You want stories, man. The straight dope. You want to know if there’s a magic lamp on an end table somewhere, and if the genie inside it is rocking an Eric Piatkowski replica jersey.
You want to know where the leprechauns are buried, or if there’s a crusted parchment signed in blood. You want to know why everything Bill Moos touches in Nebraska these days seems to turn to gold.
“It was a pretty family-type group,” offers Montana men’s tennis coach Kris Nord, whose Grizzlies tenure goes back to when the Cornhuskers athletic director had the same gig in Missoula from 1990-95. “That was part of [his] success.
“He did a good job of getting everyone together and getting it outside the formal atmosphere and still kind of talking business. Which, I think, is his ability to be able to pony up and ask, ‘How is it really going?’ And you feel like it’s really a chance to have an open dialogue about things. And that’s appreciated. I think most people felt he was pretty reachable and approachable in that way. He’s really honest with you. You don’t get the feeling that you’re getting the business from him.”
‘We all knew that Shawn and Bo didn’t get along’
Business in Lincoln, these days, has rarely been better. In October, Moos was brought in to unite a fan base — and a state — that had splintered under predecessor Shawn Eichorst. In early December, the new AD replaced affable but underwhelming football coach Mike Riley with Scott Frost, a native son and alumni hero who also happened to be the hottest non-Power 5 boss on the continent.
As it turns out, it was just the start of a Big Red tidal wave of awesome that hasn’t let up since, given that:
- Frost’s first recruiting class, culled on the fly over roughly two months, finished at No. 22 nationally in 247Sports’ composite rankings, the highest for a Big Red haul since 2013.
- John Cook’s volleyball program in December won a fourth NCAA title in 18 seasons;
- Dan Kendig’s women’s gymnastics program sits atop the conference standings (4-0) through Saturday;
- Mark Manning’s wrestling squad is tied for fourth in the league with a 6-2 mark, 8-4 overall;
- Amy Williams’ women’s basketball side, 17-7 as of late Saturday night, is knocking on the door of an NCAA Tournament for the first time in three winters;
- Tim Miles’ men’s basketball crew improved to 19-8 after a 67-55 home victory over Rutgers, with a five-game winning streak having pushed the Big Red straight into the heart of the Bracketville bubble babble.
The Frost Effect?
The Moos Effect?
Whatever the hell it is, it’s real.
And it’s spectacular.
“An A.D. can make a direct impact on what’s going on, and it’s usually based on relationships,” Big Ten Network football analyst Gerry DiNardo notes. “And I think we all knew that Shawn and [former football coach] Bo [Pelini] didn’t get along, so progress wasn’t going to be made. ADs get passive-aggressive when they really aren’t supportive of their coaches. They really can’t be outwardly unsupportive, and so the strategy for an athletic director is, ‘Let’s be passive-aggressive.’
“[A coach says], ‘I need this and I need that.’ [His boss says], ‘Yeah, I’ll get back to you. Yeah, I don’t think so.’ [A coach says], ‘Hey, so and so has this, we need this.’ [His boss replies], ‘Well, we’re not so-and-so, we just don’t do it that way.’
“Sure enough, the coach that that [athletic director] hires gets all the stuff that the last guy asked for, because it is necessary. I don’t think it’s the easiest [for] Nebraska basketball — they’ve got to get the right coach. It’s never going to be Indiana, just like Indiana football is never going to be Nebraska. For Purdue and Indiana, basketball has to get the cultural [priority]; in Lincoln, football has to get [priority], that’s Frost. Bill Moos can’t move the needle from the basketball program.”
True, but he can use it to build up a healthy cache of political capital in Year 1. As of Sunday morning, Nebraska’s basketball programs had posted a record of 36-15 (.706). If those percentages hold, it’s on a pace to be the most successful combined men’s and women’s basketball seasons since the latter became a varsity sport in 1974. The previous mark was .702, established in 1975-76 (.702) and nearly tied in 2009-10 — thanks largely to a 32-2 women’s hoops campaign.
It’s also on track to become the best combined basketball winning percentage during the first year of a new athletic director since Bill Byrne took the reins from Bob Devaney in 1992-1993. That winter, the two hoops sides combined for a 43-19 record (.694) and both squads reached their respective Big Dances.
What the hell: Anybody for a little déjà vu all over again?
“The way that ADs really make their [impact] is they build stuff and they hire coaches,” Big Ten Network basketball analyst Shon Morris says. “If you scrape it all away, that’s really how they’re going to be evaluated.
“And if you’re a guy that wasn’t hired by the new guy, if nothing else, that kind of gets your attention. Every AD worth his or her salt says, ‘Hey, I’m going to come in and give you a period of time,’ but history shows you that your leash is going to be short when you’re with a guy that didn’t hire you — I don’t care what line of work you’re in. With those [Nebraska coaches], it certainly helps that they’ve come in and [posted] the records that they’ve had.”
‘He’s given Frost a lot of leeway and he’s not going to stick his nose in’
The bar and the tone start, for better or worse, at the top. There are ADs who lurk; ADs who linger; ADs who micromanage.
Moos ain’t one of ‘em.
“Eichorst was not a people person, and Bill Moos is the direct opposite,” says former Cornhuskers football assistant Dick Beechner, who first met Moos as an assistant coach at Washington State more than 40 years ago and later worked alongside him as an associate athletic director with the Cougars. “Bill Moos is a people person.
“And if he’s going to come around to visit with you, your blood pressure’s not going to go up, because he’s a very calm type of person, and he doesn’t make you feel uneasy.
“He’s given Frost a lot of leeway and he’s not going to stick his nose in. He’ll be an athletic director. He’s not going to be a person that [paces] the sidelines, checking you out. I don’t think, I’m sure, that his coaches know where he stands, but don’t feel threatened by him. And I’m sure the same thing was true when he went to Missoula and to Eugene [Oregon] and then to Pullman [Washington] and now to Lincoln … I think Bill Moos has a different presence and it’s a relaxed presence. And I think all those things lend to him being successful.”
As a former Washington State football player, he gets it. As a former restaurateur, he gets that world, too. A cattle rancher by trade and a storyteller at heart, Moos can schmooze with farmers and politicians to equal effect.
“Bill’s great strength is something that’s not common among athletic administration,” adds Dan Williams, Moos’ predecessor as athletic director at Oregon and a former university vice president. “He has a really good sense for where the athletic programs fit in the mission of the university. And too many of those guys — most of them — they don’t integrate the programs with the institutions.
“He’s the whole package. Most of all, he’s just a very nice person. He’s very honest. There aren’t many people who were in my position who would sleep well at night knowing what goes on in athletics these days. But I never had any second thoughts with Bill. He never did anything that threatened the integrity of the program or the school, or pushed the envelope … you can’t say that about a lot of people these days.”
Husker AD Bill Moos. “Moos raised wheat and cattle on family ranch in Washington.” Hot damn!! That’s all I need to know!love the guy already
— Larry The Cable Guy (@GitRDoneLarry) October 15, 2017
If the man upstairs has a beef, you’ll know.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he’s gone on and done really well where he’s at,” Nord continues. “And I’ve had coaching friends at other schools [say good things], and when I’d heard he was going to Nebraska, it really didn’t surprise me. I think he likes a challenge, and I know taking on the football end of things was definitely a challenge.
“He was probably different [from other bosses] in that he’d been an athlete himself, and he’d been around. But he was also really good on the fundraising end of things and convincing big boosters and alumni [to get on board].
“Bill could work a room pretty well, as I remember. And here in Missoula, that’s essential, because the expectations here are big for our FCS football, and for the sports programs. People really expected a good product. And he did a good job of meeting those needs.”
Groovy. But enough with the platitudes. You want to know where the man keeps his monkey’s paw. Or if there’s a gypsy aunt somewhere. You want tales.
“Oh, man, not any I’d want to come out with right now,” Nord says, laughing. “Can’t go there.”
“I mean, Bill could tip a few back and have fun with everyone. That’s probably as far as I’ll go.”
Winners make their own damn luck.
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