There is little to be said about Scott Frost that has not already been written. A former star quarterback returns to breathe life into a flagging program, with fans yearning for a return to glory. It has happened before at other programs - Michigan is a recent example. There are several versions of this take as it applies to this man and this program - but they all have the same underlying assumptions: This coach is unique; the last two decades at Memorial Stadium have been some sort of cosmic mistake; the football gods have remedied this injustice by installing the true heir. Scott Frost is a human bridge - over troubled waters - to the fabled gridiron past. He is hope incarnate. Nebraska’s football identity will be restored.
You see, the twenty years (and four coaches) between Tom Osborne and Scott Frost were the product of some unholy insurrection, an interregnum that deprived windblown prairie denizens of their birthright - college football excellence. There are too many Cromwells to account for in this tale, but I will try. Steve Pederson earned ignominy for firing the dutiful (but flawed) Solich and hiring the dreadful Callahan. Callahan was castigated for drifting to the West Coast Offense and committing heresy against the one true faith. Pelini eventually alienated huge numbers for stepping in, and while being a fine coach, being the very antithesis of “Nebraska Nice.” (Whatever that phrase means, Bo was definitely the opposite of it.) Eichorst hired the replacement for the wrong reason - simply for having the diametrically opposite personality type. Riley, though admired personally, had neither the fire nor the coaching chops to regain the pinnacle that is now receding in memory. Instead of roundheads and cavaliers, Nebraska had Bolievers and RTDB guys. There was new age passing versus option game orthodoxy. Recruiting service adherents butted heads with walk-on traditionalists. Who was Judas? Who was Ichabod? Not everyone agreed. As Nebraskans and football fans, we were not at our best.
If you think the first two paragraphs are a tad over-the-top with allusions to gods, kings, and wars...you haven’t been talking to a lot of Nebraska diehards lately. It is nuts (like a long, tangled, and mixed metaphor). There are tee shirts, multi-media platforms, and even a damned comic book heralding the arrival of Coach Scott Frost. It is almost all positive. The relief and excitement are palpable in Lincoln.
There is no way around it, Frost has a marvelous pedigree with parents who were both Nebraska athletes (Larry played running back, Carol threw discus). Both coached high school football in the state. Frost was a football prodigy recruited out of Wood River by Bill Walsh. After Walsh retired at Stanford, our hero transferred back to Nebraska to play scout team. He was then quarterback for Osborne’s last two teams, culminating in an undefeated season and national championship. In the NFL, the journeyman safety was coached by Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Jon Gruden, and Mike Tomlin. After transitioning to coaching, he worked with Solich, Ron Prince, Chip Kelly, and Mark Helfrich. He has coached in a national championship game and mentored Marcus Mariota to a Heisman Trophy.
He clearly learned some things. Frost took over a Central Florida team that went 0-12 in 2015. UCF went to a bowl in his first season, then the Golden Knights went 13-0 including a New Year’s Six bowl win last year. Winning a shelf full of awards made him the premier coach on the market. He developed players to thrive in his system - the system helped a one-handed linebacker get drafted, with other top prospects in the pipeline. The tempo philosophy is on the leading edge of college offense. The staff moved to Lincoln in toto, and seem to work together smoothly. Nebraska has proven success on the sidelines.
The new coach understands Nebraska’s “passion” (read: lunacy) for football. He grew up in it, raised in the Husker milieu and taking hits from the Peter brothers in practice. Most controversially, Frost was the person dating Lawrence Phillips’ ex-girlfriend when LP drug her down the stairs. Less brutally, his throwing motion was dissected by every armchair coach in the state. From every barstool he was pilloried for a shutout loss at Arizona State in his second start (he was sacked for TWO safeties). He was criticized for going to the casino boats in Council Bluffs (legally) during a break in two-a-days. The man has seen Nebraska fans at their worst. He has been the subject of gossip, scorn, and praise. He came back anyway.
What does this all mean? No-one can say with certainty that Frost will succeed. I understand the skepticism from those who believe that Nebraska’s time has passed, and I fear that structural changes have made things tougher for UNL. It has been a tough couple of decades.
Bear with me, though. Here are the ingredients Frost has to work with:
- A cohesive group of trusted coaches
- A group that has already turned a program around
- A program that has some credibility nationally
- A good group of skilled position players
- A packed stadium, even for the Spring Game
- Knowledge of the fans at their best and worst
- Player development
- Innovative philosophy
- Lots of goodwill
- Institutional memory
- A homecoming
This looks like recipe for success, and fans can already taste victory. Does this paint an extremely rosy picture? Maybe, but one can see why so many are thrilled by the possibilities. Perhaps the long statewide nightmare has ended. Is it possible that we have found, after exhausting all other possibilities, the man to put us back where we belong?
Under it all is an anxiety and a reckoning. If Scott Frost cannot succeed, then who can?