Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

On Frost’s Overblown Comments, Lum’s Inspirational Role, and the Blitz’s Reception

June 20, 2021

How about a hodgepodge Sunday column rather than one continuous flow. 

The portal

This I’ll keep short because it’s a rather insignificant situation in the grand scheme of things. 

Coaches don’t like the portal. That’s fine. They had control before its existence and its expansion has eroded that control. It’s natural to not like that. At Frost’s Kearney stop during this week’s Big Red Blitz tour, Frost said the following when asked about the portal: 

“There’s no question it’s going to be risky to put your name in the portal. … At one point, there (were) 1,100 kids in the portal. There’s only 120-some Division I schools in the country, so there could be a lot of kids left without a seat, metaphorically, when the music stops. The other dangerous part is graduation rates go way, way down when you leave one school to go to another. We had one leave that’s already left eh place he’s going and headed to another place. And that’s the biggest thing, I think, that’s going to get hurt. Kids don’t get their college education because they’re moving around, trying to chase a little better situation from a football perspective. 

“That affects their life. I don’t think the pendulum will swing back, though, because every kid who leaves a program thinks they’re going straight to Nebraska or Alabama. And the reality is most of them aren’t. We’ve had some leave that have wound up in places that, I guess the right way to say it, is Nebraska’s a way better place and would have been a way better place for them and they end up in, in my opinion, lesser places. But every kid thinks they’re going to get the same interest or more than they got coming out of high school, and it just isn’t true. 

“So, a lot of those kids are getting bad advice, bad leadership from other places. Buckle up because this isn’t the last time you’re going to see all this stuff happen. It’s going to keep happening.”

OK. Lots of things can be true at the same time. 

  • First: Frost didn’t say anything malicious.
  • Sharing Frost’s comments was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It’s always relevant when a major coach critiques something as critical to the fabric of today’s football ecosystem as the portal. 
  • McCaffrey’s brothers who came to his defense—Christian and Max—were justifiable in doing so. Defend your brother if you feel he’s being slighted. I’ve done the same. Anyone with a sibling has.
  • McCaffrey’s brothers—particularly Christian, with his nationwide following—unnecessarily poured lighter fluid on a toothless comment and made it a larger issue than it needed to be. Christian didn’t tweet about Louisville coach Scott Satterfield’s comments, which seems strange, and coincidentally they’ve made small waves in relation to what Frost said. Weird.
  • Frost was not wrong in saying some kids are getting bad advice about the portal. If there are nearly 10 kids for every school and tight spots all around while high school seniors are still part of the equation, not everyone is going to end up where they think they deserve to be.
  • Commenting on the quality of the schools your former players are transferring to is a little cringe-worthy. If Frost cares about the quality of the degree they’re getting, that’s one thing, but saying “Nebraska is a better place than where guys ended up”—however true it might be from a football resource standpoint—creates entirely avoidable drama and hard feelings. 
  • Nebraska should consider toning down the portal talk in general. Nothing positive comes from energy spent on players who have decided they don’t want to be part of your program. Enough “we’re focused on the guys we have here” responses will eventually keep those questions from getting asked.
  • Finally: A program that has added a starter via the transfer portal in three straight years—as many as four this year—and is being coached by a former player who transferred during his playing career is going to invite digs and attention when it speaks critically about the outgoing part of the portal. It can’t be a positive tool for building depth and also a problem. Is that fair to Frost that he has to essentially filter every thought he shares in public? Not really, but part of that just comes with the terrain and at this point Nebraska should know it has a magnifying glass over every word it says. Again, that’s not fair to the program, but it doesn’t have to be fair and the Huskers don’t have to like it for that to still be their reality. I appreciate Frost’s candor still, and he does take more flak than he deserves, but this is Nebraska’s reality until it wins more football games.

A quaint experience

I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Big Red Blitz. Portal controversy aside, it was low-key in a nice way. Particularly in Columbus, one incredibly friendly and excited fan told me how appreciative she was to get to see head women’s basketball coach Amy Williams. 

Before the event, Williams signed autographs and mingled while quarterback coach Mario Verduzco was able to rest, unencumbered, on a nearby bench. After brief appearances up on a stage, the three coaches in attendance (defensive coordinator Erik Chinander) got to mingle with fans for quite a while. 

The event was outside, so covid protocols were rather relaxed. And it was smaller, which was true for most of the events across the state, but I don’t think that’s an indicator of Husker athletics interest for the upcoming fall season and I didn’t think that was an issue. 

We’ll get big crowds back in Nebraska soon enough. One of the key talking points among everyone who toured the state was that Nebraska expects full capacity for fall sporting events. But for this summer pit-stop, it was a nice reminder of something quite important we lost last year: intentional interaction with people you care about.

I appreciate Nebraska for valuing those interactions, and Nebraska’s various coaches for trekking across the state to have them again.

Representation

Anthony Mackie—Captain America for the uninitiated, including my editor—recently did an interview where he was asked if there was anything that had been said to him since The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiered that resonated with him. 

He passed along a story that a friend of his, a teacher who works with special needs children, had shared with him. The teacher found one of her students doing pull-ups on a set of monkey bars on the school’s playground. When she asked him what he was doing, the young boy responded back with “Well, Captain America looks like me now, so I need to get in shape if he needs my help.”

Representation matters. 

It matters at all levels, and those stories are everywhere. 

If you haven’t read Erin Sorensen’s new piece, there’s another in there. 

Nebraska basketball coach Fred Hoiberg essentially created a new position on his staff to hire Shannan Lum from Cal recently. She’s the program’s new recruiting coordinator. Whereas assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih used to head up Nebraska’s transfer recruiting efforts, that focus now belongs to Lum, who will oversee NU’s recruiting efforts and help with scouting. 

Lum is currently one of two women to hold the recruiting coordinator position at a high-major men’s basketball program and the first of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) descent. Women have methodically been breaking into high-level men’s basketball. Doris Burke is a legend broadcasting NBA games. San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon should soon be a head coach. Lum and Nebraska are breaking ground at the college ranks. 

No doubt, Lum will be approached this season with a story similar to Mackie’s. Some young girl will see her and say “I can do that.”

In speaking with Hail Varsity, Lum said something that even I resonated with.

“I’m hoping I can pave a way for the managers in the world or for the non-athletes in the world because there’s a lot of us out there that they don’t always get the chance and sometimes they need someone to show them that they can do it,” Lum said. “I’m trying to be that person that I have no ties to the NBA, I have no ties to college basketball. I’m just the most random individual in the world, but it’s possible. It’s very possible.”

As someone whose athleticism rivals that of Michael Scott trying to parkour his way around the office, someone trying to build a career in a space where former athlete immediately have more credibility, that’s a cool thing to hear. 

For Lum, she seems the perfect kind of person to look up to.

“I think as a young woman who is, as people were saying, breaking barriers, you have to be around people that are willing to be OK with that because for a little while, that’s what people will want to talk about,” Lum said. “It shouldn’t be—I hope it becomes the norm for women to be in roles like these—but I understand why it is at the time.”

For us to reach that place, we need people like Lum. I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do; Nebraska’s recruiting team looks incredibly strong. 

We also need people like Hoiberg. Right now, those doors have to be opened from the inside more often than not. Hoiberg continues to show a willingness to kick those doors open, and show that his program is about the right things. 

One NBA thought

We are all Phoenix Suns fans now. Go Jacob go. 

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