Two days after he won his first game as a head football coach, Tommie Frazier was working in his cramped office at Doane College in Crete, Neb., when he received a surprise congratulatory call. It was from his former coach at Nebraska, Tom Osborne, now a U.S. congressman. "He said he hoped it was the first of many wins," recalls Frazier, whose team lost its first two games of the season but then beat Northwestern College 16-10 on Sept. 17. "We chatted for a bit, but I purposely didn't ask him for advice. I already knew what it would have been: 'Tommie, you have to run the ball more.'"
One of the most electric and popular players in Cornhuskers history, Frazier was the option quarterback in Osborne's no-frills, run-oriented offense when Nebraska won back-to-back national championships in 1994 and '95. But at Doane, an NAIA school that plays in the Great Plains Athletic Conference and is located 25 miles southwest of Lincoln, Frazier unveiled a playbook that featured more variety than Osborne's typical fullback trap and power sweep. "We have a spread offense," says Frazier, 31, who ranks second alltime at Nebraska in total offense (5,476 yards) and was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in '95. "We're going to mix it up here."
As a player Frazier never imagined he would coach. After his storied career with the Big Red, he was passed over in the NFL draft because of his mediocre passing skills and concern about blood clots in his right leg that caused him to miss eight games in his junior season.
Frazier signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL in '96 but missed most of the season with pneumonia, and he retired after doctors told him he was risking his life every time he took a snap. (Frazier was also later diagnosed with Crohn's disease.) "It was tough to leave the game, and I thought I had left it for good," says Frazier, who went on to work in public relations for Nebraska governor Ben Nelson and later for a communications company in Omaha.
In 1999 Baylor coach Kevin Steele, a former Nebraska assistant who had recruited Frazier out of Manatee High in Bradenton, Fla., hired him as running backs coach. After four seasons Frazier returned to Nebraska and spent nearly two years as an assistant director of athletic development. But he missed coaching, and when Doane offered him the job last spring, Frazier didn't hesitate to accept. "Until the moment [Steele] called, I never thought about coaching," says Frazier, who lives in Omaha with his wife, Andrea, and their two-year-old son, Tommie III. "I immediately loved the interaction with the players, and I loved being back in the game. I was hooked." --Albert Chen