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Forde-Yard Dash: In Keeping Scott Frost, Nebraska Has Admitted Defeat

The Cornhuskers brought a coach who is 15–27 back for a fifth year. It’s the surest sign a program resurrection is not coming.

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On Monday, Nebraska (21) waved the white flag, admitted defeat, declared itself a noncompetitor in modern college football. Athletic director Trev Alberts (22) announced that it was bringing floundering Scott Frost back for a fifth season with a “restructured” contract. As part of keeping Frost, a major staff overhaul saw four offensive coaches fired the same day: OC Matt Lubick, OL coach Greg Austin, QB coach Mario Verduzco and RB coach Ryan Held.

The Nebraska dynasty has been dead for a long time now, but this puts it further underground. Just because Alberts and Frost both have ties to the Tom Osborne (23) glory days doesn’t mean they have any chance of resurrecting them.

Those were outlier days, when a school from the heartland with scant local recruiting could carve out niches elsewhere and win with scheme, a weight program, walk-ons and an elite coach. Those days are gone, and this is a tacit acknowledgment.

Nebraska coach Scott Frost

Frost's 2021 team is 3–7.

This is modern Nebraska, and this is modern Nebraska settling—not for pretty good, or even for mediocre. This is settling for losing. This is going cheap in a sport where money currently is no object (which is actually the most defensible reasoning here). This is running scared from vigorous competition in the coaching market as many other high-level jobs open.

Frost’s career record at his alma mater is 15–27. He has cemented a fourth straight losing season. The last Cornhuskers coach who did that was Bill Jennings (24), who never turned in a winning record in five seasons on the job from 1957 to ’61. Jennings’s winning percentage was .310, worst in school history for any coach who got more than two seasons. Second worst? Scott Frost at .357.

And now he’s getting a fifth season.

Giving Frost another year lowers the buyout tag from the current $20 million, and it could go down even more significantly if the restructured contract calls for it. Think Warde Manuel (25) and Michigan negotiating Jim Harbaugh (26) into a much less costly deal last offseason. Although at least Harbaugh had won some games when the Wolverines decided to keep him. At least Nebraska wasn’t going to hysterically overpay to correct the error of former AD Bill Moos extending Frost in December 2019. Coming out of a revenue-flattening pandemic, the school wasn’t going to go Auburn-stupid (27) with its money.

But that’s about the only good thing you can say about this decision. Mostly, this is Nebraska naively hoping for better, ignoring what is plainly in front of it. This is now an administrative extension of the delusional fan thinking that the 1990s are coming back again, any minute now.

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Alberts said in a statement Monday that he has seen “incremental progress” from the Cornhuskers since taking the job this summer. What that essentially boils down to is being suckered in by close losses to good teams.

Seven points to Oklahoma. Three points to Michigan State. Three points to Michigan. Nine points to Ohio State. Fine. Good show.

Now let’s look at everything else, which includes losses to Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue. Frost’s combined record against three Big Ten West opponents that Nebraska never dreamed it couldn’t dominate is 4–8. He’s also 0–2 against Wisconsin, 0–3 against Iowa, 2–2 against Northwestern. Imagine what his record would be if the Huskers were in the harder of the two Big Ten divisions.

The “close loss” narrative that has gotten such a workout lately holds up well upon close inspection against Michigan State and Michigan. Nebraska led both games in the second half and had great chances to win.

The rest of them? Not so much.

The one-score losses to the Illini, Gophers, Boilermakers and Sooners all were products of late Nebraska touchdowns that made the games look closer at the end. The Huskers led for zero minutes and zero seconds against Oklahoma; zero minutes and zero seconds against Minnesota; zero minutes and zero seconds against Ohio State; about 11 1/2 minutes of the first half against Illinois; and about half the game against Purdue, none of it in the fourth quarter.

Then there are the self-inflicted reasons for losing those games. They range from serially terrible special teams (28) to fourth-year starting quarterback Adrian Martinez (29), who tries hard but has long been prone to turnovers and accuracy issues, to in-game coaching decisions by Frost. He’s had 68 games as a college head coach but still makes some decisions that make you think he’s a rookie.

But if the Oh-So-Close Fairy Tale (30) is what Nebraska wants to cling to, go for it. Chances are, the Huskers were going to be well down the pecking order in a hiring cycle that includes LSU and USC and whatever jobs may open when those are filled.

Perhaps this is Nebraska’s 21st-century lot in life: a fifth year for a guy who makes Bo Pelini and Frank Solich look like [Bob] Devaney and Osborne. Perhaps the Cornhuskers are settling for submediocre because they know that the 1990s are gone forever, and all that remains is nostalgia, dry and withered as an old corn husk.

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