Back in July, Barrett Ruud decided to sell his house in Lincoln and look for one in Orlando. Closer to work, he thought of a job none of Central Florida’s staff was expecting to leave. Ruud was a quality control administrator with the Knights and head coach Scott Frost, but he didn’t really have plans of going anywhere.
Fast forward to now, Ruud is back in Lincoln, living with his father for the time being as he looks for a new home. Erik Chinander — then the defensive coordinator for the Knights, now the same for the Huskers — didn’t know Ruud when the team hired him in Orlando, but Frost did and as Chinander put it, “You’re the boss, you hire whoever you want.” When Frost left the Knights for Nebraska, everyone followed.
“I mean, you look at it and every single person came to Nebraska, that just doesn’t happen very often,” running backs coach Ryan Held said. “He took us all from UCF, didn’t leave any of us on the island and so many times these coaches leave for bigger jobs and leave four or five guys because they can find better people, not this guy right here.”
That includes UCF lifer Sean Beckton, who spent 19 years as a coach at his alma mater. That also includes Travis Fisher, who was the one defensive holdover on the Central Florida staff when Frost arrived in 2016.
They came because they believe. They believe in Frost and they believe in each other.
“We had to take over UCF, 0-12, and you learned a lot year one,” Held said. “We grew together and what were our mistakes and we figured those things out and so we were better year two.”
It’s a familiarity with one another that made such a huge difference in the staff’s transition from Orlando to Lincoln, because the move was not an easy one. Over the course of the last two months, this Husker coaching staff raised a recruiting class that sat among the worst of Power Five schools into the top 25 all the while preparing another team for a New Year's Six bowl game against an elite opponent.
“The job that they have done in the last two months, I don’t know if it has ever been done in college football and I don’t know if it will be done again,” Frost said during his signing day press conference. “You don’t see anybody that takes another job and goes back and coaches another game. In fact, a lot of the bowl games that went on, the teams that lost coaches got whipped in their bowl game. Our guys, to a man, wanted to go back and help those kids in Florida win a football game. Then, to win it was pretty special.
“To do all that while taking a class that was ranked, not that I pay attention, 94th or something like that up to a top-25 or 20 class . . . it’s unprecedented what these guys have done.”
If the group didn’t know each other, if Frost was working with one set of coaches in Florida and throwing together a bunch of new faces that have never spent a day of their lives together in Nebraska, the results might have been different. The transition might have been rockier.
“When we got up here basically we just moved areas and now you know what you’re looking for, where our issues are and that really helped us,” Held said. “Really, we didn’t miss a beat. Everybody knows each other and how everybody is and our communication is really good.”
Last week — with the assistants spread across the state meeting eager Husker fans, a way for Frost to introduce his family — Chinander and Held told stories about the staff to folks in Grand Island. Held talked up the newest Nebraska offensive coordinator, Troy Walters. Chinander said Jovan Dewitt, Nebraska’s outside linebackers and special teams coach, turned down a six-figure salary from NASA to coach football.
“He turned down like a $150,000 job building rockets to go work at Garden City Community College, to work for 10 cents and a roadmap and an apple,” Chinander said.
Dewitt’s first stop was at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas but you get the point. This staff is tight. The benefits of that have already shown. It’s a safe bet to say they will continue to show.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.