What happens when you get everything you want? Literature is full of cautionary tales about this very circumstance, and Husker fans can be forgiven for not caring about those stories at all at the moment.
The storybook arrival of Scott Frost, coming on the heels of Central Florida's epic double-overtime win in the AAC championship game, is the narrative for now. Nebraska got the guy it wanted. Maybe the guy it had to get. The pool of candidates who grew up in the state, won a national title at the state’s flagship university, emerged as the hottest young coach on the market and once called Nebraska a “dream job” is a group of exactly one.
If he doesn’t want the job, or Nebraska doesn’t get him, you wonder if there’s still a place for the Husker football of old in this modern world. Frost’s arrival, with his ultra-modern offense built on the great concepts that came before him, says that he, at least, believes there is.
If this all sounds like hyperbole to you, I share your natural reluctance to make too much of things. But Frost makes it hard. It’s almost the stuff of folklore.
Frost’s father, Larry, is a former Husker and coached his son at Wood River High School. His mother, Carol, did too. That was after a stint as Nebraska’s track coach, which was after an international track career that saw her represent the United States in the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City. In an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star in September of 1992, at which point Frost was well on his way to becoming one of the top prep quarterbacks in the country, Carol said this: “We have the 40 times every six months from about the time he was 2 years old.”
The joke here is that I don’t know if she was joking or not. It's absurd but plausible. Frost’s younger years were like that.
And when he took all of that promise to Stanford to learn under Bill Walsh rather than accept his birthright as a Husker and the tutelage of Tom Osborne, it didn’t go over well.
“Could you tell me again how thrilled I am supposed to be about Scott Frost coming to NU? Should I be making reservations for his Heisman Trophy dinner,” one Husker fan wrote to the local paper in 1995, days after Frost had transferred to Nebraska.
Now the decision to learn from Walsh – and then Osborne and then Bill Parcells and on and on; Frost would play for or coach with 33 FBS or NFL head coaches during his climb up the football ladder – is part of the appeal. The folklore of early on developed into a professional curriculum heavy on the football classics.
That’s what arrives in Lincoln this weekend, and it required an almost implausible series of events to break just right. Sources have told me over the years that Frost was disappointed he didn’t get a look for Nebraska’s top job when it opened following the 2014 season. Frost, a finalist for the Broyles Award that season, was coming off his best year as Oregon’s offensive coordinator, but then Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst never called. Frost didn’t forget.
When Eichorst was fired in September, it cleared one potential roadblock. But Nebraska still had Eichorst’s hand-selected head coach. Mike Riley didn’t enter 2017 on the hot seat. He was coming off a 9-4 second season. Recruiting was trending up. The Huskers had lured a former Broyles Award winner, Bob Diaco, to Lincoln to revamp the defense. The archetypal pro-style quarterback was here to pilot the offense.
And then that all fell apart, too. Big losses in Big Ten play cleared the way for new Athletic Director Bill Moos. But what would it have taken to change that? Two more wins? Three more? Hard to say for sure, but the way the 2017 season unfolded made the decision to be made evident even if it’s never easy.
The last piece was Moos. He’s been around the block as an AD, but he’s a football guy through and through. More than most ADs, he has his own ideas on what will work on the gridiron. He touted “the list” of coaching candidates he keeps in his top drawer at his first press conference. All ADs have the list, but, whatever names were on it, public clamoring plus UCF’s undefeated season multiplied by Frost’s Nebraska roots made it effectively a list of one. While it was there for everyone to see, Moos had to reach that determination on his own. It will be a story best told in full once all the details emerge, but for now it’s just another potential hurdle cleared.
With all that hard work already done, now the real labor can begin. The post-Devaney Nebraska football program may have bottomed out in 2017. Big-time football programs rarely go away forever, but Nebraska felt as close to that fate this season as it ever had. The climb back starts with a cultural overhaul. The recruiting challenges, while not an impediment to winning at the level Husker fans have come to expect, are still challenges other peer programs don’t have. Nebraska needs to find an advantage that goes beyond simply being Nebraska. The last decade has shown a shared history with Tom Osborne and some of the greatest teams the sport has ever seen isn’t enough.
So, yes, there’s a little irony in the fact that the man charged with building the new culture and finding the new path in recruiting and engineering the new advantages, is the one with the clearest view of just how big those challenges are at the moment, the one with the shared history with Osborne and some of the greatest teams the sport has ever seen.
It would be hard to believe if it wasn’t such a good story.
Now a new one begins.
What happens when you get everything you want? Frost and Nebraska fans are about to find out.