There are two sides to every coin, and that is certainly the case for University of Nebraska-Lincoln chancellor Harvey Perlman. On the one hand, Nebraska’s overall athletic program couldn’t be in better shape and yet it has also failed to win in major ways on the fields that matter most — football and basketball.
So, with his announcement on Wednesday that the 2015-16 academic year would be his last at the helm of UNL, what exactly is his legacy?
Perlman has served as chancellor since the 2001-02 academic year, making him a near institution at the university. That’s especially true considering chancellors change jobs nearly as often as the head coaches whom they are involved in hiring.
Yet, it’s hard to deny that in his long tenure as chancellor things haven’t exactly been smooth sailing. Let’s focus in on the reason we’re all here though — athletics.
One couldn’t begin this discussion without addressing the earth-shattering move of the Huskers to the Big Ten. After all, it had repercussions for not just those in the athletic buildings but every single part of the university.
Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten was seen as a power grab from the Big Ten’s perspective. But, for Perlman and the Husker’s athletic department it was all about doing what was best for the future of the program and the university as a whole.
Living in the shadow of the Texas Longhorns and the Texas schools was a relationship doomed to failure from the start of the experiment known as the Big 12.
Seeing that and recognizing the athletic, academic and financial opportunities elsewhere, Perlman was instrumental in the Huskers move to the Big Ten. Not only were the Huskers moving up the financial ladder, the academic side of the institution gained a lot thanks to its inclusion in the prestigious Committee on Institutional Cooperation (which all Big Ten schools are members of).
Financially, there’s little doubt that the difference between life in the Big 12 and Big Ten were going to be very different. While the Huskers had to wait a bit to get a full share of the Big Ten prize pool, Nebraska is now earning nearly double what it once was as a member of the Big 12.
That money hasn’t gone to waste in the least either, as Nebraska under Perlman’s chancellorship, has begun and finished many massive projects for the athletics department.
There were changes made to Memorial Stadium, a brand new arena for the basketball program (which has breathed new life in to not only the basketball program but the economic life of Lincoln too), and even the so-called “non-revenue” sports are getting new facilities in a re-worked “athletics village” type setting.
All of those things happened because Perlman knew his way around board rooms and the inner workings of the political nature of higher academics and general state politics. Such is the case when you’ve had the long career and tenure at one place.
Still, winning on the field or court or in the pool also matter a great deal to an athletic department legacy.
Having taken over during the 2001-02 school year, Perlman hasn’t led a university that has won a championship that matters most, a football title. He’s also the one that gave the green light to the firing of Frank Solich and the hires of both Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini.
Neither of those two could match the output of Solich, who had a .753 winning percentage in his six seasons at the helm of the program. Callahan lasted just three seasons and left with a 49-27 overall record, while Pelini left after 93 wins in seven seasons in Lincoln.
Solich is the only one of the three with a conference title, but that came in 1999, while Perlman was still in the administration but not as chancellor of the university.
Basketball also was an eye sore for all but one season under Perlman’s overall leadership. That happened in the 2013-14 season under Tim Miles. However, this season was easily the most disappointing in the Big Ten, as virtually the same team fell apart and failed to reach the postseason once again.
Those numbers don’t bode well, but it’s also hard to argue Perlman hasn’t done his part to leave the two flagships programs in the athletic department in better condition. A new arena, upgraded and innovative facilities for the football team and overall improvements to the facilities of the athletic department indicate just that.
However, his true legacy won’t be known until the tenure’s of AD Shawn Eichorst and head coaches Mike Riley and Tim Miles play out. If all three flop in the long term, well…did Harvey Perlman really succeed in leading the athletic side of his university?
Part of succeeding is hiring the right people, and ultimately that is where Perlman’s athletic legacy will either stand or come tumbling down.