Gerry DiNardo, Big Ten Network, was in Lincoln this week to catch up with new Nebraska coach Scott Frost and get the pulse of the program as it nears the Spring Game on April 21. Hail Varsity Radio's Chris Schmidt caught DiNardo in the back of a taxi cab in downtown Chicago to talk about what he saw on his trip.
This interview has been edited for brevity. You can hear the full interview here, beginning at the 16:48 mark.
CS: How was Lincoln, you’ve been here the last couple of days to check out the Nebraska program, how was your experience?
GD: “I think a coach’s attitude about practice is it should be a learning environment where everyone has a chance to get better, a chance to win a position, a chance to show their skills.
“I’d say the best way describe Thursday’s practice was it was just very efficient. In fact, I asked someone — I can’t remember who — what day it was and they said the ninth practice. I would have suggested that you wouldn’t know if it was the ninth practice or the ninth year of practice. Everyone just knew where to go, it ran smooth and nowadays people aren’t beating the tar out of one another but the tempo was good, the contact was good. I wasn’t surprised but I was impressed.”
CS: You mentioned the practice environment and speed and tempo has been a major point of emphasis for Coach Frost, what do you think of this offense now having seen it and what do you think of the physicality that was on display?
GD: “The offense is what it is. I think the Nebraska fans have seen the UCF video and that’s what they’re going to see. I’m sure, like any other program, there may be some players that don’t fit into that scheme just like Mike [Riley] found when he came.
“What’s interesting — and fans have to understand this — when you do what they’ve done with the last three coaches, it sets you back. In other words, Bo [Pelini] was a spread guy, Mike was a pro guy and now Scott’s trying to go back to the spread. Well, there’s recruiting seasons in there that are inconsistent with needs by position, by talent, by profile.
“So, to answer your question, when you’re a spread team like they are at Nebraska, it goes fast. You can’t practice that offense without going fast so it impacts the defense, it impacts the tempo of the practice and it was fairly typical of the spread practice. It’s up-tempo and everybody’s moving the entire time."
CS: Impressions on what you saw from the offensive line?
GD: “Most of them are back if I’m not correct. I have to say this, I’m not trying to cop out of an answer but when you watch one practice in the spring with a new staff and a new offense and trying to get to know everybody, I don’t know that I could give a fair evaluation of any one particular position. It takes hours of video study to really know someone, so I would hate to say something based on the short time I was there.
“Do I think they’re as talented as the best teams in the conference, they’re not and that’s everywhere on the team. Now, there’s probably guys that could play at any school in the country or any school in the conference, I’m not saying that’s not true, but one of the reasons people get fired in coaching is not because they’ve done well and so let’s not just say that Scott Frost is taking over a very talented roster. I don’t know that that would be accurate."
CS: So what are they lacking?
GD: “They’re lacking the depth and quality of the best teams in the conference. I don’t know how else to say it without getting specific. Do they have as good if not better players than half the conference? Sure, but half the conference isn’t very good. I think what we’re counting on here realistically is Scott Frost knows what the heck he’s doing, so does his staff, he’s at a place with unlimited resources, they should be competing for the West division every year until the last of the season, I think that’s realistic. Whether that’s realistic this year or not, I can’t really tell by one practice. Maybe I’ll have a better feel in August when he has 105 instead of half that number or a little bit more than half that number.
“Do I think the walk-on program is going to be back? I say this all the time if you want to see the Nebraska walk-on program, go to Madison, Wisconsin. I don’t think that’s going to be true any longer. It may still go at Madison but it’s also going to happen in Lincoln. This is the kind of stuff I think we’re all anticipating and we’re all pretty confident that it’s going to be like that.
“Can you be a spread team and be physical? I asked Scott that in my interview with him. Absolutely and he’s got a formula to do that.”
CS: What’s his formula?
GD: “Basically how you practice and what you do in the offseason. If you look at the beginning of strength training in this country, it’s Boyd Epley at Nebraska. If you look at the beginning of the first walk-on program in the history of college football, it was Lincoln, Nebraska. I think the question is clear: why isn’t it still that way? Well, I think there’s a chance that it will be that way.
“Again, it’s not there yet, and everyone has to understand that some of the things that have been done in the past at Nebraska can no longer be done just because the environment in college football has changed, but a lot of the core basic values can still be the same — walk-on program, strength and conditioning, physical offensive line. The up-tempo offense may have never been done but I can tell you when they were running the option 100 years ago you were stressed vertically and horizontally every snap and I think we’re going to see that again, just a different form.”
CS: What type of vibe did you get from staff and Coach Frost defensively about what they want to do?
GD: “Defensively I think they’re going to do the best they can with the players they have. They’re not going to try to put a square peg in a round hole. And that’s true of offense as well, they’ll tweak it. Did I get a good sense of what the scheme’s going to look like today on defense? I really didn’t, I wasn’t looking for that. I would put their defense in the same category I put the entire team, they have some players that are very good that could play anywhere but they’re not as deep or as talented as some of the best teams in the country. But that’s no surprise, they’ve fired the last four coaches."
CS: Did anything stick out to you about the quarterbacks you saw?
GD: “They’re obviously all getting reps. I couldn’t tell who’s first, who’s second, who’s third, who’s fourth and I think that’s the fair way to do it. I think if after nine days of a new program you could tell, it probably wouldn’t be a good sign. That would mean there were preconceived notions of who was the best.
“Martinez is a talented recruit, he’s got a bunch of stars next to his name so in one practice, does he look like that was well deserved? I’d say yes. Does he look like he’s better than the other quarterbacks? I don’t think I can do that.
“One year I had three quarterbacks at LSU replacing a four-year starter that just left. It was the start of my demise in Baton Rouge, I couldn’t figure it out watching every practice, watching all the tape. So again, I go to my opinion that there’s only so much I could tell. But they’re all getting different reps, I don’t think there’s any priority. If there is, I couldn’t tell by watching and I think that’s probably a really good sign."
CS: What was your lasting impression of your sit-down with Frost.
GD: “I look at Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, I look at some other coaches that have come home if you will, and it’s a very, very difficult thing to do and the better player that comes home, the more difficult it is because of the pressure and the enthusiasm.
“I really appreciated a couple things. His plan to blend the things that carry over from the past and the new things that he’s going to blend with the things that carry over from the past. I asked him a question about the program not being as successful since coach [Tom] Osborne left and he reminded me there have been some good years, there really have. Whether it’s under Frank [Solich] or it was under Bo, there have been some good years. Now, he wants to build on that but he has a great amount of respect for the people he’s following, not only the great coaches but everyone that he’s following.
“I think he has such a good plan how to blend the good things about the history of Nebraska and the new things he’s learned since he’s left. Plus, I asked him why he played secondary in the pros and he asked me if I’d ever seen his throwing action.”