As a bit of contrarian strategy, I like Nebraska’s decision to keep Scott Frost. Athletic Director Trev Alberts announced the move Monday with a joint statement.
Is it the right decision? I don’t know. Nobody ever does. Look at the history of coaching hires, not just at Nebraska but everywhere.
Maybe Dabo Swinney happens to be your receivers coach in 2008. Maybe you make him the interim coach after firing the current guy. Maybe you remove the interim tag from Swinney, who had yet to be a coordinator two months earlier, and maybe Pat Forde gives that hire a D-plus.
Maybe you try to do a similar thing at LSU and make Ed Orgeron the interim. He flamed out once at an SEC school and got passed over by USC in a similar spot, but this is his home state. He bleeds purple-and-gold and wins you over. Orgeron wins a national title in year three and you did the Dabo thing!. But 17 games later, he’s fired.
Maybe you reach a verbal agreement with Rich Rodriguez. The family is packing to move until the coach has a change of heart and instead you get Nick Saban, the first guy you tried to hire and the first guy to say no.
There’s no real right or wrong way to do this, just the best that you can. If your best ends up not being good enough, you get judged pretty swiftly.
Just not as swiftly as some thought with Frost at Nebraska. There aren’t many places, particularly those that value football as much as NU does, that would retain a coach with a 15-27 record and no bowl appearances through nearly four seasons. Moving on would’ve been difficult––even for many in the fire-Frost camp given his ties to the program, the optimism of “this is the one” that was omnipresent just 47 months ago––but justifiable.
In today’s college football, coaches who do that don’t get more than four years.
And that’s why Alberts’ decision is fascinating. If almost nobody does it anymore and there are no guarantees that change itself offers a better future, maybe taking the less traveled path offers some advantage.
If nothing else, it offers some variety because the conventional path—make a hire, wait a bit, make another if the last one isn’t working—is often just a circle unless you know you’ve got a Rodriguez (no, wait, a Saban) lined up and ready to take you on a tangential path.
The case for keeping Frost is basically just the chart below and it’s trajectory. That’s Nebraska’s SP+ rating during each week of the Frost era. It hasn’t resulted in anything tangible—more wins, a bowl bid—but as a power rating it’s not really designed for that. SP+, from Bill Connelly of ESPN, isn’t some magic number, but it is built to be predictive. It doesn’t care that Frost is 15-27, which will turn some people off right away. Instead it cares about how Nebraska played in those 42 games and how probable winning in the future is based on the model.
The Huskers wre No. 24 in those rankings last week, rated as 0.1 points worse than Oregon on a neutral field. That’s the visual to go along with “we’re close,” or “the improvement I’ve seen,” which Frost has had to say all the time because, well, it ain’t in the standings.
Now we know he’ll get at least one more chance to change that. If Alberts made the other decision, he probably waits until the end of the year. But this choice needed to come out now. It allows Nebraska to recruit for the rest of this cycle and, perhaps more importantly for 2022, really attack the transfer portal.
Most important: It allows the players to just play for the remaining two games.
Beyond that, it’s up to Frost. We’ll see what happens in the offseason, but based on expected and unexpected departures Nebraska is not going to be one of those offseason darlings. It won’t be a team with everything back, some bad luck in close games and a record far below its actual level of play.
Well, it’ll cover the latter part but that on its own probably won’t outweigh what you’d predict for teams losing as much production, particularly on defense, as Nebraska might lose.
But Alberts said Monday that “Scott has laid out a clear plan and vision for the future.” I trust Alberts’ ability to assess such football matters, given his history, but it’s hard not to be somewhat skeptical.
This 2021 season started with a loss at Illinois and this from the head coach: “The one thing we’ve never gotten around here is the spark. We need to win a couple of close games, string some wins together, get some momentum.”
Instead, Nebraska has lost every game, nine of them, in close fashion this season.
We learned there’s more time to wait now, but what was clear back at the start of the season practically glows now—you can’t just wait.
(UPDATE: Shortly after this column was published, Nebraska announced that assistant coaches Matt Lubick, Greg Austin, Ryan Held and Mario Verduzco––all on offense––have been fired, effective immediately. So, add that to the “can’t wait” discussion.)
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.