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Op-Ed: Cool it on the Frost-icles

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Nebraska is already screwing itself over and they haven’t fired their coach yet.

Scott Frost

There has been a ridiculous amount written about Scott Frost as a potential successor to Mike Riley. There are a number of issues with this.

Let’s get the first problem out of the way: Nebraska has a head coach, and is sitting at 3-2 on the season. No, that’s not where we thought we’d be right now. Mistakes were made, and people have been angry. Fine. We want to aspire to greater things than losing to MAC programs. Fine.

But maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t engage in self-sabotage.

Nebraska is 3-2. They’re 2-0 in the Big Ten, tied with Wisconsin on top of the Big Ten West. They’re heading into a very winnable night game against Wisconsin, with a victory putting Nebraska somewhat in the driver’s seat for the division (admittedly a very tough road, but still, driver’s seat, if only for a week).

There are definitely some questions about the offense, but Mike Riley’s teams have always had rough early outings with new QBs in his offense. See Tommy Armstrong in 2015, if you need a Nebraska example. Or go back to his Oregon State days.

Regardless, right now, Nebraska is not in as dire of straits as you’d believe. And I believe any talk about a fire sale at One Memorial is incredibly premature and even dangerous.

You’re basically rooting against the program, even if you believe you’re thinking in its best interests.

The coaching staff now has to recruit against our own fan base and the specter of being fired. If Nebraska gets a class in the top 20 this season, it will be a masterful recruiting job, I assure you. Top talent doesn’t want to deal with the drama of a program in flux - they want to go some place they can help win. Making Riley into a lame duck basically kills any chances of program-changing talent coming to Lincoln.

That alone isn’t reason to retain Riley, mind you. Just a bit of food for thought. I’m not here advocating for keeping Riley, though I think that’s the prudent action given the current situation at Nebraska.

On that note, let’s look at what we’re going to be selling to potential head coaches, right now:

  • No permanent athletic director (though presumably this will be cured by the time a coaching search, if necessary, is performed)
  • A roster in flux, with thin depth at WR, LB, RB, and on the OL. Note I said the talent was THIN, not that we didn’t have any. There simply hasn’t been time to build the depth. Nebraska remains in the same development hell they existed under Pelini, where the second and third string remain at least a year away from consistent starting ability, if at all.
  • A well-staffed walk-on program which is absolutely essential to maintaining depth. Nebraska’s walk-ons used to have 2-4 seasons of development and S&C before contributing, but now they’re basically being called on to fill out the 22. Contrary to popular belief, that’s not how Nebraska’s walk-on program worked under Osborne. Those walk-ons started because they worked their asses off, not because of attrition or injury or desperation. Oh, and walk-ons in the 1980s and 1990s are now the starters at most Group of 5 schools and some lower tier Power 5 programs.
  • Taking over for a coach fired after maybe 38 or so games, who managed a 9-win season despite a roster depleted with injuries and dotted with walk-ons. His starting QB was knocked out early in the season and replaced with a player who had left the program for the summer. This team almost came back and won against a Tennessee program which included a future NFL draft pick on the defensive line, until their replacement QB got knocked out and replaced with their holder.
  • A program which expects Alabama-like results but spends mid-major amounts of money on their program despite their available resources.
  • A fan base which is more infatuated with a romantic version of their program, which is more and more separated from reality with each passing season, and continues to hold each head coach to a lofty standard not even a legendary coach can muster annually at even the most modern power programs. The Nebraska job has become a career killer.
  • A 2018 schedule which will very likely end in no bowl game in 2018, and an equally dangerous schedule in years 3 and 4 (2020/2021). That’s a dangerous job to step into, given Nebraska’s current roster issues.

I’ll give you the Cliff’s notes here: Nebraska is not the incredible job we believe it to be in our hearts. Heart means absolutely nothing in college football for things like this. Heart is an inspirational fluffball given to teams which behave or win the way a fan base wants them to on any given Saturday.

Honestly, the only real positives I see for Nebraska are:

  • We continue to play in the Big Ten West, which for the foreseeable future consists of Wisconsin out-averaging everyone else. Beat Wisconsin and most years you’ll represent the Big Ten West, and have a shot at the playoffs.
  • Our fan base, while crazy at times, is extremely passionate about the program despite its struggles, and is definitely a strong selling point.

And let’s not forget the most important challenge any coach is facing if they take over the team in 2017:

  • A fan base which seems to be clamoring for a native son to come home. Any one other than Scott Frost will be treated as an outsider, like Riley and Callahan.

We have effectively limited our coaching search to one coach, because, I say with absolutely all the love in the world, we’re absolutely stupid. We have Steve Pederson’d our search and we haven’t even removed our head coach yet.

We continue to try and re-invent Tom Osborne without really appreciating what he did at Nebraska, good and bad. We refuse to accept that it took him almost a decade to accomplish the things we’re demanding of Riley.

And what will we do when Scott Frost turns the Nebraska job down for the reasons I listed above? We’ll blame the administration, rather than reflecting on ourselves.

We have justified, rationalized, screamed about Frost’s qualifications (or lack thereof), but it all assumes Frost wants the job.

Given what I provided above, why would he surrender the comfortable anonymity of the UCF job for this? Strip away your romantic visions of Nebraska and truly ask yourself why Scott Frost would risk his career at Nebraska?

On the flip of that, why should Nebraska risk its future on betting that Frost can grow into a Power 5 job in very short order? Why limit ourselves, with the war chest we have available, assuming we need to find a coach?

I am willing and even happy to admit Scott Frost will probably be a pretty good coach one day. He may even be the first successful coach born out of Tom Osborne’s coaching tree.

But is Frost truly ready for a Power 5 job like Nebraska? Especially given Nebraska’s inherent disadvantages?

Nebraska, as a program, is usually two or three flights away from the coasts. It has no significant local talent base, meaning it has to convince players from around the country to move to the Plains. It has not won anything beyond some bowl games and a couple of division titles in twenty years. It has a fickle albeit passionate fan base which is great when things are going well but absolutely a detriment when the program struggles. Our roster is in dire need of bolstering.

While these are all things which take time, a new coach will not be given this.

So what are Frost’s qualifications?

  • After spurning Nebraska for Stanford, Frost returned to Nebraska in 1995. He was our QB for the 1997 team, which also had 100+ other players on it, plus one of the greatest coaching staffs ever assembled.
  • He went on to play safety in the NFL for a few years and collected, by osmosis, I’m assuming, the coaching intellects of Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, and Jon Gruden.
  • In 2002, he was hired as a GA by Frank Solich. He left after the season.
  • In 2006, he was hired as a GA by Ron Prince.
  • In 2007, he became the LB coach at Northern Iowa. He became Co-DC in 2008.
  • In 2009, he left for Oregon where he was installed as WR coach by Chip Kelly. In 2013, Frost became their OC following Kelly’s departure for the NFL. He was Broyles Awad finalist in 2014. Oregon were the runner-ups in the inaugural CFP, losing to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the national title matchup.
  • He left to be come HC at UCF in 2016 and led them to a 6-6 record and a bowl game, eventually losing to the 7-5 Arkansas State Red Wolves.
  • His Knights are currently 3-0 in 2017, with victories over Florida International, Maryland, and Memphis. A game against Georgia Tech was called off due to weather.

All in all, a fairly impressive resume for a young coach. But again, nothing on here says he’s qualified to be immediately called up to the big leagues.

  • He is not even half way into his second season as a head coach. This seems important to me. Are we really ready to give our head coaching job to another inexperienced coach (Solich, Pelini)? Seems like yet another over-correction to me.
  • At Oregon, Helfrich failed because he couldn’t replace Marcus Mariotta, even with Frost’s help. He also hired Brady Hoke to try and fix their defense, to disastrous results. There’s also Chip Kelly’s NCAA violations, which masks some of Frost’s impact at Oregon.
  • At UCF, Frost is practically surrounded by SEC-lite talent. As he mentioned shortly after being hired, he can jump in a car, drive around, and pretty much fill his recruiting class. You cannot do that at Nebraska and survive, as much as we want to believe a roster stocked with Nebraska heart might deliver us from evil (Iowa).
  • Also, UCF was not a bad program, despite their 0-12 season in 2015. George O’Leary, who was also serving as athletic director, basically realized entirely too late that his heart wasn’t in the game. By the time he figured that out, the season was lost and his assistants were pretty much just collecting pay checks. In 2014, UCF went 9-4 and won the American. In 2013, UCF went 12-1, won the American, and played in the Fiesta Bowl, beating #6 Baylor. In 2012, UCF were runner ups in their last season as members of the Conference USA, losing to Tulsa. This was not the roster of disaster we were led to believe.

My point here is not to trash Scott Frost. Again, I very much do believe he will be a great coach one day, regardless of his connections to Nebraska’s better days. But Nebraska has a head coach, right now, and we would do well to stop trying to sabotage him in the middle of a season in which all of our goals remain achievable.

Watch and enjoy Knights football if you must, but if you truly want Scott Frost at Nebraska, and you want him to succeed, stop torpedoing Mike Riley. Stop setting Nebraska back another five years just because you’re uncomfortable with being patient.

Stop repeating our mistakes of the last 20 years.

I’m begging you, for Nebraska’s sake.