Nebraska sticking with Scott Frost is the right move, but the clock is ticking

Scott Frost has a 15-27 record in his four years leading Nebraska's football team. While this year's Huskers are 3-7, all seven losses have been by one possession. David Stacy/Icon Sportswire

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Scott Frost has not won enough games at Nebraska. He knows that. Athletic director Trev Alberts knows that. Everybody in Nebraska knows that.

While a 15-27 record in four years would be enough to get a coach fired at nearly any big-time program in America, Nebraska prides itself on not being like everyone else.

Frost is not like everyone else, either.

So the news Monday that Frost would get another year, with a restructured contract, does not necessarily come as a surprise. Not to those in Lincoln.

That much was clear again last Saturday, as the Cornhuskers prepared to play their fourth top-10 team this season. In the hours before the game, one fan after the next expressed their desire to see Frost return for a fifth season despite the losing record.

"He's a national championship quarterback, he's a Nebraska guy, just like Jim Harbaugh over there at Michigan," said Darron Mapes, wearing an "In Frost We Trust" hat as he stood near the Tom Osborne statue just outside Memorial Stadium. "It just takes time to get the people in there, and the right culture, and the players. I just don't know who else would be Nebraska. Frost is Nebraska."

Inside the stadium, Jay Lamontagne brought his 4-year-old son, Cayden, to his first Nebraska game. They sat just behind the end zone, with Cayden holding up a sign that read, "Win this one for FROST."

"He needs more time," Jay Lamontagne said. "You give him another couple years and he's going to figure it out. He's figured it out everywhere else he's gone his entire life. It's not going to change now."

On the field, Nebraska did enough to raise hopes against Ohio State, the way the Huskers have done in every game this season. But several of the same issues came up again -- special teams mistakes, questionable playcalling and an inability to get any rhythm on offense -- and the result was the same.

Another close loss.

Nebraska has lost all seven of its games by single digits, worst in FBS, and there are two ways to look at those results. Either look at it the way Frost does -- he reiterated postgame that Nebraska was close, the way that he has in nearly every other heartbreaking loss.

"I hate losing more than anybody in that locker room," Frost said. "Man, I love being the coach here. I love these kids. They've battled through a lot. This is going to pop at Nebraska. It just is. We're doing too many good things right."

"Man, I love being the coach here. I love these kids. They've battled through a lot. This is going to pop at Nebraska. It just is. We're doing too many good things right." Scott Frost

Or look at it the way some frustrated Nebraska fans do: Frost has had four years with little to show for it. Zero bowl appearances. The same mistakes over and over. Why expect anything different as long as he is in charge?

Alberts noted in his statement Monday he has seen "incremental progress," one contributing factor to the decision to bring Frost back. The truth is, it has been apparent since the Nebraska job opened in 2017 that Frost would be given what he needed to get the program competing for championships again.

His success at UCF, going 13-0 in 2017, only put the cherry on top of what made him the best choice -- a Nebraska native, a Nebraska graduate, a Nebraska national champion, a disciple of Osborne. Frost knew at some point during that UCF season he would get a phone call from Osborne. He knew how difficult it would be to win at Nebraska -- far more difficult than when he played there thanks to a shifting collegiate landscape and conference realignment to boot.

He also knew there was no way he could turn it down.

Nebraska has invested in Frost, but more than that, it is emotionally tied to doing everything possible to make this hire work. While those inside the administration and fan base had grown weary of firing coaches every three years, only to start over again in a deeper financial hole because of large buyouts, this hire would be the ultimate litmus test for its faltering program.

Because if the perfect fit to take over Nebraska failed, what would that mean for the Nebraska program itself?

Frost knew the team he inherited needed major work, and he knew it would take some time to build a consistent winner. But he also learned tough lessons along the way, lessons that he must apply into Year 5. The offense he ran at UCF is simply not going to work in the Big Ten.

Though there has been a shift in offensive philosophy recently, more must be done to get Nebraska playing at a level it needs to in a division that is dominated by teams that have a proven way to win. It goes without saying that firing four offensive assistants Monday -- including offensive coordinator Matt Lubick -- was expected as part of a long-needed overhaul.

That is something Alberts mentioned in a sit-down interview with ESPN last month.

"Scott has evolved," Alberts said. "There's things that he's doing today that are more reflective of the reality in the Big Ten. It doesn't take long to go through the Big Ten and say, 'The way Iowa plays, they limit the possessions, they shorten the game.' I think he has adapted, I think that's part of what makes the Big Ten strong. It holds you accountable toward success because there's a certain formula that's inherent in Big Ten success.

"The hardest part about the Big Ten is because everybody has resources, everybody's committed -- Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern -- the problem, which has made our mistakes so glaring, is that the margins are so narrow that turnovers, field position, hidden yardage get exacerbated. I'm at practice all the time. There's an intense focus on those areas with Scott and his staff and we're making progress, but perhaps that wasn't necessarily the culture that came from UCF because it's different there. It's wide open, we're scoring every fourth play. These are some of the best college football coaches in America right here in the Big Ten. That's who Scott and his staff are dealing with."

Frost ran the spread offense at Oregon and then at UCF, but there are option principles that allow the run game to function at a high level. Nebraska does not need to go all in on the triple option, but it needs to find a way to build a dominant offensive line with a dual-threat quarterback who can be more effective than current starter Adrian Martinez.

In many ways, Frost's fortunes have been tied to Martinez. Frost put everything into making Martinez into a success. Martinez has played through multiple injuries this season -- including a broken jaw -- and his grit and toughness will never be questioned. But his continuous mistakes have only compounded Nebraska's misfortunes.

The defense under coordinator Erik Chinander has grown into a tough unit worthy of the Blackshirts name. That group has given the Cornhuskers a chance to win every single game this season. An offense to match would give Nebraska a better-than-average shot at getting over the hump and turning close losses into wins.

Is that doable with the pressure on next year? Frost does not have much of a choice. With the guarantee of at least one more year, he can recruit the next month with the assurances he needs. He has to, in order to bolster his class. Expect the transfer portal to be a part of his plans, too.

As Alberts pointed out in his statement Monday, the Nebraska players have not quit. "The young men in our program have remained unified and shown great resiliency, which is an important reflection of the leadership of Coach Frost and his staff."

In a quiet moment after the Ohio State game, Frost told ESPN he remained as confident as ever he would get the job done. He had a determination in his eye, as if the adversity of the past four years was going to push him to work that much harder to get Nebraska back where those in Big Red Nation deserve it belongs.

Frost is the same guy who led UCF to an undefeated season. But the expectations are different at Nebraska. The competition is different. The pressure is different. Everything he does is scrutinized and questioned. But that is bound to happen as the perceived conquering hero, expected to bring championships back to a place that demands them.

"In Frost We Trust."

Nebraska still believes.

But the clock is now ticking.