How Nike and the 'blur offense' have Scott Frost confident in a UCF power surge
Through Nike's help and lessons learned from Chip Kelly, can Scott Frost turn UCF into the next emerging college football power?
ORLANDO, Fla. -- For a guy whose head coaching experience matches the number of wins his program posted last year, Scott Frost is unusually confident.
Any conversation with the University of Central Florida's rookie coach inevitably turns to Nike. It has to. Shortly after UCF was the fortunate recipient of Oregon's most valuable football export since Chip Kelly, the school was the fortunate recipient of a new apparel deal with Nike.
Did Frost, the 41-year-old favorite son of Nike CEO Phil Knight, have the least bit to do with that?
"I know I did," Frost said. "Talk to Phil."
We would love to, except multiple requests to Nike's communications department for such a conversation ultimately went unanswered by Knight.
According to reports, Knight has donated more than $300 million to his alma mater of Oregon, contributing at least indirectly to the Ducks' ascension as a national football power.
Money, uniform combinations, marketing and space-age facilities all dove tailed into one of the most efficient sports operations on the planet. That college football is an amateur enterprise makes it all that more intriguing.
That even a fraction of that money might flow to Orlando and the second-largest university in the country (enrollment-wise) to benefit a winless program has already become a reality.
In April, Nike renewed its deal with UCF for undisclosed terms. Oregon's former offensive coordinator doesn't mind telling you he's part of the reason.
"I don't think there will ever be another Oregon in his eyes," Frost said of Knight. "I would never dream of getting the same level of support that they're getting.
"Hopefully, we can be one of his favorite schools."
(State powers Florida and Florida State are both Nike schools, by the way, while Miami recently switched to Adidas.)
First, it would help just to win a game. UCF hasn't since Dec. 4, 2014 against East Carolina. And while the campus and the football program have the look and feel of a Power Five school, there is still a lingering question.
Why did one of the hottest coaching prospects in the country choose this place to launch his head coaching career?
"Winning," Frost said. "That's the simplest way to put it. A lot of guys take jobs at the bottom end of their league -- Power Five schools. They're there for three years and they're gone.
"I love to win."
Frost's star has grown exponentially. During his seven years at Oregon, he coached in three Rose Bowls and two national championship games. But 0-12 is 0-12. UCF fell mightily in 2015 after three consecutive seasons of at least nine wins under George O'Leary.
We know the floor at UCF. Frost represents the ceiling. He has heard the whispers about what influence, power and the hope for life-changing football can bring to this 53-year-old institution.
If it all falls together, Frost has also heard what UCF could become: Oregon East.
"Well, we've got to earn that. That's what goes through my mind," Frost said. "Hopefully, we can mirror that with our style of play. Other than Alabama, you can't find a school in the country that has won more [than Oregon] in the last decade."
Better than that, Scott. Oregon actually has the most FBS wins in the past 10 years with 105.
"We call it 'The Process,' " Frost said recently from his office, "of getting a team [ready] to play."
Reminded that label has all been trademarked by Nick Saban, Frost replied: "His is different than ours."
There's that confidence again. Frost is describing the Oregon philosophy, playbook and training methods he has packed up and moved 3,000 miles to Orlando to begin his new coaching life.
"Blur offense?" Frost's life has been a blur. We're talking about a guy who plays 18 holes in two hours. We're talking a guy who was married March 11 and started spring practice two days later. (Don't worry, he and wife Ashley enjoyed a proper honeymoon later in Kauai.)
We're talking a fair-haired product of small-town Nebraska who both quarterbacked a national championship for the Cornhuskers and played safety in the NFL.
His college coaches were Bill Walsh (Stanford) and, after a transfer, Tom Osborne (Nebraska). Frost's pro influences are also significant: Mike Tomlin, Monte Kiffin and Raheem Morris.
"Those guys taught me defense," Frost said. "They saw something in me that I might be a coach."
But he is here because of his hand in Oregon's offense, which has finished in the top five nationally in scoring each year since Frost became offensive coordinator in 2010.
Frost was a Northern Iowa defensive coordinator when he bumped into Kelly during a 2009 recruiting visit to Booker T. Washington High School in Miami.
"Les Miles was in the coach's office," Frost said. "Chip and I were in the hallway together for 45 minutes."
Nine months later, Frost was Oregon's wide receivers coach. One year after that, he was an offensive coordinator. Five years later, he chose UCF to start his heading coaching career as much as it chose him.
"If you ever feel like you're 100 percent ready, you're probably too arrogant to learn something new," Frost said. "I started looking at head jobs three or four years ago. Turned down a lot of interviews and turned down a lot of jobs waiting for the right ones."
It is a serendipitous confluence of fortune for UCF. The Knights have snagged an upwardly mobile coach at the same time the Big 12 is exploring expansion.
"We'll treat it as a business venture," UCF president John Hitt said, looking forward to a visit by Big 12 officials. "We would make sure they were greeted properly, show them our facilities.
"If we supply a little food or drink, I don't think anybody would be surprised by that."
There is no better time, then, to be a UCF (Phil) Knight.
Frost's blur of a coaching life is nothing compared to installing that blur offense at a Group of Five school that was one of two winless FBS programs last season.
"Not to take anything away from Nick Saban," Frost said, "but when you have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country every year and you can put them through a process, you've got a great chance.
"When Chip started to do what he was doing at Oregon, we had a huge advantage because no one had ever seen it before. It's to the point now that a lot of people are running versions of what we do. I still believe in Chip's scheme and Oregon's scheme."
Coach and Nike's CEO are so close that Frost sought Knight's blessing when he left. Knight spent game days in the coach's booth next to Frost wearing a headset. When the new coach arrived, Knight made calls to Nike people, Scott said, "as a favor to me to get more [apparel] for our players."
UCF officials are giddy over the early returns. Frost's first recruiting class -- after that winless season, mind you -- finished third in the American Athletic Conference, according to the 247Sports Composite. There are 15 commitments already for 2017.
The spring game drew 23,000. Kelly's point-a-minute blur offense is being rolled out piece by piece as both a weapon and marketing tool.
According to UCF research, one in 99 high school players in Florida signs a Division I scholarship. Compare that to California and Texas, runners-up at one in 400.
Frost is on the front porch of that talent he used to fly transcontinental to recruit.
"We should be able to out-recruit and have better talent than most teams we play," Frost said.
A brief pause to honor O'Leary who made UCF attractive enough for Frost in the first place. The grizzly 69-year-old stepped down last year a couple of years after he led the Knights to a BCS bowl victory against Baylor. It can be done here.
"I don't think it's healthy to try to adopt old principles or advice from the person you're following," Frost said of O'Leary.
We said the pause would be brief.
A marketing idea hatched in the Oregon/Nike think tank followed the new coach here. There are now 64 UCF uniform combinations. Frost has also plastered slogans all over the football facility, the same way Kelly did. Oregon's "Win The Day" has given way here to "UCFast."
That only adds to the mystery, potential and anticipation of an Oregon East.
"It doesn't matter that he's not a Florida guy," athletic director Danny White says of his new coach. "His former boss [Kelly] was an offensive coordinator at New Hampshire."
As for defensive coordinators getting used to the hurry-up offense these days, Frost recites some of his/Oregon's most impressive conquests.
- The Ducks destroyed Florida State 59-20 in the first College Football Playoff semifinal 19 months ago.
- Virginia fell by 39 in 2013, completing one of Oregon's longest road trip.
- Oregon handed Tennessee its worst loss at Neyland Stadium, 48-13 in 2010.
"When people haven't seen it," Frost said, "I think it is an advantage."
Hitt can hardly contain himself waiting to recite UCF's attributes: Orlando is the fastest-growing top-30 metro area. If UCF were in the Big 12, it would have the second-most merit scholars just ahead of Texas. Freshmen average 1,261 on the SAT.
"I would see this as a bet on UCF is a bet on the future," said Hitt, who has been around since 1992 having conferred degrees on the 238,000 on the school's 280,000 living alumni.
Street names reflect the influence of the nearby space industry: Gemini, Mercury, Apollo. It may seem trite, but it's a reflection of UCF's future vision -- ready to take off.
On that point, Frost has to address the 800-pound Husker in the room. There are legions of Nebraska fans who believe this is merely a starter job before their native son comes home.
"When the [Nebraska] job was open a couple of years, I didn't even get a phone call," he said dryly. "My mind is here. There's no part of me that is thinking about doing anything to get another job.
"I believe in what this place can become."
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