Two Nebraska State Patrol cruisers pose outside Memorial Stadium. (Courtesy of the Nebraska State Patrol)
LINCOLN — During Thursday night’s Nebraska-Minnesota football game, spectators might have noticed a shift in the “backfield” that provides security for the NU football coach.
In a change communicated Friday, the Nebraska State Patrol’s executive protection team — the group that provides security for the governor — will now escort NU football coach Matt Rhule as he departs the field after home and away games.
Troopers have also taken over the motorized escort provided to NU team buses when the football team goes to Memorial Stadium or when they head to the airport for a flight to an away game.
UNL police chief had provided escort
The shift ends a decades-long tradition that saw the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department handle those duties. Former UNL police chiefs such as Owen Yardley and Ken Cauble were fixtures at the elbow of the football coach in television coverage as they left the field.
Just why there was a change in the security formation wasn’t exactly clear, but officials said it wasn’t because of cost or shortage of personnel.
Keith Mann, a spokesman for the UNL athletic department, said Thursday there were “no issues” with the work of university police.
Chose to change
“(UNL) Athletics just made a choice to use the Nebraska State Patrol,” Mann said in an email.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Jim Pillen said the governor — a former member of the NU Board of Regents and an ex-Nebraska football player — was aware of the change and “enthusiastically supported” it.
“There are multiple examples of state troopers escorting head coaches in flagship university football programs in other states, and it is tremendous to have the opportunity to bring that here to Nebraska,” said spokeswoman Laura Strimple.
Both Strimple and Cody Thomas, the media spokesman for the State Patrol, said the added visibility for the State Patrol was a plus.
“Every time we get a trooper on TV it’s a pretty cool deal,” Thomas said.
Visibility might be an asset for the State Patrol, which is struggling — like many law enforcement agencies — to fill its ranks.
Thomas said that typically, the State Patrol has provided between 15 and 20 state troopers to bolster the security detail that works Nebraska football games. That detail, which will continue to be managed by the UNL police, also includes Lincoln Police officers and Lancaster County sheriff’s deputies.
Two state troopers from the executive protection unit will accompany the NU football team for road games, Thomas said. He said that travel expenses for the security detail will be paid by the athletic department.
According to its website, the UNL police department currently has 26 officers and administrators. By contrast, the State Patrol has an authorized force of 482 with, at last report, about 60 vacancies.
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