A sabbatical. By definition a period away with a defined start point and a defined end point. Matt Lubick has said since his arrival in Lincoln his time in Colorado was just a break from the coaching world that has consumed his life for a quarter-century.
Lubick is not the kind of coach who sleeps in his office during the season, but he does burn the candle at both ends. Nate Costa knows that well. Costa played quarterback for the Oregon Ducks when Husker head coach Scott Frost was coaching the wide receivers, and then became a graduate assistant working directly with Lubick from 2013-15 when Frost moved to offensive coordinator and Lubick took over the wideout room.
“He is the type of guy who will grind himself down,” Costa said. “He doesn’t have a wife, he doesn’t have any kids yet, his focus is football. That’s what he likes to do. He likes to coach football, he likes to exercise and he likes to eat right. Those are his loves in life right now.”
Costa and Lubick have stayed close over the years. Costa went to UCLA to be on Chip Kelly’s staff for a few seasons but now he’s back in Oregon. When the last of the Kelly disciples left Oregon following the 2016 season, Lubick went to Washington for two years before taking his year away from football to recharge.
Even throughout the 2019 season though, Lubick consulted with Frost about Nebraska’s offense. One of the most interesting subplots of Kelly’s college football takeover was the creation of this extended family tree of coaches. Lubick is at Nebraska now in part because of that family feeling.
“I have always wanted to work with Matt again since our days at Oregon together,” Frost said when Nebraska announced the hire.
About a month later, Frost went on Sports Nightly and talked about how Lubick has already brought some energy, some new ideas and some organization to the offense.
The common criticism of Frost is that he hires from within his group, but that underscores just how important continuity of thought is. “He's going to get our guys blocking better, running better routes, more disciplined,” Frost said during that Sports Nightly appearance, and he knows that because he knows where Lubick learned his craft.
“I don’t know if Frost would say it, but most of what Lubick has learned and teaches in the blocking game, from the receivers’ perspective, is actually stuff he learned from Frost,” Costa said. “When Frost came to Oregon as a receivers coach to work for Chip, that’s when we saw the escalation of our wide receivers’ ability to block. That’s because Frost brought a certain personality of toughness to that room, and then he incorporated it with a blocking technique he actually picked up in the NFL. And that’s something we’ve used ever since. Lubick kind of took it over.
“I would expect that to definitely be an (area of) improvement just because that’s going to be something that Lubick is going to take pride it and he’s going to emphasize it in the meeting room.”
Lubick, Costa said, is cerebral in the way he sees and teaches the game. He’s not afraid to speak up in coaching meetings and present new ideas. Even though Frost calls the plays as the head coach, the “Offensive Coordinator” tag isn’t just a means to pay Lubick a little extra money. He’s active in play design and active on the sidelines on gameday when it comes to making sure everyone is following the plan or making the right adjustments.
In moments of tension, Lubick is calm. He’s not a rah-rah, in-your-face kind of coach on the field or in meeting rooms. Costa said he can be loud if he needs to drive home a point, but rarely has he seen a situation call for that because “his players are well-coached and they do as they’re supposed to do.”
The school of thought that Frost, Lubick, and Costa all cut their teeth in preaches positive coaching as opposed to negative coaching.
Teach a guy the wrong way to do things and the first thing he’ll think about when the bullets start flying is the wrong way. Teach a guy the right way to do something instead. And Lubick, Costa learned quickly, has an incredibly detailed way he goes about teaching everything.
He teaches a specific way to catch the football beyond just making your pinky fingers come together. (An apparent state secret that couldn’t be pried out.) He teaches specific route-running techniques, how to get in and out of breaks in exactly the right way. Some folks call the details the nitty-gritty. To Nebraska’s newest wideout coach, they are rules.
Lubick lives in the rules.
“Probably his most admirable trait is he coached defensive backs for a number of years at Arizona State and a couple of other places since that’s the position he played, so he really understands the rules of coverage that certain defensive backs are in,” Cost said.
“So, when it comes time to play-design, passing routes specifically, he’s really good at putting defenders into conflict, to where he’s not just beating them based on the coverage but he’s beating them based on the rules. (He’s) designing concepts where the defensive backs really can’t be right, and when it comes down to being successful in this game from a play-calling and play designing standpoint, that’s probably the best attribute that you can have. Being able to actually beat someone’s rules and not just their specific coverage.”
Would it trigger a gag reflex to liken back to the approach Bob Diaco took with Caleb Lightbourn’s punting. Think more of the conviction and less of the eccentric personality.
Though Lubick isn’t completely without quirks. Costa doesn’t even know how old he is.
“He’s very strict, he does not deviate from his diet,” Costa said. “He gets on these kinds of things where, like, that’s what he’s going to eat. Whether it’s spinach or it’s hard-boiled eggs, or it’s oatmeal. You know you can say what you want about the specific things he’s eating and whether you agree with them or not but … he’s not going to deviate, he’s not going to cheat, he has no desire to have sweets or any of the other garbage that a lot of people eat.
“I think a lot of people could learn many things from the discipline he has with his diet.”
Discipline and development. Two of the big reasons why Lubick is now here. Skeptics might call it a buddy hire, but Lubick was coming back to the game at one point or another. Frost wanted to make sure he was on his team.
“He’s not coming in on a fresh slate, I think there’s a lot of value to that,” Costa said. “Lubick is never going to be the kind of guy who’s going to be stagnant. He’s the type of guy who’s going to pour over what other teams are doing. They’re going to pour over what NFL teams are doing. For example, I know Nebraska was watching a lot of what we did in the screen game this past year, so maybe you can look for them to beef up their screen game.
“They’re doing what it takes this offseason to study other teams, have new and fresh ideas. They’re not going to stay stagnant. The core concepts are still going to be there, they’re still going to try to accomplish the same tasks, but I would expect them to have some new, fresh ideas.”
Time to get back to work.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.