University of Miami is seeking an athletic director again; Shawn Eichorst quits to be AD at Nebraska

For the third time in less than five years, the University of Miami is looking for an athletic director.

Shawn Eichorst turned in his resignation to UM President Donna Shalala on Thursday and accepted a five-year contract to replace the retiring Tom Osborne as Nebraska’s athletic director.

Eichorst’s departure comes 18 months after he took over for Kirby Hocutt and called the chance to run the program “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Eichorst, 45, leaves as the athletic department continues to live under the cloud of an NCAA investigation into improper benefits and services allegedly provided to dozens of athletes by former booster Nevin Shapiro.

Eichorst was not at UM when the alleged wrongdoing occurred and was not told of the situation by UM officials when he interviewed for the AD job in April 2011, according to football coach Al Golden.

Blake James, UM’s senior associate athletic director, was named by Shalala to serve as acting athletic director.

“I am deeply disappointed in Shawn’s departure to the University of Nebraska as I thoroughly enjoyed working with him,” Shalala said in a statement.

Eichorst, who made no comment Thursday, rarely spoke to reporters during his time at UM. He held an informal news conference at the BankUnited Center in October 2011 at which he declined to discuss any aspect of the NCAA investigation. He did not conduct any interviews with the media after that.

Some UM supporters, alums and donors complained that Eichorst also kept his distance from them. Eichorst was scheduled this weekend to accompany the athletic department’s biggest boosters, known as Golden Canes, to Chicago, where the Hurricanes face No. 9 Notre Dame on Saturday night.

“You can’t blame someone for bettering their situation, but this feels like Shawn cut and ran,” said a long-time booster, who declined to be identified but will be on the Golden Canes trip this weekend.

“Eighteen months isn’t very long to stay in a job like this. It feels like he stuck around long enough to get himself a better gig and then left the university high and dry.”

Eichorst’s annual salary at Nebraska will be $973,000. Under the terms of his contract, he will receive a $750,000 bonus if he remains at the school through the length of the five-year deal. Terms of his contract at UM, a private institution, were not disclosed.

Alonzo Highsmith, a former UM standout whose son, A.J., is a starting safety for the Hurricanes, wrote on his Twitter feed that Shalala needs to find an athletic director who “knows and respects the program.”

“Stop asking what Miami can do for you but what can u do for Miami AD’s!!!,” wrote Highsmith, a scout with the Green Bay Packers. “Bunch of whimps!!! Hurry and pack… Takes (guts) to build a legacy.”

The Nebraska job came open after Osborne, who won national championships in 1994 and ‘95 as the Cornhuskers’ football coach, announced last month that he would retire at the end of the year. Eichorst will work alongside the 75-year-old Osborne until he takes over the Cornhuskers’ program Jan. 1.

Paul Dee served as UM’s longest-tenured athletic director, working from 1993 until he retired in June 2008. Dee, who died in May, was replaced by Hocutt, who spent 2½ years at UM before he resigned in February 2011 to take the AD position at Texas Tech.

Both Hocutt, born in Sherman, Texas, and Eichorst, from Lone Rock, Wis., were small-town natives who some feel never felt comfortable in South Florida’s hustle and bustle.

“I think the last couple of ADs at Miami were thrown into a world they weren’t prepared for and left at 1st opportunity,” former UM coach Jimmy Johnson wrote on his Twitter feed Thursday, while adding on another tweet that he was not interested in replacing Eichorst.

James worked as athletic director at Maine from 2005-10 before returning in 2011. In his most recent position here he supervised ticket sales and ticket operations.

It’s unknown whether James is a candidate for the AD job on a full-time basis.

Lynn Lashbrook, a former Division I athletic director who runs Sports Management Worldwide, said UM’s athletic department needs someone with a long-term vision for the program.

“I think it would be a fantastic job,” Lashbrook said. “It’s a great opportunity for somebody who wants to stay and re-establish the program and fix it. Miami needs stability. They don’t need a name; they need a leader.”