LINCOLN, Neb. -- Scott Frost's decision to return home to Nebraska provides a much-needed victory for the Cornhuskers, who have languished through 18 years with four coaches unable to produce a conference title for one of the winningest programs in college football history.
His first task as coach? Restore confidence to a fan base tired of the losing and the bickering and the waiting. Frost ultimately will be charged with bringing back a physical style of play and a football identity to Nebraska, and to install his dynamic offense that produced a 12-0 season at UCF.
But before he gets into the film room or even learns the names of his players, he must provide a sense of healing to the fans who form the backbone of this proud program.
It won't be hard. They already love him. They love him almost as much as they love the idea of his homecoming and the thought of a Tom Osborne protégé and former star pupil in charge of the east sideline at Memorial Stadium.
"Our storied fan base is fractured and fragile," Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos said last month in announcing his decision to fire Mike Riley after three seasons. "And that's very concerning to me. These fans have been through a lot over the last 20 years.
"They and the university, and certainly the players and all involved, in my opinion, deserve to be in a position to be competing for championships in the Big Ten conference and nationally. So that's going to be the intent."
They believe at Nebraska, with every ounce of energy available, that Frost is the right choice. He was targeted early on, well before Moos arrived this fall from Washington State to steer the ship. Some wanted Frost three years ago as he directed the powerful Oregon offense alongside Chip Kelly.
The Huskers went with Riley, a coaching veteran who represented Nebraska well but failed to win. His six losses by 21 points or more over the past two years in Big Ten play created a sense of apathy that was evident as the stadium emptied in the second half of a season-ending, 56-14 loss to Iowa on Nov. 24.
Nebraska finished 4-8, its worst season since before the 1962 arrival of Bob Devaney, who groomed Osborne as his offensive coordinator. Osborne guided the Huskers through their glory years, winning more games than any other program over his 25 seasons.
And late in his career, on the cusp of three national titles in a four-year period, Osborne tried to recruit Frost as a much-hyped QB out of Wood River, Nebraska. But Frost saw the situation in Lincoln as Tommie Frazier, a Florida kid who arrived at Nebraska in Frost's senior year of high school, took over right away en route to stardom.
Frost chose Stanford and coach Bill Walsh. Two years later, he transferred home, paid his dues and led Nebraska to a share of the title in 1997 after Osborne announced his retirement from coaching in the weeks before the Orange Bowl against Peyton Manning and Tennessee.
This time, the Huskers had to ask just once. They need Frost more now than 25 years ago.
"I know they're discouraged," Moos said of the fans. "And I take it very serious. I care about them and the product they're going to see and pay for on the field. And I never want to see that stadium empty in the third quarter again."
Moos grew up in Washington and has lived in Nebraska for barely a month. But his connection with the people -- the way he talks to them and about them -- is genuine.
At Moos' introductory news conference in October, Nebraska chancellor Ronnie Green said of the AD and his wife, Kendra: "It's almost like they're Nebraskans who have lived somewhere else for all of their life -- and now they're coming home."
It was a good line. Seven weeks later, Green's words resonate deeply within the Nebraska football community after Moos orchestrated the return home of their native son. Much work remains, but it's a huge boost for Moos, Green and their boss, University of Nebraska system president Hank Bounds.
"I have confidence in them," said Matt Davison, Frost's friend who teamed with the new coach for a miracle touchdown at Missouri to preserve Nebraska's unbeaten season in 1997. "And if you get the right coach with those guys all moving in the same, right direction, then I think you have a chance -- a real chance.
"The coach sets the standard. The coach is the leader who gets everyone around them to see the vision and to perform and to get everybody to buy into that vision and then execute it."
Bill and Kendra Moos brought their five children to Lincoln recently to celebrate Thanksgiving and to watch the Huskers' season finale. Their sons, Bo, a former defensive tackle at Arizona State, and Ben, a tight end at Cal, stood on the field named after Osborne, awed by the 361st consecutive sellout at Nebraska, an NCAA record that dates to Devaney's first season.
"I hope that is never taken for granted," Moos said. "And for any young man to run through that tunnel and out into nearly 90,000 red-clad fans, boy, that's a thrill of a lifetime. It needs to be coveted. And it needs to mean something."
The Huskers will get back there, Moos said. It is Frost's job to lead them.