LINCOLN — Bill Moos can spin a tale.
In his first hour-plus around reporters after being introduced Sunday afternoon as Nebraska’s athletic director, Moos recalled discussing Winston Churchill and snow blowers with Mike Leach in the Florida Keys, gave his tractor preference — John Deere — and weighed in on cowboy boots.
The 67-year-old, hired away from Washington State by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green and NU system President Hank Bounds, retired once to start a cattle ranch like the one he grew up on.
Make no mistake, though, Moos isn’t just a storyteller.
“My expectation, first brush, is that we should be in position, in every sport, to compete for championships and certainly that will be our goal and be a big part of our blueprint,” Moos said at his introductory news conference.
Moos’ experience at three schools spans more than two decades and includes five years at WSU, his alma mater, 12 at Oregon (1995-2007) and five at Montana (1990-95).
“When you look at Bill Moos’ past performance, it’s incredible,” Bounds said. “Look at every place he’s ever been. He’s taken programs from one place to a very different place and in every case had dramatic improvement. We have that same expectation here.”
Moos agreed to a five-year contract with a base annual salary of $1 million, plus incentives that could add another $500,000 per year, and will officially start on Oct. 23. According to a database of Washington state employees, Moos made $776,000 in 2016.
“Fit for a position is so important,” Green said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the business world, it doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for a dean of an academic college, it doesn’t matter if you’re looking for the chancellor of a university. You look at the skills and the acumen, you look at the ability to deliver on that position, but fit is important. Knowing Nebraska, fit is extremely important here, even more so perhaps than in a lot of places.
“When we met Bill Moos, when we talked to him, it was so apparent that the fit to Nebraska was right.”
It’s the first time the eastern Washington native will lead a department outside the Pacific Northwest. He began his athletics administration career at WSU in various roles — including two years running external operations as a top associate — before taking over as athletic director at the University of Montana in 1990.
“When someone is looking at another position, they’re either running away from something or running to something,” he said. “Believe me, I have nothing to run away from, but I wholeheartedly wanted to run to this job.”
Five years later he moved to Oregon, where he spent more than a decade helping build the Ducks toward the athletics power they are today.
He left UO in 2007 because of a dispute with Nike founder and school megadonor Phil Knight and signed a 10-year noncompete clause saying he would not take an AD job west of the Mississippi River.
He found himself in Pullman, Washington, three years later, though, and had been there since. Between his tenures at Oregon and WSU, he worked on his family's ranch in Valleyford, Washington.
“I tried the retirement thing,” Moos said, noting that he made it about two years before his wife, Kendra, said, “‘You need a job.’”
In 2012, Moos hired Mike Leach to run the Cougars’ football program. Leach owns a 35-35 record at WSU, but turned around a moribund program and led it to nine wins in 2015 and eight wins last fall. The Cougars were ranked No. 8 in the country and off to a 6-0 start this year before getting dominated 37-3 by unranked California on Friday night.
Moos said that as of Sunday afternoon he still had not told Leach of his decision — Moos’ wife said they hadn’t even told their children before traveling to Lincoln — out of his respect for Green's and Bounds’ will to keep the search as private as possible.
It started about three weeks ago after former athletic director Shawn Eichorst was fired Sept. 21 following a nearly five-year tenure. Soon after making that move, the school hired Turnkey Search, a New Jersey-based search firm headed by Gene DeFilippo.
Among the first tasks was to put together a 20-member committee of stakeholders that included Heisman trophy winner Eric Crouch, former wrestling great Jordan Burroughs, current coaches John Cook (volleyball) and Rhonda Revelle (softball), Hall of Famer Tom Osborne, interim athletic director Dave Rimington, Regents Tim Clare and Jim Pillen, current student-athletes Briana Holman (volleyball) and Levi Gipson (track) and more. That group met and provided input early in the process and then the decision-makers went to work.
They narrowed down the candidate list to a “handful” of finalists interviewed in person, though Bounds would not confirm the exact number, and interviewed Moos in the middle of last week.
Moos said he told DeFilippo after the interview, “I could — and would really like to — work for those guys.”
Green said Moos was the school’s top choice. Green flew to Spokane, Washington, after NU’s 56-14 loss to No. 9 Ohio State late Saturday night to meet Moos and escort him back to Lincoln.
“I can’t overemphasize how humbling and how wonderful it was for us as an administration ... to fully understand the position and the prestige that Husker athletics has nationally,” the chancellor said. “It was very evident from the individuals that we vetted who were interested and wanted to look at this position seriously with us.”
Added Bounds, “I was pleased that (Moos) was interested. I just can’t express how excited I am that Bill Moos is our athletic director. He is really good.”
Moos takes over a department with a football program in tumult. The Huskers' loss to Ohio State was the most lopsided home defeat since 1949.
Elsewhere, the men’s basketball program has one tournament appearance and one season with a winning record (2014) in Tim Miles’ first five seasons.
“What we will do, and this has proven successful wherever I’ve been, is we will build a blueprint,” Moos said. “Everybody internally will have ownership and we will follow that blueprint. They will be a part of it and they will know and they will have access to me.”
Moos said he hired 11 coaches in his tenure at WSU, and “that’s one of the most important decisions I can make, because they’re the ones who are literally in charge on a day to day basis for the student-athletes and their well-being.”
There are also hundreds of employees who now have a new boss in Husker athletics, and Moos said he plans to meet in person with every one of them.
“'I’m just an old left tackle,’” Bounds said the former WSU offensive lineman told him. “He uses football analogies in his storytelling, and he said, ‘You know the quarterbacks and the receivers and the running backs, they get the press. They don’t get to the end zone without the left tackle. The people working in finance and in facilities, those are the left tackles. We have to have them on the same page and they have to be thinking about how we become more competitive and how do we make certain we meet the needs of the student-athletes.’”
Green and Bounds emphasized on-field success when they announced Eichorst’s dismissal, though, and Moos made it clear he understands — and agrees with — the charge.
“There’s no substitute for tradition and legacy and Nebraska certainly has that,” he said. “What we need to do is make sure that that’s polished and back there. We need to compete in all sports. I’m a fierce competitor and we’ve done — I can humbly say — some remarkable things at some places that didn’t have the things in place like Nebraska does.”
Surmised Bounds, “Past performance is the best predictor of future performance. Look at his past performance. Three places, grew facilities, good academic record, no NCAA issues and they won.”