Scott Andrew Frost is the University of Nebraska’s new head football coach and expectations are high. Perhaps not since FDR’s second term have expectations for anyone been this high. The last time the hopes and dreams of so many rested on one man’s shoulders Neil Armstrong was about to step off Apollo 11 and onto the surface of the moon.
Nebraskans take their college football seriously. Football is life and death here and for the past 21 years, since quarterback Frost and coach Tom Osborne led the team to a split-national championship (with Michigan) in 1997 most of the time it’s been death.
To understand the culture of Nebraska one merely has to drive from Omaha to the western Panhandle a trip so incredibly monotonous that occasionally travelers pull off onto the shoulder and literally die of boredom. In town after town, in villages and hamlets and in little settlements one will spy people dressed alike, in red, with shirts reading “Huskers” and “Frost Warning.” Many of these people have never been to an actual Husker game in Lincoln - can’t get tickets - but they know they love their team.
In Omaha businesses take a certain name to try and win customers. There’s a Husker Law, a Husker Plumbing, a Husker Computers, a Husker Roofing, a Husker Lazik, a Husker Bagels, a Husker Dental, approximately four Husker Landscapings and a Husker Crematory where your loved ones can be cremated inside a giant red and white helmet while the NU fight song plays. (OK, I made up that last one.)
There’s an actual chain of souvenir stores in the state called Husker Hounds where people ask questions like, “Are the new Go Big Red catheters in yet?”
Many here were shocked when the governor, Pete Ricketts, didn’t mention Frost and Husker football until he was several minutes into his state of the state speech.
Another thing you need to know is that quite a few Nebraskans have a chip on their shoulders. They feel slighted. Overlooked. In 2016 93.1 percent of voters in Grant County and 92.4 percent in Hayes County voted for Donald Trump for president. At last report Trump’s approval rating in Grant County had dropped to around 93 percent even.
Nebraskans have an attitude borne of national media doing things like continually showing rolling cornfields to represent Omaha during ESPN’s annual College World Series broadcast. This is a big no no since the metropolitan area has a population closing in on one million and there’s nary a cornfield in sight. There are five Fortune 500 companies here, a well regarded symphony and we made a run at being Amazon’s second headquarters. Yet, still, we get cornfields to depict the city.
When a character on a TV program or in a movie is from Nebraska frequently that character speaks in some sort of Dukes of Hazzard-esque drawl and is a wide-eyed naif in ill-fitting Bermuda shorts and black socks prone to uttering “Weee-doggie!” and “Your crapper is indoors?!” and stunned to see that people on the coasts actually have access to entertainment options and electricity.
When I lived in Los Angeles people used to ask me, “You’re from Nebraska? So that’s a real place?”
For the past three years the Huskers have been coached by Mike Riley the nicest coach you’d ever want to meet but so bland it felt like much of that time he was in a medically induced coma. In the fourth quarter of tight games graduate assistant coaches would hold a mirror to his face to see if he was breathing. He wore out his welcome because the team not only lost but lost big. Repeatedly. On national TV. As soon as something went wrong, like losing an opening coin flip, the team would fold. Nebraskans don’t collapse when things go bad. This is a state where folks cheerily rebuild after a tornado levels the town. Quitting isn’t the state’s identity. It was awful to watch.
Before Riley the coach was Bo Pelini, the anti-Riley. Pelini clearly had a stick up his butt, to put it in medical terms, during the seven years he coached here and his postgame press conferences often resembled WWE Royal Rumbles. Most Nebraskans, who tend to be super polite, didn’t approve of how Pelini did things - or his potty mouth as Nebraskans called it - but put up with him because he seemed perpetually at the precipice of turning the corner. (We’d put up with Coach Kim Jong Un if he could win the Big Ten West.) Pelini seemed like the type of guy who’d drive from preschool to preschool shouting “There is no Santa!” into a megaphone. When it was finally clear Bo would never quite get it done (his teams also collapsed when things went wrong, mostly in big TV games) super polite Nebraskans had no trouble saying “The hell with you.”
Before Pelini the coach was Bill Callahan, the anti-Pelini. (Are you getting a feel for how things work here?) Callahan was a slick, smooth talker from the NFL whose Husker teams often failed miserably in big games, small games, medium games and, the spring game.
Before Callahan the coach was Frank Solich, Osborne’s handpicked choice to succeed him. Solich did a good job but was routed in the national championship Rose Bowl game in 2002 vs. a great Miami Hurricanes team. I vividly recall the pre-game Air Force flyover when the TV cameras caught Solich looking dazed and, well, sort of frightened. Solich had the same look on his face as my cats when I break out the vacuum. I knew Nebraska had lost that game before kickoff.
Which brings us back to Frost. When he was hired last Dec. 2 ABC ran a blurb across the bottom of the screen during the UCF-Memphis AAC title game while the game was in overtime.
Time essentially stopped when it was announced that new NU A.D. Bill Moos had landed Frost. It’s fair to compare the ensuing celebration to the one that took place in Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Men in Nebraska who were in hospital maternity rooms awaiting the birth of their first child left their panting wife’s side to race into the street Jim Valvano style in celebration of Frost’s hiring. Only upon waking up two days later covered in red confetti and Husker gin did they ask, “Was it a boy or a girl?” Of course gender doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that the baby is healthy and grows up hating Iowa.
Frost is a bit like Davy Crockett in Nebraska. Legend surrounds him. Some of it is true (he led Nebraska to that co-national championship and once pulled Lawrence Phillips off a woman Phillips was going after) and some of it is false (he never wrestled a grizzly bear to the ground in his hometown, he didn’t discover Penicillin and he never climbed a telephone pole to rescue a kitten).
Frost is a reluctant deity. He cringes at even the hint of a question about his personal life. When his son was born last fall it was weeks before the child’s name was revealed to the public. I still feel guilty even reporting the kid’s name so I plan to refer to “Baby X” until the child turns twenty-one.
It’s easier to get accurate information about KGB meetings and injured New England Patriots players than it is personal info about Frost. We do know he grew up in Wood River, Nebraska, excelled in football and shot putting, went to Stanford, left Stanford, came home and led NU to greatness as a quarterback.
We also know that as a coach he led UCF to a miraculous undefeated season last year, guiding a team that went 6-7 the year before and 0-12 the year before that to a 13-0 record.
People in Nebraska know Frost guided UCF to its spectacular season with a one-armed star linebacker and figure now that he’s with a team where the linebackers all have two arms he should do even better.
While reticent about personal matters Frost is more than happy to discuss the future of the Husker program. When he does he exudes the type of confidence one normally sees in professional boxers during pre-fight press conferences.
Frost has relocated to Lincoln but is rarely seen in public. In the past eight months there have been more confirmed Bigfoot sightings in Nebraska than confirmed sightings of Frost living his day-to-day life.
Nebraskans know it will take time, up to three years, in fact, before Frost brings home a national title and we get to relive the halcyon days. Locals while away the interim by arranging to take the day after the 2021 national championship game off work to attend the victory rally and cashing in their IRAs early to afford more “Frost Warning” t-shirts.
Meanwhile Frost prepares the team he inherited for a juggernaut of a 2018 schedule which includes road games at Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa.
Several players left the team during spring practice when workouts were much tougher than Riley’s which, rumor has it, included a mandatory 20-minute “nappy time.” Not to worry, Frost has it covered, with a veritable army of junior college studs coming here (for the academics, ha-ha) to turn things around and turn them around fast.
So buckle up, folks. It’s almost showtime. This isn’t just about football. It’s time for Frost to prove to the world that Nebraska is a real place.