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Kicking Harvey Perlman Out The Door

Harvey Perlman has done a good job as UNL's Chancellor, but you're not going to see it that way if you're only looking at the football program.

Last week I was talking to a woman at a customer site who related how she'd been in a fairly high ranking controller position at a large manufacturing corporation earlier in life. She'd related how she'd made a pretty good salary and it appeared that she was set for retirement until the financial/housing crisis of 2008/09 rolled around. She lost $500k on the value of her home and 45% of her retirement funds, a loss from which she never recovered.

Instead of retirement, she went back to work.

She told me how she was the last one out of a manufacturing plant that was shut down and moved to another state, and we spent some time sharing stories about moving companies around and the sometimes idiotic reasons that were given to justify the moves. I moved a company from Minneapolis to Schaumburg, Illinois because the foreign executives who ran it liked flying into Chicago more than they liked flying into Minneapolis. That wasn't the reason they gave to their employees - they told them about cost savings and being centrally located and in a bigger business climate - world class level shit pouring out - but really, they just didn't like flying into Minneapolis.

I asked her if she knew the Three Envelopes Joke.

"What? What is that?"

I've mentioned the Three Envelopes Joke before on CN, and it's worth bringing up again, so here it goes:

An IT Manager (CEO, CFO, whomever) is on his way out of a corporation, but before he goes he gets the chance to have a private meeting with his successor to give him some advice.

"I've prepared three envelopes for you that I've left in your desk drawer that you're to open in succession in times of crisis."

The new guy is doing well in his first few months on the job, but he senses his staff is restless, morale is dropping, and he's not sure how he can turn things around. He stays up all night stressing until he finally remembers the three envelopes and since he has no idea, he opens the first envelope.

Inside it says: "Blame your predecessor."

The next morning he has a staff meeting and talks about how horrible things were when he arrived, and how if they just work together they can overcome their obstacles and do great things. Because of everyone's willingness to blame the last guy out, morale improves and the department does better... for a while.

After another year, the manager recognizes that his staff things are going adrift. His staff again has morale problems, projects aren't getting completed or are failing, and having learned from the first envelope, he opens the second.

Inside it says: "Reorganize."

He reorganizes the department. He moves cubes around. He changes the organization chart and gives a few staff members different titles of authority. Things settle down, projects get completed, and things are well... for a while.

Time goes by, the department becomes restless to the point that the manager is again in despair. He opens the third envelope.

Inside it says: "Prepare Three Envelopes."

I've always loved that joke.

It's usually told by business speakers as a reflection of "dysfunctional" organizations, implying that there are no dysfunctional organizations. This is meant to lead you to believe you could get your organization to "non-dysfunctional" if only you hired the right management consultants, that being the firm of the guy telling the joke.

I love it because it seems to fit so many situations.

It fits Nebraska football, doesn't it?

We certainly went all in with the "blame the predecessor" bit last year, and we may have already seen some of the "reorganize" with the firing of Hank Hughes, although the joke about reorganization is centered around doing meaningless activity, the jury is still out on whether John Parrella will be a good replacement.

One might wonder if Harvey Perlman has done this favor for incoming UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green. If so, Green not need bother ever opening the first envelope. I'm sure you've read the OWH exit interview with Perlman about his failure with Nebraska football, but did you look at the comments? Holy crabby buns, that is a lot of vitriol.

It's not like you wouldn't expect some people to dislike Perlman; he's been the UNL Chancellor for 15 years. That is a lifetime in itself amongst university leaders. An example of other presidents around the Big Ten includes:

  • Robert Kaler - University of Minnesota, started in 2011
  • Robert Barchi - Rutgers - since 2012, the previous guy, Richard L McCormick, was there 2002-2012
  • Morton Shapiro - Northwestern - since 2009
  • Michael A. McRobbie - Indiana - since 2007
  • Michael V. Drake - Ohio State - 2014, previous E. Gordon Gee, was there 2007 – 2013
  • Rebecca M. Blank - Wisconsin - since 2013
  • Lou Anna K. Simon - Michigan State - since 2005
  • Harvey Perlman - Nebraska - since April 1, 2001

Anyone in a high ranking position like that over that period of time is bound to make decisions that people don't like; in fact, they're bound to make a lot of them. But In Perlman's case the dislike is all about Nebraska football.

He hired Steve Pederson who hired Bill Callahan after firing Frank Solich, then fired Pederson after giving him an extension but not before Pederson gave Callahan an extension, then brought back Tom Osborne who fired Callahan. Osborne in turn, hired Bo Pelini who was fired after Osborne left and Perlman hired Shawn Eichorst who then hired Mike Riley.

The extensions for Pederson and Callahan cost Nebraska around $5M. It may sound like a lot, but compare that to Kansas who hired Turner Gill, giving him a favorable contract and then fired him within two years with a nearly $6M buyout. They then gave Charlie Weis a ridiculous contract and fired him within three years with a $5.6M buyout. Multimillion dollar contracts and buyouts are the cost of doing business in college athletics these days - what you try to do is do them in a way that they do not damage your program. Perlman's buyouts didn't do long-term damage to Nebraska. (The problem has been not choosing the right guy as head football coach, but you'd have to blame Osborne more than Perlman for that and we all know that's not going to happen since Osborne is the Jesus of Nebraska football.)

Most will point the move to the Big Ten as Perlman's biggest achievement and they'll be right. The move to the Big Ten has brought stability - five years later the Big 12 is still talking about expansion and a sports network that works for all members - and gobs more money over the long term. If you're still wanting back in that league, you're too nostalgic, a troll, or delusional.

UNL's enrollment in the fall of 2000 was 22,268*. In fall of 2015, it was up to 25,260. New chancellor Ronnie Green has stated he wants to increase it further and he's in a good position to do so.

Research expenditures, a measuring stick for Research-1 universities, were $284 million in 2015, compared to $136 million in 2000. (I would have like to include figures from the NU Foundation here for comparison, but an email to them was not returned.)

I realize the state of Nebraska feeds its ego with the football team, but football wins don't feed the state's economy. A good economy requires a well-educated workforce and that requires a well-positioned major university.

Harvey Perlman has done a good overall job as chancellor. You're not going to see it that way if you're only looking at the football program, but this appears to be a common problem for Nebraskans.

*Taken from a story For good or bad, Chancellor Harvey Perlman has altered the face of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. - Lee, Melissa. Lincoln Journal Star [Lincoln, Neb] 25 Jan 2009


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The Big Ten is going to end up with a crazy ending. Look at these standings. There is a chance that Michigan, the preseason favorite, could miss the Big Ten tourney. Nebraska is a lock in the tourney, but their chances of winning the regular conference season title is nearly non-existent.

Their RPI is currently 54, a little low to be safe for the NCAA tournament. They must win their series against Indiana this coming weekend.

Then There's This:

Dr. Jeff Baier | Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet | Animal Planet

Dr. Jeff Baier is the clinic's exotics expert and the latest addition to the team. He grew up on a farm in Nebraska surrounded by animals and was doing chores with his father as soon as he could walk.

I went to school with Jeff. Between he and his wife they are the most photogenic couple that has ever existed anywhere. A lot of my friends from college went on to become very successful. Then there's me. :(