LINCOLN, Neb. -- The pieces that led to Nebraska's hiring of Scott Frost as football coach over the weekend did not fall into place out of a fairy tale.
As late as Friday night, Frost harbored deep reservations about leaving his unbeaten team at UCF. A lengthy conversation with his mentor and former coach, Tom Osborne, persuaded Frost to stick with the decision to return to his alma mater. And without the deliberate work of Matt Davison, Frost's ex-teammate and close friend, the Cornhuskers likely would have lacked the connection to strike a deal.
Osborne and Davison gave Nebraska a much-needed edge in this process, teaming with athletic director Bill Moos, who pushed every proper button to tap into Frost's love for his home state and the program he helped lead to a share of the national title as a quarterback 20 years ago.
Frost never seriously considered other suitors, though they came at him hard -- in particular Florida -- as his high-octane offense and remarkable two-year turnaround with the Knights attracted widespread attention.
Still he struggled considerably with the timing to accept the Nebraska job, a position, seemingly, for which he was born -- as the son of an ex-Huskers wingback under coach Bob Devaney and an Olympian shot put and discus thrower who coached at the school.
"In the end, a lot of this was about integrity and how you go about your business," Moos said Sunday after Frost's formal introduction, a homecoming celebration among dozens of former teammates hungry for Nebraska's return to a powerful spot in the sport. "It was easy. And that's not the norm anymore."
BY EASY, Moos means simply that Frost's courtship went smoothly, free of the drama that has plagued Tennessee and others in this hiring season.
Though Davison has told anyone willing to listen for the past decade that Frost would ascend to this spot in Lincoln, the key events in the chain began in earnest 11 weeks ago.
Nebraska started miserably this fall, allowing 42 first-half points in a Week 2 loss at Oregon, then falling at home a week later to Northern Illinois. Just like that, Shawn Eichorst was fired as athletic director. His Sept. 21 ouster inserted Nebraska president Hank Bounds and chancellor Ronnie Green into a position of direct oversight above the football program, which last won a conference title in 1999.
Moos was hired on Oct. 15, a surprise choice from Washington State. His savvy soon showed. Bounds, the university president, said he and Green never told Moos that he must terminate then-coach Mike Riley. And Frost, despite his esteemed status at Nebraska and growing profile nationally, did not come up in Moos' initial conversations.
"We trusted Bill to do the right thing," Bounds said. "Bill has a lot of experience, a lot of good experience. I just think he handled this masterfully."
As UCF continued to win, Nebraska sank. Blown out in consecutive weeks by Wisconsin and Ohio State ahead of Moos' hire, the Huskers lost in overtime on Nov. 4 to resurgent Northwestern. It was their fifth loss and ultimately a backbreaker. Nebraska was not competitive in consecutive defeats to Minnesota, Penn State and Iowa, sliding to 4-8, its fewest wins in a season since 1961.
Communication increased between Moos and his bosses as Riley was unable to correct the tailspin.
Bounds said he and Moos talked "almost every day" in November. And they quickly began to focus attention on the 42-year-old Frost, whom Moos had admired during Frost's time as offensive coordinator at Oregon from 2013 to 2015.
Meanwhile, Davison stayed in the ear of his old friend.
"It was a one-way conversation almost every day, and it was a two-way conversation when Scott had time," Davison said.
DAVISON AND FROST forged a friendship in 1997. Davison was a true freshman out of Tecumseh, Nebraska, and Frost a fifth-year senior who had transferred home from Stanford two years earlier.
In November of that season, one of the most iconic plays in school history forever linked the duo. Frost's pass from the 12-yard line as time expired at Missouri hit the right foot of Shevin Wiggins and bounced to a diving Davison in the end zone. The reception forced overtime and preserved Osborne's perfect final season. Posters were made of the play. Frost and Davison signed thousands of them.
Frost played six years in the NFL. Davison enjoyed a prolific receiving career at Nebraska and played basketball at the school. As Frost got into coaching at Kansas State, Northern Iowa and Oregon in 2009, Davison entered broadcasting, among other endeavors. He remains the analyst for Nebraska football and basketball on the radio.
They stayed close and stood in each other's weddings -- Davison for Frost just last year.
Shortly after Moos' first day of work in Lincoln on Oct. 23, the AD invited Osborne, the former coach of 25 years and himself the athletic director at Nebraska from 2007 to 2013, to his office. They had met when Moos agreed to take the job, but now Moos wanted to talk in depth.
The conversation lasted 90 minutes, according to Moos, and shifted from a discussion on culture and coaching to one about Frost.
"If you want to know the real Scott," Moos said Osborne told him, "'I can tell you, but so can Matt Davison.' As soon as Coach [Osborne] left, I had Matt in my office within 15 minutes."
Davison, of course, had already been talking to Frost.
"Matt's role was pestering me until I got here," Frost said.
Davison, in fact, after a Friday night Nebraska win at Illinois, had visited Frost in Orlando on Sept. 30 and watched the Knights beat Memphis to improve to 3-0.
"I want what's best for him," Davison said. "I want him to be happy. And I knew he was happy in Orlando. He was happy with his family. And he had a lot going on this fall. He has a lovely wife and a new son. And they were in the midst of an undefeated season. I mean, wow, that's a lot. I was respectful of that."
But Davison made feelings clear to Frost.
"I felt like right now was the right time for him to the coach here," Davison said.
Frost had questions. He didn't know Nebraska's administrative leadership, including Moos. Davison was the conduit.
"I had a series of conversations with Matt, so he could get a feel for me," Moos said. "And then he relayed what I'm about to Scott, because Scott has trust in Matt."
ON NOV. 17, a Friday night after Frost had completed preparation with the Knights for their game the next day with Temple, he met Davison in a Philadelphia hotel suite.
Davison was in New York on Nov. 16 to call a Nebraska basketball game at St. John's. He traveled by train to Philly and met Moos and his wife, Kendra. Frost came to the meeting with Gerrod Lambrecht, his high school teammate from back in Nebraska and chief of staff at UCF.
Kendra Moos arranged for snacks and sodas in the room and grilled Frost for details on his newborn son. The five of them sat around a table and talked for more than an hour.
"I didn't need to know a lot about this program," Frost said. "I'm from here. I know what it's all about, what it could be, what the potential is. So it just took me being comfortable with the leadership here and the timing."
Moos and Frost clicked in that first meeting.
"We just had a casual conversation, and it got comfortable quick because you had great people in the room," said Davison, in line for an associate AD spot in the wake of Frost's hire. "I mean, look at Bill Moos. You couldn't have picked a better man to lead this program right now. Them getting along was never going to be a problem."
Davison joined Moos and his wife for a charter flight across Pennsylvania to State College, where Penn State throttled Nebraska one day later. Frost's Knights beat Temple 45-19 to move to 10-0. After the win, he refuted rumors that Nebraska had made a contract offer.
"Totally false," he said at the time.
And technically that was right. Moos did not make an offer, but he felt good about his top choice.
"Bill was very excited about Scott," said Bounds, who talked by phone with Moos after the Philadelphia meeting. "He'd heard a lot about [Frost] but didn't know him. Making certain that you've got the right person is so critical -- beyond the X's and O's."
From there, Moos stayed patient. He sent one text to Frost, wishing him luck on the field.
Moos watched as Florida and Tennessee pursued candidates, including Frost. "Nagging and hounding," as Moos described it.
"I could sense and knew through Matt," Moos said, "that did not resonate with Scott."
RILEY WAS FIRED on Nov. 25. The offer to Frost -- seven years, $35 million -- was quickly conveyed from John Jentz, Nebraska's chief financial officer, to Frost's agent, Jordan Bazant. Frost returned a signed memorandum of understanding on Nov. 27, the Monday before UCF had a rematch with Memphis in the AAC title game.
In two sessions with the media on that same day, Frost expressed his appreciation for the Knights, who finished 0-12 in 2015, the season before he and his staff arrived in Orlando. His emotional tone, though, appeared to indicate that Frost was preparing to say goodbye to UCF.
Indeed, he was conflicted.
On Friday night, two weeks after the Philadelphia meeting with Moos, Frost called Osborne, his trusted former coach, to express doubts.
"The thought of leaving his players was really hard for him," Osborne said.
Osborne had visited Orlando in August to speak to Frost's team and had twice before the Friday conversation talked with Frost about the Nebraska job, including one extended session.
Osborne said he did not ask Frost to take the job. Osborne did not say he would be disappointed if Frost chose to stay at UCF.
"I think deep down, he wanted to come [to Nebraska], but he also was very happy, very comfortable at Central Florida," Osborne said. "He just wanted somebody to talk to and reflect, so we spent quite a bit of time talking. And at the end of the conversation, I felt this was what he was going to do.
"Sometimes you're just not comfortable. I think he's comfortable now. I feel really good about where things are. We had a long talk. It was good to have some time with him."
Some of Frost's reservations involved his perception of Nebraska over the past two decades.
"From afar, it didn't look like the Nebraska that I knew," he said.
On Sunday in Lincoln, Frost said he was convinced the timing is right -- that the state of Nebraska is "hungry for unity" and the pieces are in place for the Huskers to rise again with his help.
Three years ago this week, when Nebraska hired Riley from Oregon State, Frost was not considered for the job. The situation angered Frost. But in hindsight, the fit was wrong in 2014. Frost said he's "glad" Eichorst didn't call. It might have led to a mistake.
"The pieces are in place now," Frost said. "I believe a lot in Bill. I believe in [Bounds] and [Green], and I think this state is ready to see this place return to what it was."
Frost is back home to take a shot at another notable turnaround. If he scores, credit Osborne and Davison with the assists.