Scott Frost Was to the Point in Indianapolis
By Shawn Ekwall • Photos by UNL Sports Information
Scott Frost knows there’s only so much to be said. Perhaps that’s why the fifth-year Nebraska coach was brief and to the point during Big Ten media days the last week of July at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
When asked if he’d like to give an opening statement while at the podium, Frost deferred and requested to go right to questions. With the many offseason changes – especially on the coaching staff – Frost is well-aware the 2022 season may decide his future as the Huskers head man.
With a 15-29 record since coming to Nebraska in 2018, Frost understands the “pressure to win now” mindset, not only from the fans, but from within the athletic department. And while last season’s 3-9 finish was extremely disappointing, Frost can point to the fact NU was competitive in each loss, with only one (26-17 to Ohio State) being by more than one score.
“We were competitive in every game last year. We had our chances to win,” Frost said while answering questions from the media. “We made a ton of progress as a program from a talent perspective and a culture perspective. We haven’t gotten where we want it yet.”
An off-season overhaul on the assistant coaching front, especially on offense, will bring a new look to the Huskers in 2022. Four new assistant coaches come on board, along with 16 new players from the transfer portal.
Mark Whipple takes over the play-calling duties as the new offensive coordinator. Last year as the OC at Pitt, Whipple directed a potent offense, led by Kenny Pickett. Pickett, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in April, completed more than 67% of his passes, while throwing for more than 4,300 yards.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi recently threw shade at his former offensive coordinator for his perceived lack of wanting to run the football.
“Our old offensive coordinator had no desire to run the ball,” Narduzzi said in a recent interview. “Everybody knew it. He was stubborn.”
But Whipple’s results speak for themselves. The Panthers ranked No. 8 in total offense in 2021, ranked third in passing yards and put up 41 points per game.
Can Whipple duplicate that type of success in Year 1 in Lincoln? According to Frost, he doesn’t care how it occurs.
“If we score as many points as they did last year (at Pitt), I don’t care if we run it, throw it or kick it,” Frost said.
With Frost handing over the play-calling duties, it will allow him to be more involved in other areas, including special teams – an area of well-known struggles for the Huskers in recent years.
“It makes me a little sad,” Frost said of handing over play-calling duties. “But it’s also helped me focus on a lot of areas where we can get better.” Frost vowed to “remain involved a lot” with the offense in collaboration with Whipple.
Frost was joined in Indianapolis by three players: tight end Travis Vokolek, edge Garrett Nelson and cornerback Quinton Newsome.
Vokolek stressed the importance of taking things one game, one day at a time to turn the corner.
“I’ve said it before: We want to go 1-0 every week,” Vokelek said. “In every rep, in everything we do, we want to go 1-0.”
Nelson, whom Frost called “one of the best leaders to ever come through the program,” said NU players are approaching the season with a chip on their shoulders.
“Everything’s right in the world when you win football games, and that hasn’t happened in my life in college yet,” Nelson said.
It’s human nature to hear the outside noise. Especially when wins are few and far between. Nelson said it’s that motivation to quiet the critics and defend his head coach – whom he calls a “father figure” – that has him and teammates geared up.
“It’s time to play. Growing that chip on your shoulder from the negative stuff … it’s time to play.”
Players, coaches and Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts all pointed to one area – leadership – as a vital piece in turning things around.
“It’s going to take great leadership,” Alberts said. “I think Scott can do that – I know he’s working hard on that – but that’s going to be really critical. Because a team full of talent isn’t necessarily a team.”
Newsome’s mindset this offseason has been to take over the leadership void left by Cam Taylor-Britt, now with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“My mission is to lead,” Newsome said in reference to the secondary. “To help bring along the new guys … all of them are really starting to come along and we’re headed in the right direction.” Frost echoed Alberts’ statement that a talented team doesn’t always equate to winning.
“You can have a lot of talent, but that doesn’t always make a team,” Frost said. “We gotta become one team, one heartbeat both as a coaching staff and as a team.”
Losing wears on players, coaches and fans – especially when those losses are competitive close losses. Nebraska knows it was close in 2021. The goal is to finish and get over the hump in 2022.
Alberts wouldn’t bite when asked what the magic number of wins needed for Frost to keep his job. However, he acknowledged that pressure exists.
“Every single coach in the Big Ten is under the pressure to win. We’re in the competition business – that’s not going to change,” Alberts said. “We don’t get tenure in athletics.”
Nelson, who never minces words, offered an interesting analogy to the narrow defeats in 2021.
“It’s like going to a bar every Friday and talking to a chick all night and all of a sudden her boyfriend walks over and takes her home.”