How Scott Frost has renewed hope and interest at Nebraska without coaching a game
Cornhuskers fans are ready to win again, and Frost is uniquely qualified to get it done
LINCOLN, Neb. -- They say everything you write on social media is saved forever.
In Scott Frost's case, it preserved a part of his soul.
It came after an embarrassing 40-15 loss to Kansas. Frost was in the stands that day in Lawrence, Kansas, as a 30-year-old fan. The blog begins, "Sometimes I think I care too much …"
It goes on to describe -- in almost heart-breaking detail -- how a Nebraska native, former Husker and national champion saw his alma mater crumbling before his eyes. It also foretold the series of events that led to this passage coming true.
"I want to become a college football coach, and I plan on looking for a place to start a career in that field after this season is over …"
The Mani-Frost-o might as well be the college football equivalent of a fourth-grader wanting to become a fireman or an astronaut. All it lacked was a refrigerator magnet for proud parents to immortalize it.
In this case, this dream became reality. When Frost left UCF for Nebraska in December 2017, he had already pulled off the biggest two-year turnaround in the sport's history. The Knights went from 0-12 to 13-0.
Frost's former boss, athletic director Danny White, even."
Now, the hard part: Nebraska lost a part of its soul over the last 15 years. Frost became this once-proud program's third coach since that blog, fourth overall since hall of famer Tom Osborne retired in 1997.
There is almost a spiritual feel to Frost's expected healing powers. When his hiring was announced, Memorial Stadium sold out in less than 36 hours for Saturday's spring game.
On the field, next to nothing was proven in an elaborate two-hour scrimmage. But in the stands, Big Red hope stirred. The crowd of 86,818 was the eighth-biggest ever for a spring game, according to the Big Ten Network.
"It took me back a long time," Frost said. "Personally, that was special for me walking out of the tunnel, hearing the fans. That brought back a lot of memories than a lot of other things have. Especially … just the smell of the stadium with the food in there."
Frost didn't even start here. Initially, Bill Walsh lured Frost and his beautiful mind to Stanford. True fulfillment came, though, when Frost transferred to Nebraska and became one of the program's all-time great quarterbacks.
Saturday, then, was an event more than a spring game. One of their own officially came home -- the kid from small-town Wood River, Nebraska, who became a feisty, option-running national champion quarterback in 1997.
"I've heard people say it's been 20 years since they felt this way about the program," said Eric Crouch, the 2001 Heisman Trophy winner. "I've heard people say they were ready to give up on Nebraska, never go back to another game. Even though they're the most loyal fans in the world, they were getting towards the end."
Frost believes in nothing less than physical intimidation, the kind that Tom Osborne made famous here with the brawniest of offensive linemen and a defense nicknamed "Blackshirts."
"In my opinion, kind of the No. 1 thing is you have to know [is] you're playing Nebraska again," Frost said. "In my opinion, our calling card at Nebraska was toughness."
All of this will be blended with a heavy dose of Chip Kelly's blur offense. There was a bottoming out last year: The 4-8 finish was the worst in Lincoln since 1961, after Nebraska had won 9+ games five times since joining the Big Ten in 2011.
Too often, they weren't right nine. Too often, they didn't come with the proper dignity and class, especially with the foul-mouthed Bo Pelini at the Huskers' helm.
Overblown expectations were how Nebraska got here in the first place. Frank Solich -- the last former Nebraska player to coach the team -- was fired after the 2003 season. All Solich did was win 9+ games five times, including a run to the 2001 BCS Championship Game.
"I didn't see [the firing] coming," said Huskers inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud, who played for Solich. "I don't know if we ever recovered from that blow."
Expectations are being tempered, at least for now. Frost already is telling folks there will be real improvement in Year 2.
A quick review by the untrained eye on Saturday: The Huskers have to get bigger to compete in the Big Ten. Big boy football has to return. That's a major reason why Frost is here.
"Nebraska fans, I think they're wiser now," Frost said. "Having nine-, 10-win teams and thinking the grass is greener somewhere else, hopefully they've learned their lesson."
Call him a more focused Jim Harbaugh. Square jaw. Rugged good looks. Not that much different than when he played. There isn't any wasted motion. You can imagine Frost telling you he's going to kick your ass and then following through.
Also imagine a stern confidence, not quite cockiness. An easy smile that charms these barren wind-swept plains. Frost gave the keynote speech at the Jet Award ceremony Thursday in Omaha sounding like Don Rickles with a velvet hammer.
- "I'm not sure if you'll be in another room with as many guys that used to be fast," Frost told the former players in the crowd.
- Of his personal aide and former Nebraska teammate, Matt Davison, Frost said, "Little known fact about Mike: He was able to make straight As in college. But his Bs were a little crooked." Hey-yo!
- "It's sad to see Tom getting so old," Frost said of his 81-year-old former coach. "He's at an age where his back goes out more than he does."
- He then recounted the conclusion of one of Osborne's typical pregame speeches. "Sometimes, he can be a little boring. … Everybody shouted. I woke up."
He rattled it all off without relying on notes.
"His mind is unbelievable in seeing things," said running backs coach Ryan Held, another former Husker. "He has the 'it.' That's why I love being with him. I'd run through a wall for that guy."
A year after writing that blog, Frost became a graduate assistant at Kansas State where he met Raheem Morris, one of his biggest influences. (Morris is a one-time head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who has now settled in as a veteran NFL assistant.)
A couple of years later, Frost ran into Kelly while both were recruiting in the halls of a Miami high school. Kelly hired him in 2009 for the staff that -- at least offensively -- revolutionized college football. Four years after that, Frost was coordinating Oregon's offense and coaching Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.
The success starts to explain why Frost can name all 197 countries on earth in five minutes. He can rattle off about 150 of those countries' capital cities. He had a brother who was a three-time champion on "Jeopardy." Frost is a junkie of trivia website Sporcle.
"I think it's because of the way we run our offense, where it's all shooting from the hip," Frost said. "I've probably become too reliant on instinct. We have to think quick around here. I kind of have that kind of brain. I have to have something going on. I don't know if I'm ADD, officially. Slow blinkers don't function very well in our scheme."
Two years ago, I went to Orlando, Florida, and interviewed Frost. That assured, slow-burn confidence came through even then.
So did Frost. The Knights led the nation in scoring last season. They beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl. They proved they could play with anyone.
Frost does it all living life on a different plane. This is a guy who has played 18 holes of golf in two hours. Two days after getting married two years ago, he coached his first spring practice. The honeymoon had to wait.
Consider how quickly the Nebraska deal all came together. Frost maintains other jobs weren't even considered until late November.
"We had half a dozen staff meetings talking about the advantages of staying, the advantages of other schools," Frost said.
Even after deciding on Nebraska, "there were a couple of other meetings. 'Are we sure we're doing the right thing?'"
In Orlando, they called the culture UCFast. Here in Lincoln, they tend to put their heads down and get to work.
There was a hint Saturday of how things could go offensively. The winning Red team snapped the ball 80 times in 31 minutes of possession. That's a swift 2.58 plays per minute.
Frost is pure of heart in his job. He knows there will be a much longer honeymoon period here than if he had landed at Florida or Tennessee. A "long enough runway to build it the right way," he calls it. The SEC fishbowl isn't for everyone.
Sorry, but Frost never would have gotten the welcome at those places he did in Lincoln. The need for salvation here almost has a religious feel to it.
One-hundred fifty former lettermen surprised Frost by greeting him in the weight room shortly after he was hired. The Omaha World-Herald did a six-part series on the coach's return home. The paper then packaged their reporting with illustrations into a 24-page comic book.
Remember, the man hasn't coached a game yet here. Such is the reverence Nebraska fans have for one of their own. If nothing else, Frost would have been remembered for taking a microphone following the 1998 Orange Bowl win over Peyton Manning-led Tennessee.
With the national championship hanging in the balance between Michigan and Nebraska, Frost declared, "I don't think anybody out there with a clear conscience can say that Nebraska -- and especially that great man Tom Osborne -- doesn't deserve a national championship for this … at least a share."
Those pollsters gave Osborne a walk-off national championship (shared with Michigan) following his final game.
Now charged with advancing that legacy, Frost said, "If you have a company in any sector that was the best performing company in the world for 30 years, and then you have less success, you're dumb if you don't look back at what was making that business the best for 30 years and try to recreate a lot of it."
Frost brought the entire UCF staff to Lincoln. As an outsider, the wife of outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt was recognized at the airport. Someone bought her a pack of Big Red gum. The cable guy knew enough to ask where her husband was recruiting that day.
"I had a family meeting over dinner," Dewitt said. "We are so used to living in South Florida where it's kind like in New York … everybody's really rude.
"I brought everybody together and said, 'Hey, now we're the rude ones. We've got to readjust ourselves back to Midwestern values and hold doors open.'"
As for recruiting, on short notice, Frost and the staff assembled a class that was fourth in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, per 247Sports. It was accomplished with the head coach criss-crossing the country doing both jobs for a month while he stayed with the Knights through the Peach Bowl.
That is significant with Wisconsin -- ninth in conference recruiting -- dominating in the Big Ten West. Both schools are located in state capitals of sparsely populated states without much FBS talent.
"We should out-recruit them every year," Frost said. "They're just developing players better than Nebraska. That used to be what Nebraska did better than anyone else."
The key is getting back to that development. Five-stars aren't going to be flocking to Lincoln anytime soon. Frost, not the school, is the biggest brand name here with teenage recruits. He's the one wearing Yeezys, mastering Sporcle and trying to reinvent bone-crushing Nebraska in his own Oregon-influenced way.
As for those Huskers of tomorrow, Frost can see them each day out the window of his third-floor office at the Tom and Nancy Osborne Athletic Complex.
They have dreams, aspirations and refrigerator magnets, too.
"Every school in the state of Nebraska sends their fourth graders down here on field trips," Frost said. "I get to take pictures and meet kids all the time.
"I watched Coach Osborne run this program with class and dignity. I think he impacted more people on a statewide level than almost any football coach ever because it goes deeper than football with him. I'll never be able to accomplish what he accomplished in almost any area of what I touch."
It turns out that Scott Frost just might care too much, and that's entirely OK.
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