“When someone shows you who they are, believe them …”
– Maya Angelou
October 9 doesn’t seem that long ago, does it Husker Fan? Boy things seemed different then. Sure, Nebraska was 3-4, but had come through a daunting stretch where it very, very nearly upset three top ten teams (Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Michigan), two on the road. More importantly, Nebraska showed it had the talent level to be on the same field with those national powerhouses, something that has been in question about the program for some time.
And, for good measure, Nebraska eviscerated a Northwestern team that has always been a challenge at home, 56-7.
Was this it? Were we finally, finally, finally on the verge of turning The Corner and being the program we all envisioned when Scott Frost was introduced as the prodigal son returning?
Minnesota 30, Nebraska 23. Purdue 28, Nebraska 23.
If the loss to Purdue really was the end of Frost’s time in Lincoln, then there is one thing that can be pointed to more than any other to explain the failure. As a smart and particularly handsome analyst has observed, Frost’s inability to avoid bad losses has doomed seasons and – perhaps – Frost’s career at Nebraska.
You can (and, really, you should, because of those sweet sweet clicks) read the piece for the details, but here’s the takeaway. Let’s call Illinois and Purdue bad losses for this year. If Nebraska could just avoid those bad losses, here’s what Frost’s record would look like:
You’d feel better about Frost’s tenure if this was Nebraska’s record, wouldn’t you Husker Fan? Again, achieving these records isn’t asking Frost’s teams to pull up forests. It’s not asking to beat Ohio State, Michigan, and Oklahoma. It’s not even asking to beat Iowa and Wisconsin.
It’s asking to beat Illinois. Purdue. Colorado. Indiana. Troy, fer cryin’ out loud. Teams that, given Nebraska’s talent level, it should beat regularly.
Four years in, Frost has one signature win – and you kind of have to squint to see it that way – over Michigan State in 2018. Sure, they’ve been close. Sure, there’s three games left in the season and anything can happen.
But we’ve seen enough to know that here on Earth-1, Nebraska would be doing very well to end 2021 at 5-7. Far more likely that we see 4-8 or 3-9 as Nebraska’s final tally. And that would give new athletic director Trev Alberts a difficult decision at the end of the season.
Pretty grim stuff, huh, Husker Fan?
Well, we did promise you some silver linings. And here they are
To start with, let’s go back to how we all felt on October 9. Remember, this wasn’t even Nebraska pulling an upset, just keeping games close against Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Michigan. All of a sudden, Nebraska had buzz. People were talking about Nebraska being the best 3-4 team in the country – which I guess is a compliment.
The point is, though, that Nebraska is still one of the blue-bloods in college football. It still has a name, an image, an aura, that resonates. And the minute that Nebraska shows even flickers of life – like we saw on October 9 – then it will be able to reclaim some of that national prominence that has been lost over these years of wandering through the desert.
So don’t despair, Husker Fan. Nebraska football isn’t going to turn into a ghost town like some doom-sayers had surmised (looking at you Dirk Chatelain) anytime soon.
Additionally, we now have objective evidence that Frost has been successful at rebuilding the talent level at Nebraska to where it can compete with top-10 teams. For quite a while – really, through the end of the Pelini era, the entirety of the Riley era, and the start of Frost’s tenure – Nebraska could not stay on the field with teams like that.
Now, it can. So if Alberts does make a change, the new guy will be handed the keys to a talented roster. He’ll be well-paid, likely top-20 nationally at worst. He’ll inherit a fanbase with expectations lowered to subterranean levels, to where even modest success (coupled with running a clean and respectable program) will make him a star.
If Frost is relieved of his duties, it’ll be a sad day, and worth mourning the failure of a native son unable to find the success we all thought was inevitable. But the sun will rise the next morning, Husker Fan, and the Nebraska job will be one of the best in the country to attract a talented replacement.
4 thoughts on “Nebraska Football: Frost’s Downfall, and the Silver Linings on the Impending Storm Clouds”
Thank you for this article. I think Nebraska would be crazy not to give Frost another year at least. It really was fun to believe in the team again. There was definite light on the field in oct. I am 61, a woman who grew up immersed in husker football. We all loved it. It was just part of our state culture and so fun to see our own boys do well amid so much talent. Tom Osborne grew up where I am from-Hastings so there is an added gift in it for all for us. I live in CA half of the year and NE the other half. and never miss a game if I can help it. Frost has it in him to bring us back home to our culture. If they let him go a big opportunity goes with him and I truly won’t have much faith in the powers that be. I actually think teaching our fans and athletic department patience is a gift in itself. Good change is coming if only people could be a little less caught up in winning. We are for gods sake in the toughest conference as well so the goal and reach is twice as hard. People need to be patient and mr Frost too has to keep up a moral and disciplined style of coaching or we won’t get there. I was unnerved by some awful rumors. I want him to be the hero he can be. He is not perfect , no one is, but I do think he has a chance of true success with a bit more time.
I am in full agreement with Ms Vaughan. My wife and I also travel a significant distance to attend home games. We remain proud of the Huskers and Scott Frost.
Obviously frustrating for everyone. The opportunity was there to beat 3 top 10 teams. It was there. Just consider how those three losses effected the coaches and the team in general moving forward with the rest of the season. The idea of “what could have been” lingering in the back of your mind.
Cut this team some slack. Please stop talking about a new coach. We do not need to start over again. We need to support what we have. Next year at this time, if do not have a winning record, I’ll concede that it is probably time to move on. Instead, I think I’ll be talking about how refreshing it is to see it all come together… finally.
I’d like to think I’ve learned a few harsh lessons in a 20-something-year stretch of Husker fandom, and a few of them apply here.
1. Coaches that are worth sticking with usually show their value quickly. Nick Saban took over an Alabama squad that was an absolute mess and mid-NCAA investigation. People forget, his official record in his first season there is 2-6 because they had to forfeit five wins due to NCAA sanctions, in addition to forfeiting all 6 wins from the previous year. Didn’t matter; they went 12-2 and just missed a top-5 finish in year 2. Year 3 was a national title. Bob Stoops took over an Oklahoma squad that had also been miserable for years–John Blake’s best year would be roughly comparable to Mike Riley’s worst. Didn’t matter–he won his championship after just two years.
Maybe that’s not fair. Those are legendarily successful coaches taking over marquee programs, so I’ll lower the bar. TCU was an afterthought when Gary Patterson took over. He had them bowling in year 2, and between years 3 and 4 alone, they won 6 more games than Frost has in 3 1/2 years. Mark Mangino had Kansas in a bowl game by his second season. They posted his first winning record in year 4. Frost would have to win out, plus get to and win a bowl game just to match Mangino’s seven wins that year. If we knew four years ago that Frost was only going to be as successful here as Mangino was at Kansas, nobody would have gotten excited.
I have no social life, so I’ve gone through every coaching hire that could be considered “successful” I can think of, along with this list of any coach who’s ever won any form of national championship: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_football_national_championships_in_NCAA_Division_I_FBS and every coach who’s won AP Coach of the Year to see if anyone posted 3+ losing seasons in their first four years at that school. Surprisingly, there were four coaches had 3 losing records in that span: Bill Snyder at K-State, Gary Pinkel at Missouri (who makes the list because Anderson & Hester chose his 2007 squad as national champs), Mangino, and Mike MacIntyre at Colorado. Barring possibly Snyder, that list really stretches the imagination of what can be called “successful,” as the other three combined for 0 conference championships, 3 major bowl wins (counting Pinkel’s 2 Cotton Bowls, which I’m not sure I should), and 3 top-10 finishes. But it gets worse. Only Mangino and MacIntyre posted their 3 losing seasons in a row. Mangino’s at least included a bowl appearance, and MacIntyre won 10 games in year 4, his only winning record in 6 tries at Colorado.
2. “Almost” wins Do. Not. Count. For anything. I’ve spent my high school years and all of my adult life just waiting for the Huskers to turn their “almost” wins into actual program-defining wins, from Texas Tech in 2005 to Ohio State in 2018 (Remember that game? In Frost’s first year? We’ve been here already with this coaching staff, is my point). Again, good coaches do not have a seemingly never-ending series of “We were this close!” games before finally waking up one day and figuring it out. Dabo Swinney and Mack Brown are unique in that they’re the only national championship-winning coaches in at least three decades to take more than four years at their school to do so. But even they showed they had the knack for it right from the jump, each knocking off at least one top-10 school in their first full year (Swinney over Miami in 2009, Brown over Nebraska and A&M in 1998). Again, if four years in, Frost hasn’t figured out how to make it happen here (I know he beat Auburn in a bowl game where Auburn had nothing to gain half a decade ago. That was in a different situation at a different school and is not relevant to the current discussion), there’s no reason now to assume he will. Instead, his sideline is so discombobulated that against Oklahoma, inability to get a play called cost us a crucial timeout and a wasted first down when Martinez was forced to do a QB sneak from the shotgun, on a drive that ended on a failed fourth-down conversion.
3. You should fire your coach when you don’t like where the program is at AND there is no tangible momentum. Look, no one’s paying me to make decisions for their school for obvious reasons, but this has always seemed pretty clear to me. If the program is improving, even if it’s not winning yet, you probably shouldn’t mess with it (take Kansas with their new coach for example). But if it’s not improving, unless you’re in a sport where you can at least contend for championships (a la Oregon) or have maxed out your potential (like, say, Matt Campbell at Iowa State), it’s probably time to move on. Nebraska is realistically about to finish with the worst record they’ve had since 1957. Four years in, Frost is about to win fewer games than Riley did in his worst year, and people were trying to run him out of town even when he started a season 7-0. Beyond the numbers, you’ll never convince me we’re winning games we would have lost in previous years. So far this season, we’ve beaten an FCS school, a school with a losing record in the MAC, and a team with 1 win over a Power 5 opponent. That hardly takes a genius coach. For the inevitable claim that we’re losing games by less than we would have previously, see rule #2. I don’t follow recruiting news, but it seems at best to be trending flat and at worst to be getting worse. On average, 80 teams go to bowls each year, and every Nebraska coach in my lifetime has recruited at least in the top 30 consistently. If in four tries, Frost can’t get a team that presumably has top-30 talent to even break into the top 80 teams, maybe he’s the problem.
I realize now that I’m coming off much more bitter than I actually feel. I sincerely hope I’m wrong in all this and that this program is just about to turn the corner. I just don’t see any argument for that being the case, and barring at least two wins in the last three games, I don’t see how we can justify another year of this. Frost might be a great coach, but maybe he’s just too close to this rebuilding project to know what’s best to do (sort of like how surgeons aren’t allowed to operate on immediate family).