Nebraska’s loss last Saturday was of the attention-grabbing variety. Most national college football writers felt compelled to weigh in – Pat Forde, Stewart Mandel, Andy Staples, et al – but now we’ve even heard from a well-known national sports columnist who can tackle any topic he wants.
John Feinstein chose the state of the Huskers as that topic for a recent column in the the Washington Post.
It’s a well-done column, using the fact that Rutgers and Nebraska are playing a conference game this Saturday to underscore just how much college football has changed since Nebraska’s glory years. Husker fans won’t really need the recap of the past 20 years, but it’s elegantly constructed and Tom Shatel of the Omaha World Herald provides the local color for Feinstein.
This passage packed the most punch:
Nebraska certainly isn’t the only dynastic school to fall from grace: Penn State, Southern Cal, Notre Dame, Texas, Miami, Michigan and Florida State have all gone through down cycles at some point in the last 20 years. Even Alabama, before Nick Saban’s arrival, had some seriously mediocre seasons.
“What you find out,” Shatel said, “is that it’s not about the school, it’s about the coach. What people in Nebraska know now for sure is that Tom Osborne was that good a coach.”
Or maybe it’s just the passage that confirmed my already existing view of things because I, too, have been saying for years that it’s about the coach.
Nebraska’s not the one proving the point. Plenty of others have in the past. The Huskers are just the team proving the point right now, and sometimes that gets you in the Washington Post.
Central Florida, thanks to hurricane-influenced logistics, will play just its second game of the 2017 season this weekend. It’s an intriguing one as the Golden Knights take their power-spread offense to Maryland to face a Terrapins team that does some similar things and can gain yards in chunks.
I suspect Nebraska fans will be keeping a close eye on UCF going forward. No matter where you’re at on the things-gotta-change scale regarding the current staff, Scott Frost, former Husker and up-and-coming coach that he is, will always be viewed as a popular candidate to be Nebraska’s next coach. It’s just a matter of when “next” gets here.
With the Huskers at 1-2, “next” feels nearer than it did three weeks ago. Close enough that Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi used his column inches recently to ask why Frost would even want the Nebraska job.
This is why I’m betting Frost is rooting harder than anyone for Riley to succeed and keep his job. Let’s face it, if his beloved ’Huskers came after him, it would be hard for him to turn them down. As Alabama alumnus Bear Bryant replied when asked why he left Texas A&M for the Crimson Tide in 1958, “Momma called. And when Momma calls, you just have to come runnin'.”
But Frost is one of the smartest coaches I know. If he takes the job at Nebraska, a passionate fan base that has sold out every home game the past 55 years will expect him to duplicate the success of Osborne — his mentor. This, of course, will be impossible. After all, there’s a reason Nebraska hasn’t won a conference title in nearly 20 years.
Frost’s best career move would be to stay at UCF, continue to implement his explosive offense and build the program into a consistently big winner. If he does that then he could leave UCF for a much better job than Nebraska.
Any time these kind of conversations come up, I always find myself thinking that “the Nebraska job” is misrepresented, and that’s a two-way street. I don’t think the job is as good as most ardent Husker supporters think it is, but it also isn’t as bad as most outside sources view it either. To me it’s pretty simple: It’s a top-25 job with top-10 expectations.
Yes, there’s a little dissonance there, but that can be useful. Whenever Nebraska has to hire its next coach – and that still might be years from now – that should be something of a guide. The Huskers probably need to find a top-25 coach who has shown the ability to maximize his resources. If you’re taking honest stock of the job, it should be apparent that the coach is going to have to take all of the advantages Nebraska already has and still engineer some new ones.
Is Frost that kind of candidate? I don’t know yet. He’s coached all of 14 games. If not for the Nebraska link, he’d just be another name on a rising-coach list. I don’t tend to put a lot of stock in familiarity. It doesn’t matter to me if a prospective coach ever had a Lincoln zip code.
If I were making hires, I’d look for a history of winning . . . something. Nebraska’s last four hires had zero conference titles to their names when hired. Frank Solich was able to get one (that feels a little residual in retrospect), but the other three remain 0-for-Nebraska.
I’m not convinced that’s a coincidence.
The Grab Bag
- A 4-star wide receiver/tight end had to change his visit plans this weekend. Instead of Lincoln, he's heading to Arizona State.
- Catching up with former Husker Zach Hannon, who is playing his senior season at Kansas.
- According to the Associated Press, targeting calls are up 73 percent through three weeks this season compared to the same point last year.
- Barrett Sallee of CBSSports.com lists the five most underrated coaches in America.
Today's Song of Today
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.