'This Isn't Year Zero': Scott Frost Expects an Immediate Turnaround at Nebraska

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterAugust 31, 2018


LINCOLN, Nebraska — He looks the part of a quarterback. Tall. Powerful. Fluid.      

As he takes reps on Nebraska's practice field a little more than two weeks before the team's season opener against Akron, his spirals are snug, every throw landing where it's intended.

Unlike the other QBs on this mid-August day, though, he's not wearing a green no-contact jersey. Instead, he is outfitted in a red Nebraska hat, black shorts and a black shirt with "DAY BY DAY" etched appropriately across the front.

If it weren't for the differences in wardrobe, Scott Frost might be able to pull this off.

At 43 years old, he's still built like a safety, the position he played in the NFL. Before his half-decade stint in the pros, Frost quarterbacked Nebraska to its last national championship, in 1997—a season that culminated in an Orange Bowl victory over Peyton Manning's Tennessee Volunteers. 

He can still throw it, too. His right shoulder feels fine, he says. His ankle, which he had surgery on not long ago, can still give him problems.

"I'm still a kid at heart," Frost says after practice ends. "I mean, what Nebraska fan wouldn't like to come out and throw to the receivers at practice? I just love football."

That word he uses. Fan. Of the many labels Frost has acquired over the years—beloved player, successful assistant, celebrated young coach—it's the one that feels most significant to who he is.

Frost grew up here. His father played here. His mother coached here. He isn't just a player who won 24 of the 26 games he started here; he's a man who watched and lived and breathed Nebraska football back when it was the sport's most dominating force.

He has a personal stake in bringing the program back to that level.

Last year, the Cornhuskers were 4-8, and over the past three, they were 19-19. In that time, Frost did something historic while coaching Central Florida. He transformed the Knights from a winless, woeful group in 2015 to an undefeated Cinderella in 2017.

Nebraska inked Frost to a seven-year, $35 million contract this offseason, and he was greeted with joy and now immense expectations. He feels them whether he's out with his family eating in Lincoln, or at the Trevi Fountain in Rome, or even the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Nebraska fans around the world are readying for what comes next.

"I want people to have high hopes," Frost says. "We have to have high hopes. And it's more than a hope here—it's an expectation. Not externally, but internally."

If the blueprint that has worked everywhere he's been—from an assistant at Oregon to head coach at Central Florida and now back home—it's not a question of whether Nebraska can start fulfilling those expectations. It's just a question of how quickly.

Wood River, Nebraska, lays 102 miles directly west from Lincoln. It is there, in a town of fewer than 2,000 residents, that the legend of Frost began to grip the state.

At Wood River High, Frost was a star not just in football—where his father, Larry, was his high school head coach and his mother, Carol, coached the wide receivers—but in basketball and track, where he was a dominant point guard and a hell of a shot-putter.

In football, Frost still holds state record for career total yards (11,095), single-season yards (3,727) and career touchdowns (152). He also returned an interception 105 yards for a touchdown, which is tied for the state mark.

ELAINE THOMPSON/Associated Press

Larry Frost played tailback at Nebraska before coaching his son, while Carol Frost threw the discus in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City—becoming the first female athlete to represent the state of Nebraska in the Games. She eventually coached the track team at Nebraska before coaching both her sons in high school.

For Scott Frost, love of the University of Nebraska began sitting in the backseat of his parents' car, making the trek down I-80 West to watch the Cornhuskers play football. Or on the track, where he bounced around on days he accompanied his mom to work.

"Nebraska's so unique," Frost says. "If you've touched Nebraska in any way, shape or form, if you're from here, if you were born here, if your grandpa was from here, you're a Nebraska fan."

Tre Neal remembers the first time his head coach came running straight at him. It was October of last year, days before Central Florida played Navy.

Frost had transitioned from head coach to scout quarterback at the request of his defensive coaching staff. Because of his experience running the option at Nebraska, they felt Frost gave the players a better look at what they would see in a few days.

"He's a big guy," says Neal, who played safety at Central Florida before joining Frost as a graduate transfer at Nebraska this offseason. "He's running the triple option at full speed, and he's running trying to run people over."

So for three days, Frost assumed this role. Unlike his practice reps in Lincoln, he wore a helmet with his defensive players in full pads.

"It was like fantasy camp for me for three days," Frost says. "But I was really sore afterward."

A few days later, Central Florida beat Navy 31-21 to go 6-0. This only two years after finishing the 2015 season winless, sporting the nation's No. 118-ranked scoring defense and the No. 126-ranked scoring offense.

Frost was named the head coach after spending seven seasons at Oregon, first as the wide receivers coach and then as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator who helped Marcus Mariota win a Heisman.

STEVE DYKES/Associated Press

In his first year at the helm, UCF won six games—already a dramatic turnaround, given the circumstances. In his second year, it finished 13-0 and had the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation.

"I think the best predictor of future performance is past performance," Frost says. "This coaching staff was just at a university that was winless, and our formula led to an undefeated season two years later."

The formula, Frost says, starts with surrounding himself with good people. As much as Nebraska's resurrection would be about him and his ties to the school, he did not come to Nebraska alone. Much of Frost's staff from UCF has joined him in Lincoln, though even that aspect of the transition was executed differently from most coaching changes.

When it was announced that Frost accepted the job at Nebraska, the assumption from many of his assistants who would be joining him was that they would leave before the team played Auburn in the Peach Bowl. They felt pressure to start recruiting.

But even with the urgency surrounding the rebuild, Frost and his staff stayed through the team's bowl game—a victory over Auburn few thought they could pull off.

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 01:  Head coach Scott Frost of the UCF Knights celebrates after defeating the Auburn Tigers 34-27 to win the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 1, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

"It was his leadership and vision to see this damn thing through—that we owed it to these kids and that program," says then-UCF and now-Nebraska quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco. "That probably sums up everything you need to know about him right there.

"And I'll be damned if he isn't going to be successful here. We're working to make sure that happens for Coach Frost."

Take a stroll around Lincoln, and you can feel it. The revival is playing out before the first game has even been played. It can be heard in bars and restaurants and seen in just about any building you step foot in. It is optimism and energy found in no other place but a college campus, and right now it is overflowing.

An outsider might mistake Frost for a quarterback on the field, but in the city of Lincoln, his presence is unmistakable. He'd be lucky to walk a block without being noticed.

In places like the Best of Big Red Husker Shop, Frost jerseys from his playing days are on full display. Comic books titled The Return of Scott Frost are selling for $4.99. He even has his own line of branded trucker hats with the letters "FROST" plastered across the front with Nebraska's trademark "N" serving as the backdrop.

Photo by Adam Kramer

"Last year we couldn't sell out," the man working the front desk at the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Lincoln says. "This year rooms are going for $400 and $500 a night for game weekends. The vibe is just different."

"Give it three years, and we'll be back on that national level," predicts the bartender at The Watering Hole, home of the best wings in Lincoln. "I feel sorry for the next coach that's going to come after Frost."

The vocal anxiety and anticipation for what comes next is everywhere outside the football facility, but inside, where the work is being put in, things are calm. Progress is evident. The early stages of the transformation are being undertaken.

"We've come miles since January," Frost says. "We've come miles since the end of spring. To be honest with you, we look like a different team now."

At practice, Frost is constantly watching when he isn't throwing passes. He's letting his handpicked assistants—a group he praises as often as he can—work.

But even deeper than that, Frost is allowing failure—not a lack of effort or intensity, but failure—to build an atmosphere that promotes teaching more than scolding.

"Everybody has a different approach," Frost says. "But kids aren't gonna get mother effed or cussed at here. They're just going to get taught the right way to play football and the right way to do things off the field."

For those in the thick of it, like running back Devine Ozigbo, they can already see the difference.

"I've been to multiple fall camps," says Ozigbo, a senior. "This is the first time looking around thinking to myself, 'Man, we look good.' And that's why I'm jealous. I wish I could be here for longer."

Nati Harnik/Associated Press

For senior linebacker Luke Gifford, Frost's arrival has meant something more. Born and raised in Lincoln, Gifford grew up with the stories of Frost and the way this football program was once constructed.

Now, for a least a little while longer, Gifford will help recapture the magic he heard about his entire life.

"To be able to play for him is pretty surreal sometimes," Gifford says. "It's a cool experience for someone who's looked up to him for so long. The things that have been done in such a short time with this staff, it's just incredible. There's no doubt in my mind it'll be where people want it to be."

The first thing Rahmir Johnson noticed was the shoes. His classmates couldn't take their eyes off them.

After all, it's not every day someone walks into Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, New Jersey, wearing a pair of Yeezys—Adidas' costly, rare and beloved footwear.

But there they were, on the feet of Scott Frost.

"I remembering thinking, 'Oh, man, Scott Frost is wearing Yeezys,'" says Johnson, a 3-star running back and one of 15 players committed to Nebraska in a 2019 class showing early signs of promise. "That caught my eye a little bit."

And Frost doesn't just own a pair of Yeezys; he owns two pairs and expects his collection will grow in the months and years ahead. He's worn them to high schools and living rooms around the country.

"He's just a real suave dude," says Desmond Bland, another member of the 2019 class and one of the highest-rated JUCO offensive linemen in the country. "At the same time, I like the fact that he doesn't yell. You can actually talk to him."

While so much of the focus and energy is tied to Nebraska, Frost refuses to simply target the best players in the state. Nebraska will always be a focal point of recruiting, but it cannot be the only focus.

Luke McCaffrey, younger brother of NFL running back Christian McCaffrey and son of former NFLer Ed McCaffrey, verbally committed to Nebraska back in June.

A 4-star athlete in the 2019 class who is blossoming at quarterback, McCaffrey was recruited by Frost at UCF before he changed schools. He had not spoken to Nebraska before Frost's arrival, but he did soon thereafter. When McCaffrey made the trip from Littleton, Colorado, to meet Frost in person, he was immediately sold.

"I like to describe it as the 'It' factor for a coach," McCaffrey says. "A lot of times, you hear that about players, but he has that little sixth sense that a coach needs. He really walks the walk, and that's something special."

Nati Harnik/Associated Press

It's not just the shoes. Or being young enough to relate on a level that most coaches simply cannot. There's a natural confidence that is working wonders for Frost in living rooms. And perhaps more than any sales pitch or tactic, Frost is finding comfort in selling himself, his staff and a program he has been connected to his entire life.

"We're gonna go all over the country and try to find the right kids," Frost says. "Our approach to recruiting is try to be as honest as we can. I want us to be ourselves and not to put on an act when kids are around."

There is no more waiting. The anxiousness and anticipation will now play out in real-time as we start to see the results of Frost's plan to bring Nebraska back to a place of prominence.

How long the rebuild will take will be determined. At Central Florida, it took two years. At Nebraska, playing against Big Ten opponents, it might take longer. Or maybe not. Either way, Frost refuses to let the program's struggles influence his own expectations, which are beyond that of even the most optimistic fans.

"We wanna win," Frost says. "Whether or not that's a reality in year one, we'll see. Hopefully, it's more of a reality every year that we go on from there, but this isn't year zero to me. It can't be."

The final page of the comic book sold around Nebraska, a creation by the Omaha World-Herald, concludes with Frost's introductory press conference.

In the panel at the bottom, a smiling Frost is wearing a red Nebraska polo, red Nebraska hat and a cartoon-sized smile in front of a sold out Memorial Stadium crowd.

"THE END" is etched in the bottom right-hand corner. A good way to end a comic. But in this instance, those two words couldn't feel any less fitting.


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