With the announced firing of Nebraska football coach Mike Riley on Saturday, the Huskers are officially riding the Coaching Carousel.
There are a handful of rumored candidates for the open position, but none more popular than current Central Florida head coach, and Nebraska alum, Scott Frost.
Frost, a Nebraska native and former Huskers quarterback during the mid 1990s, has led the Knights to an impressive 11-0 record in just his second season. No. 13 UCF also claimed a spot in the American Athletic Conference Championship game with a 49-42 win against No. 22 South Florida on Friday.
In 2015, before Frost took over, UCF finished 0-12. In just a short time, Frost has turned the program around, catching the attention of several schools also in the hunt for a new head coach.
His quick turnaround at UCF along with his years spent as an offensive assistant at Oregon under Chip Kelly make him a prime candidate for not only Nebraska, but others coaching vacancies throughout the college football landscape.
At the surface, Frost seems like the perfect fit for Nebraska, but how have similar hires faired in the past? Are there certain factors on a coach’s resume that bode well for chances of success at their new position?
Using a dataset of all the Power 5 coaching changes from 2007 to 2017, we can take a closer look at Frost’s coaching resume and answer that question.
Frost will be 43 at the start of next season. The average age of Power 5 hires since 2007 is 47.
To increase the sample size, we’ll put Frost in a group of coaches whose age was between 41 and 45 at the start of their first season.
On average, this sample size hasn’t faired well compared to hires that were younger and in some instances older.
Of the 21 coaches whose age was less than 41 at the start of their first season, 14 have a winning record at their new Power 5 school; five of those 14 have a winning percentage at or above .700. Both rates are higher than the previously mentioned sample size of 41 to 45-year-old hires.
These young coaches also had a higher average of at least one finish inside the top five of the final AP poll.
Compared to coaches who were older than 45 at the start of their first season, the sample size including Frost have averaged a higher rate of winning records and winning percentages at or above. 700.
There’s no denying Frost’s age group in this situation of Power 5 hires hasn’t had as much success in recent history.
It’s worth mentioning that Nebraska’s last two national championship coaches didn’t win their titles in their first few seasons.
Bob Devaney was 47 at the start of his first season. He didn’t win a national title until he was 55 in his ninth season. Tom Osborne was a 36-year-old coach in his first season. He didn’t win his first title until he was 57 in his 22nd season.
If Frost ends up being Nebraska’s head coach next season, patience will be key. Conference championships are worthy accomplishments. It’s the first step before national title.
Previous Position: Head Coach
Of the 120 coaches hired at Power 5 schools since 2007, 55 percent were a head coach with their previous team. The other 45 percent were assistants.
One would think, hiring a previous head coach rather than an assistant would mean more success, but the various rates aren’t far apart from each other.
On average, coaches whose previous position was a head coach had a slightly higher rate of a winning record at their new school. So, there’s one positive.
Coaches whose previous position was as an assistant had a higher rate of a winning at least 70 percent of their games, conference and a national titles at their new school.
These numbers show just how odd college football is. Hiring a coach whose previous position was a head coach hasn’t always been the best route.
Prior to taking over at UCF, Frost was an offensive assistant for 10 seasons. However, his recent experience as a head coach may prove helpful, more on that later.
Previous Conference: American Athletic
Since the original Big East Conference became the American Athletic Conference at the start of the 2013 season, five Power 5 schools have turned to its programs for new head coaches.
Frost will more than likely be the sixth. If he ends up at Nebraska, Husker fans better hope he has more early success than the previous five.
Three of the five coaches have a winning record at their new schools, but only one of those, Justin Fuente of Virginia Tech has a winning percentage higher than .700.
None of these five former American Athletic Conference coaches have won a conference title or finished inside the top five of the final AP poll at their new schools.
In fact, recent Power 5 hires that came from Group of 5 schools haven’t had as high a rate of success as coaches who were previously at a Power 5 school.
These previous Power 5 coaches have had a higher rate of winning percentages at or above .700, conference titles, national titles and finishes inside the top five of the final AP poll.
The odds are stacked against Frost from this perspective, regardless of where he ends up.
School Alum: Yes
One of the many attractive aspects of Frost’s coaching resume for Nebraska is that he’s an alumnus.
Fans, and those close to the program, want someone who knows and understands the culture upon which the program was built. Based on the numbers, these types of hires aren’t always the best option.
Fourteen of the 120 Power 5 coaching hires since 2007 have been alumni hires. Six of those 14, less than 50 percent, have gone on to have a winning record. Four of those six have had a winning percentage at or above .700.
When it comes to conference titles, only two, David Shaw of Stanford and Doug Marrone of Syracuse, have accomplished that. Marrone won his in the Big East, which no longer exists as a football conference.
Although these types of hires haven’t been successful on average recently, that trend could soon change with Mark Richt (Miami) and Kirby Smart (Georgia) both putting their respective schools in conference- and national-title contention in just two seasons.
Head Coach Experience: Two seasons
As mentioned earlier, having a few years of experience as a head coach has been slightly better than not having any.
Frost will have two years under his belt at the conclusion of this season, and he might have a conference title to go with it, but that might not necessarily be a good thing.
Since 2007, there have been 22 coaches hired by Power 5 schools with one to three years of experience as a head coach.
Of those 22, 14 have gone on to have a winning record and five of them have won a conference championship. Both of those are higher rates than coaches hired with zero years of experience as a head coach.
Now, about that conference title, if UCF defeats Memphis in the AAC Championship game, it will be Frost’s first conference title as a head coach.
Surprisingly, since 2007, coaches hired by Power 5 schools with at least one conference title as a head coach have a lower rate of having a winning record, winning percentage at or above .700, conference titles and national titles at their new school.
The only aspect they have a higher rate in is finishing inside the top five of the final AP poll.
So, if Frost does lead UCF to a conference championship, good for him. If the Knights lose, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in terms of his future success.
Assistant Conference Titles: Six
Winning conference titles as a coach isn’t new territory for Frost. During his time as an assistant at Oregon and Northern Iowa he won a total of six.
Nineteen coaches hired by Power 5 schools since 2007 won at least six conference titles at their various prior stints. On average, they also had more success at their new schools than those coaches who only won five or less.
Of the nineteen hired coaches, 12 have gone on to post a winning record, four of those with a winning percentage at or above .700.
Former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik is the only one to have won a national title at his new school. He had six conference titles as an assistant, too, just like Frost.
Coaches with five or less conference titles as assistants have a higher rate of winning conference titles as a head coach at their new school.
Regardless, on average, coaches who have racked up the conference titles as assistants have been quite successful.
Previous Winning Percentage: Between .640 and .731
The last aspect we’ll look at on Frost’s coaching resume is his winning percentage as a head coach. With a couple games left to play—assuming he coaches in the bowl game—the lowest mark Frost can drop to is .640. The highest he can reach is .731.
Since 2007, 78 coaches hired by Power 5 schools had head coaching experience. Only 15 of those had a previous winning percentage higher than .731. Twenty-nine of those 78 had a previous winning percentage higher than .640.
Coaches with a previous winning percentage of at least .640 have faired well at their new schools. Nearly two-thirds of the 30 coaches also had a winning record at their new position.
Seven of them went on to win a conference title and two of them, Urban Meyer of Ohio State and Nick Saban of Alabama, went on to win a national title.
Interestingly enough, a higher rate of hired coaches who had a previous winning percentage lower than .640 went on to have a winning percentage at or above .700.
No matter where Frost’s winning percentage at UCF ends up, he’ll still be in the small group of coaches who had that high of a rate.
(Editor's Note: After publication we noticed a small miscalculation in the data. The numbers in this story have been updated as of Nov. 28.)