnesota and Wisconsin) to move UNO from the CCHA (which includes the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Notre Dame), with WCHA commisioner Bruce McLeod commenting about how touch Alberts was in negotiating a deal.
Oh, and in between all those developments has been a renegotiation of UNO's lease with the Qwest Center and talk about eventually building a campus arena for the hockey program.
Just your average two months at 60th & Dodge Street in Omaha. Not.
I don't know whether all of these changes are going to work out well for UNO, but optimism and excitement over UNO athletics has never been higher. It all goes back to the hiring of Trev Alberts, who is bringing a "Nebraska Way" to Omaha. Last season, fans worried that the program had plateaued. Now UNO fans dream of eventually being national champions, just like Husker fans. Many fans have felt that Dave Rimington or Paul Meyers are the leading candidates to replace Osborne when he's finally ready to step down. But don't cross off Trev Alberts, who's quickly building quite the resume up the road in Omaha.