In a recent mailbag, a reader asked about the importance of staff continuity and whether or not Scott Frost would be able to keep his assistants in the fold long-term.
In that mailbag, I said that I don’t anticipate many staff changes in the first few years at least. To explain why I feel this way, I thought it would be worth sharing defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s path to Nebraska and his feelings about his head coach. Chinander shared his story during the coaches’ Husker Nation tour across the state last month.
“I grew up in the Midwest, I played college football in the Midwest, I’m happy to be back in the Midwest,” Chinander told nearly 100 fans gathered in a Fremont car dealership. “It’s great to be back where Grandma and Grandpa can see their girls a little closer; they don’t care about me anymore, they just want to see the girls. My wife is Megan and I have two daughters, Sophia and Penelope, and they’re fired up to be in Lincoln, Nebraska, right now. They’re having an unbelievable time moving into our house. My wife’s found a great school for those two girls and they couldn’t be happier. You know what they say, happy wife, happy life, so I’m a happy man right now. She’s got the house set up and I didn’t do one thing.”
Chinander walked on at Iowa and played four season for the Hawkeyes, and upon gradation, immediately began his coaching career at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa. Chinander wore many hats at Ellsworth, coaching both the offensive and defensive lines as well as handling the strength and conditioning for the football team and both the men’s and women’s basketball teams. After one season, he moved on to coach at Northern Iowa.
That is where he met Frost for the first time.
“We lived in a little tiny apartment together for a year,” Chinander said.
After two seasons (2007 and 2008), Frost moved on to Oregon. A year later, Chinander followed, first as an intern and then as a graduate assistant. Chip Kelly took Chinander with him to Philadelphia as an assistant defensive line coach for one season before Chinander returned to Eugene, where Frost had been promoted to offensive coordinator.
In 2016, Frost accepted the head coaching job at Central Florida and brought Chinander along with, naming him defensive coordinator.
“I’ve been interviewing with Scott for a long time because he was an offensive coach at Oregon, I was a defensive coach, so that interview had gone on for a long time,” Chinander said. “I think he picked me because he thought I was the best guy for the job.”
Frost confirmed that sentiment at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. He saw in Chinander something that he sought out when putting together his entire staff.
"[I saw] the same thing I tried to get in all of my coaches," Frost said. "He's an unbelievably intelligent football coach. Intelligent people are able to solve problems and come up with solutions. He's a man of tremendous character.
"If you give me a whole room of guys like that, we're going to find a way to win."
Chinander wasn’t the least bit surprised that Frost got an opportunity to lead his own program. He’d known it was going to happen for years.
“I knew I wanted to be with Coach Frost from the minute I met him,” Chinander said. “I knew he was going to be something. I didn’t know if he was going to be the head coach at [a college program] or if he was going to be the head coach of the Chicago Bears, but I knew he was going to be something.”
The staff’s connection to Frost and their apparent belief in the kind of program they can build at Nebraska has created a pretty strong bond for this staff.
“I think we were lucky enough that we all landed here, in the best job in America,” Chinander said. “I don’t want to go anywhere else. I want to be with him, I want to be with our staff. I think once you get a staff that you want to be with, the combination of a great place, a great job, a great staff and a great head coach, it’s really hard to want to leave that and that’s what we have right here. That’s why he brought everybody with him, that’s why we all chose to come with him. We could have all got our separate ways but we all wanted to be together.
"It’s probably not because of football, it’s because of the way that he treats me, he treats us, he treats our families, the way he treats kids.”
Frost has similar shared histories with most of the coaches on his staff. He even lured a couple of Central Florida alumni with him to Lincoln, allowing him to bring his entire staff to Nebraska.
“When we went to Central Florida, the plan was we were going to blow this whole thing up,” Chinander said. “An 0-12 team, we’ve got to start over, start from scratch. Every single fan, every single alumni, every single ex-player, every single current player Scott met with and they said two guys, Travis Fisher and Sean Beckton, who are both currently on our staff. We talked to [Fisher], Scott talked to him about culture and that kind of thing; I talked to him about the scheme he played, and it was very clear that we needed him on our staff. He’s the best defensive back coach technique guy I’ve ever been around in my career including the NFL.
"We’re lucky to have this guy.”
Fisher was still a relatively young coach with just three seasons of coaching in Orlando under his belt. Beckton was a different story, however. He had spent nearly two decades as a coach at Central Florida, yet Frost was able to establish such a strong connection with him in just two years that Beckton chose Frost over his alma mater. That speaks volumes.
The trust within this staff is a two-way street as well. Nebraska is unquestionably Frost's program, like Central Florida was, but he's not going to micromanage. He hired his assistants for a reason.
"I don't try to invade in what [Chinander] is doing," Frost said in Chicago. "I'm not going to try to have my fingerprints all over that. He'll have us in whatever [formation] he thinks is the best for us to win."
That trust goes a long way with his staff.
“I’m happy to be here, I’m proud to be here and there’s not other place I’d rather be,” Chinander said.
That seems to be the feeling all of Frost’s assistants share. Perhaps someone like offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Troy Walters might get a chance to run his own program in the coming years, and perhaps one or two others might catch the eye of an athletic director elsewhere in the country.
But all indications point to this staff being locked in for the long haul and committed to executing Frost’s vision at the University of Nebraska.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.