There was an engineering major in school with a sophomore-level course essentially designed to thin the herd. The professor would tell his students at the beginning of the semester his goal was to make sure the ones passing his class were the ones who actually wanted to be there. His goal was to fail them. Their goal was to make sure he couldn’t.
College tends to have those professors and those majors, no matter where you go. Pre-Law can be like that, to weed out those with dollar signs in their eyes despite not actually wanting to invest the time. Pre-Med can certainly be like that. Not for the faint of heart.
Matt Lubick, son of longtime Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick and new Nebraska offensive coordinator/wideout coach, grew up loving football. It was a way for him to connect with his father through an intensely-demanding profession. “I got to meet a lot of his friends, which were all huge influences in my life, so, yeah, I’ve always had an admiration for it,” the younger Lubick said Monday night during an appearance on the Husker Sports Nightly radio show.
Still, he was Pre-Med in school. The road led to dentistry school.
“But the more and more I thought about it, plus how hard school started getting there at the end, I said, ‘You know what, I want to take a break and coach,’” he recalled.
Lubick’s path is an interesting one. He began in California, coaching defensive backs at Cal State Northridge, and has been coaching at major Division I levels since. Twenty years. He’s coached wideouts at Ole Miss and Duke and Colorado State and Washington and Oregon.
The year away from coaching in 2019 wasn’t too dissimilar from his initial foray into coaching: Lubick needed some time to recharge his batteries, yes, but family back home in Colorado was a tie and the analytical side of his brain saw a business opportunity as too good to turn down.
“I’ve always wondered about doing something different because the balance and just having a little more time to foster relationships,'' he told The Coloradoan in January of 2019 after accepting a job with Canvas Credit Union, a company which had just come to a 15-year agreement with CSU to begin a partnership. Lubick would serve as the director of university relations at a place his father worked.
“This opportunity with Canvas kind of presented itself and that definitely kind of tugged on my heart and seemed like an awesome opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
Do something long enough and there’s going to be burnout. Especially in coaching. You heard the Steven Ensminger story during the CFP National Championship, yes? About the LSU offensive coordinator sleeping at the office Sunday through Wednesday and setting a dedicated family day each week during football season? Coaching can swallow you if you let it.
So Lubick stepped away from a Washington Huskies program where he was the co-offensive coordinator and wide receiver coach.
“It was kind of at a time where I said, ‘Hey, I might need a break’—even though I still loved my job—and it was as simple as that,” Lubick said Monday night. “I just wanted to try something different. Then I got into it, and I enjoyed it and the people were amazing here in town and the company I worked with, but I really missed football. Especially once the season started.
“I still studied a ton of football, watched a ton of games, and felt very fortunate I got a chance to get back into it.”
Nebraska is hoping Act Two for Lubick looks a lot like what his career was building toward when he and head coach Scott Frost first met in Eugene, Oregon.
|WR Rec.||WRs w/ 1 rec/gm||WR YPC||WR TDs||Expl. Pass Plays||Off. SP+||Passing SP+|
|‘10 DUKE||209/295||4||11.9||10/14||41 (t-44th)||23.8 (79th)||98.0 (79th)|
|‘11 DUKE||199/315||5||11.5||10/15||39 (t-57th)||23.1 (90th)||99.4 (69th)|
|‘12 DUKE||236/352||3||12.3||19/27||46 (t-38th)||28.3 (60th)||99.1 (66th)|
|‘13 ORE||174/256||4||15.8||26/32||64 (t-7th)||46.8 (4th)||120.1 (4th)|
|‘14 ORE||178/326||5||15.7||28/44||73 (3rd)||48.1 (1st)||120.3 (3rd)|
|‘15 ORE||172/236||5||10.3||27/33||58 (19th)||46.7 (1st)||120.3 (3rd)|
|‘16 ORE||134/257||5||13.5||15/28||52 (t-28th)||42.5 (6th)||105.0 (39th)|
|‘17 WASH||141/240||5||11.9||9/19||41 (t-60th)||39.4 (8th)||109.4 (21st)|
|‘18 WASH||163/264||5||14.0||11/19||49 (t-36th)||34.5 (34th)||107.8 (27th)|
|‘18 NEB||175/257||4||12.1||15/19||41 (t-65th)||32.7 (42nd)||102.1 (63rd)|
|‘19 NEB||125/194||5||14.7||9/12||52 (t-32nd)||32.2 (41st)||N/A|
A few things to note from the table above:
- In each of his first five years at Duke and Oregon, Lubick’s receiver room saw one wideout gain at least 900 yards and another gain at least 700 yards each season.
- I’m giving Lubick partial credit for Byron Marshall, a listed running back, who in 2014 led the Ducks in receptions (74) and yardage (1003).
- In 2012, while still with the Blue Devils, Lubick’s receiver group saw two men cross the 1,000-yard threshold. Conner Vernon, a senior, had 1,074 yards on 85 receptions and eight scores. A sophomore Jamison Crowder had the same exact yardage and the same number of touchdowns, but on nine fewer receptions.
Lubick’s had receivers drafted at each of the last three schools he’s coached at. Players love him, and he has tailored coaching to what they specifically need.
“Players, they genuinely can figure out if you care about them,” Lubick said. “That takes time, that’s just not going to happen on Day 1. That’s building trust, and you build trust by building relationships and having one-on-one conversations and spending time.”
And that was the part he missed the most when he was away.
“I don’t think there’s anything that’s more important than that,” he said. “The best coaches that I’ve been around are the ones who can connect with their players, not necessarily the smartest, but they can connect.
“It’s something I can’t wait to get started. That’s why I got into the business. The thing I missed the most about coaching is the relationships, that’s the most fun part.”
That process, getting to know his new players and meeting the 2020 class and getting out onto the road recruiting, begins Wednesday for Lubick. He said he’s already started outfitting his closet with red.
Asked why he came back and why it was to Nebraska and why it was now, Lubick had a few reasons. They all seem to come back to the relationship part of the job.
It’s close to home, a six-hour drive he said, calling that little fact the cherry on top. He’s gotten to know the coaching staff Frost has assembled around him in Lincoln and called that group “elite.” He’s also had a fondness for Nebraska for a while. He called Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne “heroes” of his. He’s read their books. When he grew up thinking about football, he thought about Nebraska.
And, maybe most importantly, he already knows Frost, which means he already knows what Frost is going to ask of him.
An outside hire would have brought someone in, a couple months before spring ball, and asked them to master an offensive system that takes a quarterback a full year to even get comfortable in. Lubick knows Frost’s stuff. They ran it together at Oregon.
“That’s a big deal,” he said.
It means Lubick doesn’t have to bury himself in a playbook. He can spend that time, instead, with the team. Lubick will have to learn some of the nuances and tweaks Frost has built in over his last four years as a head coach, but even then, Lubick is somewhat privy to those already.
“As coaches—he would say the same thing—you always try and improve your system and look for ways to enhance it,” Lubick said. “When he left, we’d always compare notes and stayed in touch and basically both of us tried to get better.”
Lubick expects to hit the ground running.
The batteries appear good to go.
Lubick has a reputation as an ace recruiter. From the time he started at Duke in 2010, through the 2015 season at Oregon, offenses Lubick was involved in saw three different receivers gain at least 800 yards, 600 yards and 300 yards each year. He didn’t have that kind of depth in 2016 at Oregon, when the offense shifted, or in his first season at Washington. But, in 2018, Lubick built that room up in a short amount of time. The Huskies got close.
Nebraska has seen a season like that, with that level of production from the wideout spots, only twice since 2010.
Lubick’s goal now is to fatten up the herd.