This year has been challenging for Nebraska football fans, particularly those fans who have been big supporters of head coach Bo Pelini.
Nebraska suffered an ugly home loss to UCLA; Husker legend Tommie Frazier has been highly critical of Pelini’s tenure in charge; a profanity-laced audio tape of Pelini calling Nebraska fans “fair-weather” was released, and Nebraska lost to Minnesota for the first time since the Eisenhower administration.
As a result, speculation has started about what life might be like in Lincoln if Pelini was not the head coach of Nebraska. A smart and particularly handsome analyst put former Nebraska quarterback and current Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost on a short list of those who might succeed Pelini.
(In fairness, the Frost-to-Lincoln idea was hardly unique to me.)
The gut-level allure of Frost becoming Nebraska’s head coach is obvious, of course. Frost won a national championship in 1997, leading the charge on the field against Tennessee and after the game advocating that Nebraska be the consensus national champion (Michigan finished No. 1 in the AP poll). After graduation, Frost spent time in the NFL playing for the Jets, Browns, Packers and Buccaneers before embarking on a coaching career.
That career has taken him to Oregon, where he has risen to offensive coordinator of one of the most exciting and dynamic attacks in college football. The position Frost holds has been a bit of a cradle for coaches as well. Chip Kelly was offensive coordinator under Mike Belotti and took over as Oregon head coach once Belotti retired. When Kelly left to take over the Philadelphia Eagles, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich took over as head man, and the Ducks do not seem to have missed a beat.
But the fact remains that Frost has never been a head coach. If he were to succeed Pelini next season, he would ascend to the position after only one season as a coordinator. Nebraska would be, once again, in the position of having a head coach with no head coaching experience, learning and making rookie mistakes on the job.
Certainly, that lack of experience was one of the biggest concerns about Pelini, and Nebraska fans have felt repeatedly the growing pains as Pelini learns his trade. Don’t forget that Frank Solich also had no head coaching experience. Many of Nebraska’s struggles under Solich could very well be traced to Solich learning on the job as he took over for a legend.
(Of course, Tom Osborne didn’t have any head coaching experience either before he took over from the "Bobfather." That one worked out pretty well for Nebraska. And Bill Callahan had appeared in a Super Bowl as a head coach before arriving in Lincoln. Just ask him, he’ll tell you.)
Let me be clear. While I have said that I think Pelini is coaching for his job this season, this isn’t a call for his firing. Nor is this an endorsement of Frost as the guy to take over for Pelini if the job does open.
But Frost right now is front and center in the minds of fans looking at the possibility of Pelini’s departure. Frost’s lack of experience certainly would be one of the biggest concerns about him taking the job. But it wouldn’t necessarily be a disqualifier. There are a number of things Frost could do that could mitigate his lack of experience, should he be tapped for the job.
Bring the Offense with Him
Frost has been at Oregon since 2009, learning and absorbing the Ducks’ high-powered offensive attack. Sure, part of the reason Frost would be attractive as a hire at Nebraska is because of his ties to the school. But just as attractive is Frost’s potential to export Oregon’s offensive attack to Lincoln.
The cupboard would be pretty well stocked for Frost if he did make the jump. Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner would all be seniors. Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Johnny Stanton would be competing for the starting quarterback position, and Armstrong may have an extra leg up with a half-season of playing time if Taylor Martinez’s injury sidelines him further.
And, if Nebraska can replicate Oregon’s offensive success, the Cornhuskers might get a critical boost for recruiting. Talented offensive high schoolers have already started showing more interest in coming to Nebraska thanks to current offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s attack. If Frost can repeat Oregon’s offensive success in Lincoln, he may very well be able to repeat Oregon’s success in attracting top-shelf offensive recruits as well.
Learn from His Mentors
While Frost may not have a tremendous amount of coaching experience on his own, he has been able to observe some of the great coaches in recent football history. Take a look at this list of coaches Frost has worked with or been coached by:
|1993-1994||Bill Walsh (Stanford)|
|1995-1997||Tom Osborne (Nebraska)|
|1998-2000||Bill Parcells (New York Jets)|
|2001||Butch Davis (Cleveland Browns)|
|2001-2002||Mike Sherman (Green Bay Packers)|
|2003||Jon Gruden (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)|
|2009-2012||Chip Kelly (Oregon)|
Being able to watch those coaching titans (admittedly, some more titan-y than others) up close as they built and guided their teams has to have given Frost insights into how to be successful on the sidelines. Sure, nothing can substitute for actual experience. But the amount of exposure Frost has had to some of the coaching greats cannot help but give him a leg up as he advances in his career.
Avoid the Echo Chamber
This one might be the most important of the three, given Nebraska’s recent history. Pelini brought undeniable skills to the job when he took over from Bill Callahan. But in assembling his staff, Pelini also chose to hire an offensive coordinator who had no experience calling plays and a defensive coordinator who had no experience in calling a defense.
Nebraska’s slippage, particularly on defense, coincides with NU having rookies in the most critical coaching positions running the team. Sure, an argument could be made for coincidence, but it’s hard to not see some causality.
If Frost were to be Nebraska’s next head coach, it would be critical for him to bring in a diverse staff but one with the experience he could lean on in times of trouble. Frost would likely be in charge of Nebraska’s offense, which would be one of the primary reasons to bring him.
But possibly the most critical of hires for Frost if he did get the job would be a defensive coordinator who could not only be trusted with coaching up the Blackshirts but with providing some stability, experience and an alternative viewpoint to strengthen the coaching staff as a whole.
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