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Silverstone Findings Indicate Nebraska's Athletic Department Is Strong With Room For Improvement

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Shawn Eichorst & the AD was the subject of a thorough inquiry with current and former employees. Here are the results of said inquiry.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Back a few months ago, the Nebraska Cornhuskers Athletic Department released that they were the subject of an internal audit.

The Silverstone group, a business management group out of Omaha, was charged in this chore for the Nebraska AD.

The findings of that audit was released to the public today in both a UNL news release and a PDF file that anyone can read.

First and foremost, the statement about Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst:

The current Director of Athletics, Shawn Eichorst, is viewed to have a favorable leadership style by most constituents based on data collected. The overall perception of the current Department of Athletics leadership from the senior team is very positive. Data indicate a high level of satisfaction with the leadership demonstrated by the Department of Athletics in regard to the interface with academics. Participants believe there is authentic interest supported by clear actions around collaborative efforts to live up to the mission for student athletes. During the initial three months of employment before Shawn Eichorst officially began his role as Director of Athletics, participants reported he proactively reached into the academic community and forged lasting relationships that have created alignment and an integrated approach for student athletes. It appears that relationships between the senior administration of the Department of Athletics and the academic side of UNL, UNMC and the University in general are very strong. All data from this constituent group were positive and strong. The relationship strength also extends to that forged with the Faculty Athletic Representative (FAR) and the Big Ten Conference. The interview with Jim Delany, Commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, confirmed that student athletic programs operate within a highly regulated environment.

On Nebraska's focus towards the Student-Athlete:

The student athletes interviewed provided very positive perspectives. They expressed positive experiences as student athletes both with leadership in their sports and the Department of Athletics as a whole. Communication between students and staff is good and also perceived to be good among leadership. Overall, they are satisfied with resources and support offered and believe their interests as students are taken to heart by leadership. Most other constituents both inside and outside the Department of Athletics applauded the focus on the student athlete. With regard to focus on student athletes, student interviews revealed the following themes:

 Leadership perceived as awesome, kind, caring and consistent, which puts the welfare of student athletes first and foremost. Nebraska creates support for all student athletes across the board while other universities only offer some support for their headcount programs.
 The Director of Athletics and the Department of Athletics are all about the student athlete experience and employee development. The Director of Athletics is open to changes in performance management and taking a look at strengths-based development.
 The Director of Athletics looks for opportunities to connect all aspects of the student athlete experience. He is really good at integration of academics and sports (e.g. he introduced journalism students at spring games).
 Shawn and the team in the Department of Athletics support the welfare of the athlete.

The fact that student-athletes at the University of Nebraska feel this way about their athletic department says volumes about the leadership and the quality of people in the organization. Also, that student athletes see leadership as " awesome, kind, caring and consistent, " might be the biggest selling point to come out of the University of Nebraska to date.

On the visibility of Eichorst:

Visibility will always be part of the Director of Athletics role at UNL. The importance of visibility is a relevant concern both internally and externally for many stakeholders. While it is difficult to gauge what it should look like to achieve the "effective" level, any person in this role should examine the value and opportunity that visibility provides in the enhancement and impact on the overall program. It would appear that Shawn Eichorst is very visible to certain stakeholders and that he has made significant effort to engage in outreach opportunities. There seems to be an understanding by the senior team regarding how Shawn Eichorst has chosen to engage in this aspect of his role -€” walking a fine line to stay somewhat in the background to allow greater visibility for the student athletes, coaches and coaching staff, while stepping up as needed and appropriate on behalf of the programs and UNL. With more than 526 appearances (two-thirds of which were in Nebraska) over the past three years, Mr. Eichorst has represented Nebraska locally, regionally and nationally. Additionally, with 45 radio broadcast appearances and print outreach with 42 issues of his "Connecting on Campus" column (reaching 20,000+ season ticket holders and donors), Mr. Eichorst appears to be taking this aspect of his role seriously with an increasing focus in 2016 with 83 public appearances to date.

Seems to be some acknowledgement that Eichorst may not have been as visible as he could have been initially in his days in Lincoln...which takes us to the juiciest part of the report:

Previous Employees Perspective
Five previous employees (PE1 -€” PE5) were interviewed as a part of this review in order to gain the perspective from people who had been terminated or left voluntarily. It is not surprising that the people terminated have negative perceptions of the Department of Athletics culture and leadership. The surprising part of these interviews was that this constituent group also had positive comments. Those terminated tended to hark back to the culture of the previous administration in which they felt valued for their contributions. The structural shifts that have taken place under the current administration created changes in roles that resulted in some of these past employees being unable to assume larger, more integrated roles. The structural changes coupled with a need for greater compliance resulted in a challenge for some former employees with regard to how they fit into the organization. The current administration appears to be mindful of the importance of employees working to support, rather than undermine, the success of the department. It appears some former employees were working to sabotage rather than support the efforts of the leadership and staff of this department. Behavior described during the interview process by the interviewees themselves strongly suggests that, in some cases, this was happening.

"Some former employees were working to sabotage rather than support the efforts of the leadership and staff" is the most volatile statement in the report, which doesn't indicate who it might be...but most people probably would point to the previous football coaching staff, led by Bo Pelini. And "sabotage" is very strong language for a report like this.  How did this breakdown occur?  The report did offer a few thoughts:

However, the data also indicate many of the assistant coaches and athletic support staff do not feel their input is sought. This indicates an opportunity to create a more systematic approach to inclusion around input. The data also indicate that some of the coaches do not feel their input is sought very much and that they have a desire for greater inclusion in decisions that have an impact on them personally and on their teams. Some coaches perceive there to be focus on the creation of rules, procedures and regulations that create some boundaries on how they recruit, conduct speaking engagements, run summer camp, etc. The idea of valuing input is a struggle for many organizations. From an employee perspective, when input isn't sought, it can feel like their opinions are not valued or respected. Thus, the inclusion of focus groups and other input pathways may be most effective with regard to changes in management processes. If people don't feel included in the change or had a chance to be heard, they may begin to feel under-valued and unappreciated. This can lead to disengagement or, at worst, employees working to undermine or sabotage new initiatives.

In other words, this issue can be an unintended consequence of a non-inclusive style of management. It goes on:

Closely related but different from the policy and procedures development inclusion issue is the perception around some staffing decisions that have been made by senior administrators. Most of the coaches expressed an understanding of why the higher profile staffing changes were made and the need for these to be handled with a higher level of confidentiality. Many of these decisions regarding the approach utilized for terminations have been handled at the University level and have been taken out of the hands of the Department of Athletics leadership. Even this information is not shared or understood, creating the perception that the senior leadership of the Department of Athletics is arbitrarily engaging in disruptive, surprising and questionable staffing decisions.

The report seems to acknowledge that communication has been an issue in the athletic department, especially in terms of decision-making.  That's a two-way issue, as the report indicates that Eichorst needs to seek out more input from his staff and also be more open to sharing the process by which decisions are made.

All in all, there is nothing in this report that would seem to put Shawn Eichorst on any sort of hot seat. In fact, the public release of this report would seem to indicate that there are not any pressing concerns that require changes in leadership.  Or more succinctly:  if you were looking for a reason to fire Shawn Eichorst, you won't find much of anything of use in this report.