Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Scott Frost meets with the athletic director Trev Alberts at mid-field before a football game against the Fordham Rams.
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Trev Alberts had a Banner Week for Nebraska, and Other Bye Week Thoughts

November 14, 2021

It’s December 2017 and smiles abound on the third floor of Memorial Stadium. The video board out overlooking the field is illuminated with a message of immediate hope. Tom Osborne is talking about patience. 

“There are going to be tough days,” he told the AP on Dec. 3. “You aren’t going to win every game, and it’s going to take some time to build the culture the way it has to be built. I think the administration has made a long-term commitment to Scott, and Scott has made commitment here.”

Everyone imagined tough days. No one envisioned four increasingly unbearable years. But I keep coming back to that “long-term commitment” bit. Phrases like “long runway” and “five years” were tossed around quite a bit back then. It seemed like there were two distinct camps—those seduced by Scott Frost’s blazing-fast turnaround at Central Florida and those who believed that the timeline at Nebraska had been set back a good half-decade by all the hiring and firing and destabilizing that had taken place. 

That’s not revisionist history, I don’t think anyway; Nebraska was viewed by many as a broken program when Frost inherited it in 2017. Fixing things takes time. Would Nebraska have the stomach for it when seemingly none of its peers do anymore? 

The average openings in the coaching carousel each year over the last decade have been nearly a fifth of the FBS membership. No one gets time. 

But when you’ve been this bad there are plenty of arguments to be made for why you shouldn’t. Fifteen wins in 42 games gets you fired. Ten conference wins in four years gets you fired. No top-25 wins, a 4-15 record in road games, a miserable record in close games, we could go on and on. 

Parker Gabriel from the Lincoln Journal Star looked at the number of coaches to go at least four years with losing records at the same school in the Big Ten. He found eight others since 1990, two of whom were fired at the end of year four, four who were fired after year five, and a seventh who was fired at the end of his sixth season. None of those coaches had winning records at any point. 

“There’s not a lot of empirical data out there to suggest that this will automatically be successful. Let’s be honest,” Athletic Director Trev Alberts told the local newspapers this week. 

But Alberts is willing to wait another year to see if Nebraska can be the exception to the rule. 

Frost will return as the head coach for the 2022 season. It’s fitting because Frost’s Nebraska teams have largely been the exception to the rule to this point. The only thing that makes sense about the way Nebraska has played and lost is that none of it has ever made sense.

Frequent readers of this column know how I feel by this point about the scheme and what Frost is generally trying to do at Nebraska. I think it can work and I think it can work in the Big Ten because it has worked. It has worked and it hasn’t led to enough points or wins. 

And now Frost will get a fifth year to try and reverse his fortunes. He might have a new quarterback. He won’t have nearly as experienced a defense to buoy the team. He’ll have an entirely different offensive coaching staff. And he’ll have a set of what I assume are exceptionally well-defined expectations from a boss that is increasingly looking like a home run for the Nebraska athletic department. 

Weirdness of the timing aside, I choose to interpret the events of this week as another shrewd business move from Alberts. 

In restructuring Frost’s contract, Alberts cut Frost’s buyout in half. 

Frost will make his money back if he hits agreed-upon benchmarks. Nebraska’s 2022 schedule is such that six wins shouldn’t and likely wouldn’t be enough. If Frost earns his money back, the train is back on track. If he doesn’t, the uncertainty that existed this season is stripped away and everyone will know what’s coming down the pipe.

If Frost is truly willing to give up control of the offense—his offense—Alberts has a coach who knows he’s coaching for his life. 

Alberts is testing out patience in an environment that still feels very win-now-y. 

This is a win-win for the Husker athletic director. 

Nebraska would have been drowned out in this coaching market. It’s looking robust. If reports are true and Mel Tucker is staying in East Lansing; if the CFP committee pulls its collective head from its rear and puts Cincinnati in the playoff field; if a name like Jimbo or Lincoln moves surprisingly… There are a number of scenarios where Nebraska looks like the 10th best job. 

Which isn’t to buy into the narrative that Nebraska should retain Frost because it can’t hire anyone else (an absurd claim), but if the name isn’t a known commodity at the Power Five level, that means there’s an inherent level of risk. Coaching hires are a crapshoot. Frost looked like a sure thing and look what has happened. 

Luke Fickell is one thing. If there’s uncertainty attached to any hire, wouldn’t it be easier to save the buyout money and roll the dice on the thing you have, what, 50% more data on for another year?

Of course, the assumption there is you believe that what you’ve seen this season is progress. I do. It would seem Alberts does as well. Frost is getting another year because he’s a fellow “brother,” but it certainly doesn’t hurt that he had chances to beat a top-10 Oklahoma, Michigan State, Michigan, and maybe even Ohio State. If Nebraska gets crushed in any of those games, Alberts can’t extend his coach a lifeline and say it’s out of loyalty. He’d look like a fool. 

But commitment works both ways. Frost kept his job and, in return, he had to take the jobs of four men who all meant a good deal to him. For another roll of the dice, Frost had to commit to change. 

If a new offensive coordinator is calling plays so that Frost can operate as more of a CEO, then he’ll have shown something about how important this job is to him. If a prerequisite for the OC hire is a prior relationship, then change might not be in the cards. If a full-time special teams coordinator shows up in Lincoln, then Frost might finally be embracing ideas that challenge his view of how this whole thing will be done.

Like Frost said this week, “We’ve come so close, in so many games, and it’s hard to think we can keep doing exactly the same things and get over the top.” If he turns those words into actions and this thing turns from “well how the hell did they lose with this box score?” to “now this is what we’ve been waiting for,” then Alberts will have been the one to finally unlock everything. 

It all will have worked. And everyone clearly wants it to work. Nothing wrong with that.

And if it doesn’t, then Alberts has saved money and made absolute, 100% certain. 

Nebraska isn’t accepting mediocrity because it has given Frost another year. 

It just finally has someone who can see the picture a little further out beyond that big video board in North Stadium.

Other thoughts from the week

>> The video essay on Husker defensive lineman Damian Jackson that ESPN did during College GameDay this weekend was moving. It’s worth a watch if you missed it. 

>> No one in the Big Ten West makes any sense. Iowa doesn’t have an offensive coordinator that does good offensive coordinator things. Minnesota is bipolar but also has a billion quality running backs. Wisconsin went through all that at the beginning of the season just to end up in pole position of the divisional title race in November. (And Braelon Allen looks terrifying.)

>> Oklahoma State is the best team no one is talking about. 

The above is not provided to say the Cowboys are better or more deserving of anything that the Buckeyes—that’d be crazy, I watched the Purdue game—rather to say the Cowboys should probably start getting some attention. 

A three-point loss to Iowa State on the road, their only loss this year, has lit a fire under coach Mike Grundy and the rest of the team. The Pokes might have one of the best defenses in the country. The offense has found its groove. OSU has outscored its opponents 142-23 in the last three weeks. If they beat Oklahoma in Bedlam, Oklahoma State has as good a case for a playoff spot as anyone. 

>> Take some time and go look at the start to the season for Nebraska women’s basketball. In particular, Jaz Shelley has been wonderful. 

The Oregon transfer figured to be a difference-maker for coach Amy Williams but her inclusion into the starting lineup has given this Husker squad some serious punch. 

The lines so far for Shelley: 

  • Maine (W): 8 points (3-3 FG, 2-2 3P), 5 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals
  • Prairie View (W): 22 points (8-12 FG, 6-9 3P), 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals
  • A&M (W): 8 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 1 block

Add in Issie Bourne’s continued development, Sam Haiby’s general greatness, and a deep, multi-faceted bench and this Nebraska side looks incredibly intriguing to start the year.

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