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The True Cost of Nebraska Head Coach Scott Frost

Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire

If you pay attention to any Nebraska sports media or message board chatter, you’d think Mike Riley has already been relieved of his duties as Nebraska head football coach and Scott Frost will be returning to his alma mater. Amazingly, the Huskers will still be led by Riley this Friday when they take on Illinois. Still, the prospect of Frost leading the Huskers as the head coach has plenty of people excited — understandably so.

Some of the most recognized national college football writers like Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman are already setting up the “Prodigal Son” storyline. Frost’s return would surely have fans in a frenzy, especially if he was chosen by an athletic director who is a native son as well, such as Trev Alberts or Dave Rimington if the interim portion of his current title is removed. If Tom Osborne gave his blessing, that’s icing on the cake.

While that may be an exciting prospect, it would ultimately cost Nebraska football far more than the several million dollars required to buy out Riley’s contract. Let’s take a look at the ultimate price the Huskers would pay if the Big Red brass makes this move.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the football program — recruiting — would take a tremendous hit immediately. Keyshawn Johnson, Sr. has made no bones about why he showed his son what Nebraska has to offer. It was because of Riley. Johnson has ushered other recruits to Lincoln for the same reason.

Nebraska’s sudden emphasis on West Coast recruiting (The Calibraska Movement) caused notable members of the current roster such as quarterbacks Patrick O’Brien and Tristan Gebbia, wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey, and defensive backs Lamar Jackson and Marquel Dismuke to settle in the Cornhusker State. All of those 4-star recruits were brought in under Riley’s watch.

Currently committed prospects such as Chase Williams and Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles also hail from the Golden State. Every major school in college football wants Bookie. He was a silent commitment for a year after he attended a summer camp at Nebraska as a junior and took an immense shine to both Riley and his wife, Dee.

The Calibraska movement that frustrates Pac-12 coaches, Keyshawn Sr.’s influence (he wears Nebraska gear at every opportunity), the expansion of the Nebraska recruiting footprint — all of it is dead on arrival the very moment Riley is fired. I know what you might be thinking. Forget California, Nebraska can turn to Texas. Devine Ozigbo, Brendan Jaimes and Damien Daniels are all quality names, right?

Nebraska hasn’t often visited the Lone Star State lately. Building bridges again will be insanely difficult. Nearly every Division I school in the state has improved to at least some degree and brought on talented young recruiters who handle every aspect of social media as easily as you blink.

Oklahoma, maybe? The current Nos. 3 and 15 teams in the country reside there. Lincoln Riley’s Sooners won’t be going anywhere for a while thanks to Bob Stoops’ recruits, let alone the ones Riley brings in. Mike Gundy has the Cowboys rolling, having posted 10-3 records over the past two years while opening this season 3-1 with a lone loss being to No. 16 TCU.

The Huskers will battle most of their Big Ten brethren in the Rust Belt. Recruiting in SEC territory, well…you know how that goes.

Let’s say that Frost embraces the grind necessary to recruit to Lincoln despite all that adversity. I put this question out to the Twitterverse — I am truly curious: What is Scott Frost’s 5-star pitch? Not five-heart. What can he tell the best prospects in the country to get them to come to Lincoln? Nobody even offered an attempt.

Part of recruiting is the staff Frost would surround himself with. Would he bring a good chunk of his current roster as Riley did when he made the move, or would he get a blank check to either keep Nebraska’s best or bring in others that are on their level, if not above?

If recruiting and putting together a staff isn’t hard enough, the transition year appears to be a bloodbath. Scott Frost’s Nebraska team wouldn’t feature the triple option and Power I as in so many dreams.

The offense would likely be a combination of what he guided at Oregon combined with a steady run game. He needs mobile quarterbacks for that to work, though. He wouldn’t have one on his depth chart barring a miracle during his transition recruiting class.

As a result, he has two choices. He can either run an offense that would mesh his and Riley’s to make the best use of his remaining offensive personnel’s talents — as his predecessor did with Tommy Armstrong and Co. — or he could try the “square peg-round hole” approach Bill Callahan did. Put good money on the former.

No matter what offense or defense he decides to put on the field, his team will be facing one of the most difficult schedules Nebraska has seen in a long time in year one at the helm. Road trips to Michigan (the Big Ten opener), Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State and Iowa line the slate. Colorado and Michigan State both visit Lincoln.

Frost’s first year would be hyped more than Tanner Lee was this past offseason (ironically or not), and he would be expected to navigate that deathtrap of a schedule with a respectable record. What will the people who clamored for the 1997 national championship-winning quarterback do if he loses more games than Riley did in his first year?

Well, they will probably point to his lack of experience and say he needs time to learn, get his recruits, etc. But if he’s so unprepared, why would Nebraska hire him in the first place?

Nebraska’s image cannot afford to take another beating for the sake of a coach learning on the job. This wouldn’t be like the Bo Pelini era, either. With the best recruits of the 2018 class bailing and signing elsewhere in December or February, Frost is left with only two full classes of recruits from Riley, essentially two-and-a-half total.

Husker fans would no doubt be thrilled to have Frost as their next head coach when the time comes to choose one. However, if Riley is fired this season and Frost is lured away from UCF after only two years, many Big Red fans either don’t understand that he’ll be in a situation where the deck is immediately stacked against him or simply don’t care. To them, he will somehow prevail.

Then we have to ask ourselves what happens when Nebraska fans finally turn on him. It may take four years, five, seven, or maybe even a decade, but it will happen. In that scenario, Nebraska football will be in a far worse state than today.

Does that sound like a good return on investment?

To comment or keep up with the author, follow Brandon on Twitter at @eightlaces

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. John Fahrer (@JLFCASH)

    September 28, 2017 at 9:58 AM

    Too many simpletons fan base thinks the problem is a current staff not understanding Nebraska (don’t get why considering they’ve embraced the program and said and did the right things from day one). The problem is too many vocal simpletons in this fanbase don’t understand the situation or football in general. They watch no other football besides their own and believe in the myth that you don’t need stud players to win.

  2. John Rundstrom

    September 28, 2017 at 10:37 AM

    Keep Riley and bring in Frost when he is ready to work with Riley

  3. Phil

    September 28, 2017 at 11:24 AM

    The one thing he could bring with him is any recruiting ties he has down in Florida, better athletes down there than Cali anyway.

    • Brandon Cavanaugh

      September 28, 2017 at 11:51 AM

      Well Phil, that’s debatable. Technically true as Florida has put out a whopping 27 more blue chips over the past five cycles (https://www.sbnation.com/college-football-recruiting/2016/6/28/12040586/rankings-state-stars-florida-texas-california), but still debatable.

      Besides, between recruiting SEC country or PAC-12 country – both of which have programs that pay – which do you think Nebraska would recruit better in? Take into account that elite prospects will remember Frost’s name from his time at Oregon and there will be plenty to negatively recruit against him with for any opposing coach.

  4. PJH

    September 28, 2017 at 11:57 AM

    Not saying that Nebraska should hire Frost now, but this article doesn’t even make sense. It’s full of assumptions and no substance at all.

    How do you know that Riley is a better recruiter than Frost and that Frost wouldn’t be able to recruit Cali (he has relationships there from time at Oregon and he has in-roads in FL now)?

    How do you know that Frost would take a square peg, round hole approach with his scheme?

    How do you know that current recruits wouldn’t stick with Frost if the move was made?

    What makes you think that Riley has a better closing pitch for top talent than Frost? It’s not like Riley was putting together all-star talent at OSU. His best talent was either leftover from Erickson or came via JUCO transfer.

    How do you figure that the programs in Texas are so strong now (Baylor is in shambles, Texas hasn’t been good for a decade, and Houston isn’t great anymore. TCU and A&M are all they have)?

    Only point I agree on is that next year’s schedule is murderers row for any coach, regardless of who is calling the shots.

  5. Kevin

    September 28, 2017 at 12:19 PM

    No way no how is Frost the answer…….yet. He is not a splash hire that brings the calloused tenure to an already fractured program. The answer is we have a coach. A coach who cares about his job and not afraid to make changes.our recruiting tentacles have spread much wider and very positive results are proven. Trust me when I say we have a good football coach who will turn this program around. He needs a total of 4 complete years to show what he can accomplish. So far he has 2 complete seasons and just started his 3rd. Be careful…..very careful about what you wish for.

  6. Joe ddd

    September 28, 2017 at 12:34 PM

    Why would Frost want all of that pressure? Be honest, where do players want to play–Lincoln or Orlando? Nebraska a better job today – not so sure in five years. UCF has the 2nd highest enrollment in country (between Arizona State and Ohio State) and Frost has a “blank check” to build the program as he see’s fit. Not so sure it’s the “slam dunk” that everyone thinks….

  7. John

    September 28, 2017 at 12:57 PM

    It’s too bad Brandon didn’t write this article to save NU from hiring Riley in the first place. But the damage is done, and now the question is what to do post Riley.

    Unfortunately, our baffoon of an ex-athletic director tried to fit a square peg into a round hole by transitioning NU back into a west coast offense. An offense that has already failed at Nebraska and is undoubtedly failing again. Brandon is correct to note that we are not primed to transition back into a spread/run first offense.

    However, Brandon has failed to report on the obvious upsides of a Frost hire.

    1. Enthusiasm. Frost has the potential to inspire a fan base that is teetering on the breaking point of apathy. Perhaps more than anything, NU needs hope. Frost checks this box better than anyone.

    2. Extended leash. Brandon is right to note that fans will likely give Frost more leeway than they have Riley, but this is more due to the state of the programs that each coach will respectively inherit. Riley took a consistent 9 win program and flopped to five wins in year one (two losses which were the sole product of poor coaching). Frost will likely inherit a 4 to 7 win team, and thus the need to win immediately will be less than what Riley faced.

    3. Potential. While Frost is an unproven recruiter, it is also worth noting that his upside in recruiting is more than just speculation. In his first year coaching UCF, Frost hauled in the top recruiting class in his conference. It’s not practical to believe he could do this in the B1G in year one, but don’t undersell his recruiting prowess. And if Brandon is worried about Frost’s selling points at NU, Brandon clearly hasn’t thought through how Frost bested his peers at UCF–a winless program before his arrival.

    4. Good coaching is good coaching. Time and time again, college football proves that the best of coaches can win with the teams they inherit. John Harbaugh, 5 wins to 10. Urban Meyer, 6 losses to 0. Nick Saban, two years to rebuild the best program in college football. The list goes on, but the point is a good coach takes players and makes them better–something Nebraska hasn’t seen in years.

    GBR

    • brandoncavanaugh

      September 28, 2017 at 5:15 PM

      John,

      Eichorst wasn’t looking for a coach that ran the WCO. If he was, he didn’t do a good job in hiring Riley as his philosophy is far more balanced than a pass-preferred WCO.

      Frost may inspire hope, but as I pointed out, what happens when hope just isn’t enough? A more interesting question is how quickly does that point come?

      That leads into your second point of an extended leash. Bo got one for being a “Nebraska guy” for a single year. Can you imagine the leeway fans would give Frost if he put up a good number of wins? Now, you say the need to win immediately will be less than Riley faced. I have to disagree with you there.

      Frost would be looked at as Insta-Win by many fans. The prodigal son returning hope to fix all ills and when he wouldn’t right off the bat, there would be disappointment. That said, disappointment doesn’t necessarily turn into torches and pitchforks, but the masses will want to see wins now.

      Bo Pelini had potential or so we thought/heard. Why must Nebraska turn to another coach that would be learning on the job? Heck, at least Pelini came from a P5 SEC team that won a national championship. A head coach that comes from the AAC that will have a .500 bowl record at best doesn’t strike me as exciting.

      In terms of Frost’s selling points, I’ve yet to hear a five-star pitch. Do you have one?

      Good coaching IS good coaching, however JIM Harbaugh (John’s still with the Ravens these days) was gifted a roster by Brady Hoke that would see 12 members selected in the 2017 NFL Draft. Hoke was a lot like Bill Callahan. Couldn’t coach well, but damn if he couldn’t recruit.

      I’m not sure where you’re getting your numbers on Urban as he’s never fielded a team that’s won less than eight. Nick Saban, well…(https://crossoverreport.com/2017/01/28/alabama-football-players-are-driving-really-really-nice-cars-nowadays/) and that’s the tip of the iceberg.

      • Steve

        September 29, 2017 at 8:32 AM

        Fine, I’ll play. First off, Mom! Your son will graduate. Nebraska has all the tools to make your son successfull. Second, Dad! Your son will be there for NFL scouts. is a great coach that knows what it takes to be a successfull [Note: sounds familiar, right] Third, [Player Name] We have won almost everywhere I have been. We won at Stanford with Bill Walsh. We won a National Championship at Nebraska with Tom Osborne. We won 4 Conference titles at Oregon. I’ve worked with Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, and Chip Kelly. I try to surround myself with winners. That’s why I want you to come to Nebraska.

        Not bad, huh?

        Before you start talking negative recruiting as a response to this, I refer you to Brian Ferentz and the “What linemen have they put in the NFL”, quotes. On the bright side, now when you go on the radio today you can’t say NO ONE responded. Your welcome.

  8. Drew

    September 28, 2017 at 3:07 PM

    The only thing your article doesn’t talk about is what if Frost is successful. Toughness, discipline and edge is all something he brings and all that we are lacking. I’m not saying Frost is the answer but your article painted only a picture of failure. I think the intangibles he brings would lead to success. Even with the current players.

    • brandoncavanaugh

      September 28, 2017 at 5:17 PM

      Drew,

      When I see or hear any evidence that makes me think Frost will be successful at Nebraska, I will write about it.

      • Tony Chapman

        September 28, 2017 at 10:45 PM

        What evidence do you have that Riley will be successful?

  9. Al Parish

    September 28, 2017 at 3:28 PM

    Assumptions and speculation aside, with all of the star recruits Riley has managed to attract, he doesn’t seem able to put the performance on the field. How much time do you give him? With anyone at the helm will Nebraska ever be..ah..Nebraska again? Riley, obviously the anti-Bo, when hired was never the fit to bring Nebraska back to it’s glory days. However, are there any Osborne’s out there anymore? No one has the answers at this point, but how many years do you continue to accept mediocre before mediocre becomes common place? Riley is a nice guy, but his history isn’t the top winning coach! Is that what we still want? GBR

    • brandoncavanaugh

      September 28, 2017 at 5:23 PM

      Al,

      Riley has had all of two full recruiting cycles to bring in prospects. They’re all still underclassmen. One of his offensive linemen just became the fifth Husker offensive lineman to start as a true freshman since freshmen regained eligibility in the 1970s.

      People might get sick about hearing the word “development”, but it takes more than two years to do so properly barring getting a class full of 4- and 5-stars immediately.

      There’s perhaps one Osborne out there and that’s Nick Saban, a once in a generation coach much like T.O.

  10. Bryan

    September 28, 2017 at 10:18 PM

    Stupid article. Way to state the obvious. Tough schedule. Loss of recruits. Tough recruiting. Lack of players to run his style of offense on current roster. That can be said about any new coach we bring in. Who would want to deal with any of that? Unless we’re getting Jon Gruden (who could still probably keep our recruits and recruit his own easy enough), every coach faces those obstacles. And that’s not happening with what we’re already shelling out on fired coaches and ADs.

    Frost we can afford. The West Coast Offense doesn’t work in the B1G. It’s not the west coast. You know what does work? A focus on the trenches. Big lines. Think Wisconsin or Iowa. No big name recruits. Several coaching changes. Still consistently competing for Conference Titles.

    Yes, Frost will need to struggle through the next several years of a brutal schedule (just like Riley or any other coach we’d bring in). After the 2-10 or 3-9 season we are about to finish with, no doubt Husker fan’s expectations will be severely tempered. He has time. No one bats an eye if he only wins 2 or 3 games the first 3 years. Then we’d hope to slowly start seeing some progress. Winning seasons after 4-5 years. 9 win seasons after that. Competing for conference titles by 2028. He’ll be fine once he can start recruiting and building his team. He does have ties in Florida now and he has experience under some of the greatest coaches in football history. He knows and loves Nebraska. He understands winning cultures and leadership. It’s a no brainer…

    Its time for Frost.

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