Scott Frost had tears in his eyes as he celebrated with his University of Central Florida football team, after the unbeaten Knights wrapped up the American Athletic Conference title Saturday afternoon.
He had tears in his eyes moments later at a news conference as he tried to explain what the team meant to him and listened to the players say the same about him.
The tears came not just because of a 12-0 season, or the prospect of a team that went winless in 2015 punching its ticket to a New Year's Day bowl.
They came because Frost knew these were the final moments of his tenure at the school. And because he knew what he was leaving behind but also what he was about to embark on.
A long-awaited trip home.
The 42-year-old from Wood River, a former Husker quarterback, was named Saturday as Nebraska's new head coach after signing a seven-year, $35 million contract. According to a news release, new Husker Athletic Director Bill Moos will introduce Frost during a noon Sunday news conference at Memorial Stadium.
Moos selected Frost after consulting with UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green and NU President Hank Bounds. Moos said Frost is a rising star in the profession and a natural fit to lead the program.
He added that Frost is well-prepared to take over a tradition-rich program like Nebraska, in part because of the successful coaches he's learned from during his playing and coaching careers.
"I am thrilled that Scott is returning to his alma mater to lead the Husker football program," Moos said in a prepared statement. "I truly believe that we have hired the premier young coach in the country and that exciting times lie ahead."
Frost called it a "great honor and privilege" to lead the Nebraska program after guiding Central Florida the past two seasons.
"I have been fortunate to be at a wonderful school the last two years, but Nebraska is a special place with a storied tradition and a fan base which is second-to-none," he said. "I am truly humbled to be here. The state of Nebraska and the Husker program mean a great deal to me. This is home.
"I am appreciative of the confidence Bill Moos and our University leadership have in me to lead this program. I would not have the opportunity to be in this position without a lot of great people who have helped me throughout my career. Specifically, I would like to thank Coach (Tom) Osborne, who has played such an integral role in my life over the past two decades, both on and off the field. Go Big Red!"
Minutes after his No. 14 Central Florida team knocked off No. 20 Memphis 62-55 in double-overtime in Saturday's American Athletic Conference Championship Game, the TV broadcast showed Frost with tears in his eyes as he embraced his players. Asked in the post-game news conference whether he'd addressed his team about his future, Frost said, "I haven't talked to them yet, and I will."
It was a celebration-worthy season, as UCF improved to 12-0 and likely clinched a berth in the Jan. 1 Peach Bowl as a result.
"This has been fun," Frost said. "This game was fun, last game (a 49-42 win against South Florida) was fun. This season’s been fun. This has been the best year of my life."
Frost, who smiled widely and appeared to have tears in his eyes throughout the news conference, was asked directly if he had coached his last game at UCF. He reiterated wanting to address his team and lamented the speed with which change happens this time of year.
"They should give you time after the season to make decisions, and they don't," he said. "These things happen at the wrong time. ... I've been game-planning and coaching and doing the best I can for these guys and then decisions land on you and they're hard decisions."
UCF athletic director Danny White said later Saturday that Frost attracted attention from several schools through the fall — he declined to name them specifically — and that the pair had an open, running dialogue throughout.
"I think it's fair to say that the pull to alma mater won the day," White said.
Frost's average base salary of $5 million per season will make him the third highest-paid coach in the Big Ten behind Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Michigan's Jim Harbaugh and 10th in the country.
Frost will next be tasked with restoring the program to the national prominence it enjoyed while he was a Husker. Frost helped NU earn a share of the national title in 1997 and engineered a 24-2 career as the starter. His final game, a decisive win against Tennessee and Peyton Manning in the 1998 Orange Bowl, was also Osborne’s final time on the sideline coaching the Huskers.
Since then, the Husker program has steadily declined, seeing good years under Frank Solich, a little success under Bill Callahan, an up-and-down, 67-27 ride under Bo Pelini, then a 19-19 three-year period under Mike Riley that ended when he was fired Nov. 25 after a 4-8 season.
Now, Frost takes control of the top football post at his alma mater.
Frost spent two successful seasons in charge at UCF, turning an 0-12 team into a 6-7 outfit in his first season, then guiding the Knights to 12 straight wins this fall.
He has a reported $3 million buyout to leave the school, which is half of the remaining money on his contract. Per multiple reports, Frost also had an extension offer from White that he had been mulling, but held off signing, in recent weeks.
Moments before Nebraska issued a release officially announcing the hire, Moos sent an email to school donors and football season ticket-holders introducing the new head coach.
The 66-year-old administrator was able to do so before he hits the six-week mark of his tenure here. That, naturally, drew rave reviews from Bounds and Green.
"We are immensely pleased to welcome (Frost) home with his growing family," Green said in a statement. "This is a great day for Nebraska, because we anticipate his proven leadership will have great impact on our student-athletes for many years to come."
Added Bounds, “The best predictor of future performance is past performance, and Scott Frost’s record speaks for itself. He’s going to be a great leader of young men and of our football program. I couldn’t be more excited to welcome Scott and his family back to Nebraska.”
Frost has never seemed like a sure bet to be a Husker lifer. After his standout high school career as an option quarterback and track star, he began his college football career at Stanford. There, he started twice at quarterback and five games at safety before returning to Nebraska in 1995.
After sitting out a season because of NCAA transfer rules, Frost succeeded Tommie Frazier at quarterback in 1996, leading the Huskers to an 11-2 record. And in 1997, he powered a unit that led the nation in total offense, scoring and rushing yardage.
Frost was a third-round NFL Draft pick by the New York Jets in 1998 and drifted around the league until 2003, including stops in Cleveland, Green Bay and Tampa Bay as a safety and special-teams player.
In December 2002, while on injured reserve for the Packers, Frost served as a temporary graduate assistant for the Huskers, the last time he set foot on campus as part of the NU program.
He learned from several greats during his career, including Bill Walsh at Stanford and the likes of Jon Gruden, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick in the NFL. That education continued through college stops at Kansas State and Northern Iowa before Frost was hired by Chip Kelly to coach wide receivers at Oregon.
That’s where Frost took a master’s course in offensive football, learning the system he's used this fall at UCF — the Knights entered Saturday leading the nation in scoring (48.3 points per game) while ranking third in yards per play (7.4).
He was Oregon's offensive coordinator for two years under Mark Helfrich when Kelly left for the NFL, then got a chance to run his own program in December 2015 when he was hired by UCF.
Frost's star in the coaching industry has risen fast. He quickly became one of the most sought-after young coaches on the market as the Knights gained steam this season.
One of those interested was his alma mater, and now, 20 years after he left as one of the top quarterbacks in NU history, he returns as its head coach.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Fresh off his biggest legislative victory of the Trump era, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Saturday disputed projections that the Senate's tax bill would add to the nation's debt woes.
Back home in Kentucky just hours after the Senate narrowly pushed through the nearly $1.5 trillion tax bill early Saturday morning, McConnell predicted that the boldest rewrite of the nation's tax system in decades would generate more than enough economic growth to prevent the burgeoning deficits being forecast.
"I not only don't think it will increase the deficit, I think it will be beyond revenue neutral," he told reporters. "In other words, I think it will produce more than enough to fill that gap."
President Donald Trump reveled Saturday in the Senate's passage of a sweeping tax bill, predicting with swagger that he and his fellow Republicans were "unbeatable."
The tax legislation now goes to a House-Senate committee, which will try to reconcile the versions passed by each chamber. "Something beautiful is going to come out of that mixer," Trump said, speaking during a fundraising trip in New York. "People are going to be very, very happy."
Looking ahead, the president boasted that Democrats' prospects in 2020 looked bleak.
"Right now unless they have somebody that we don't know about, right now we're unbeatable. We're unbeatable," Trump said. "And one of the reasons is what's happening with the markets, what's happening with business, what's happening with jobs."
Trump suggested Saturday he may be willing to negotiate changes to a significant portion of the tax overhaul, the corporate tax rate, injecting an element of uncertainty into the tax plan only hours after it cleared the Senate.
Trump told reporters at the White House before the New York trip that he would consider setting the corporate tax rate at 22 percent, compared to a 20 percent rate that he has pushed for with House and Senate Republicans during the fall.
Pointing to expected talks between House and Senate negotiators this month, Trump predicted "something beautiful is going to come out of that mixer" and the business tax would come "all the way down from 35 to 20. It could be 22 when it comes out, but it could also be 20. We'll see what ultimately comes out."
The shift perplexed some Republicans. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tried to pare back the proposed cut in corporate tax rates to 20.94 percent to provide a more generous increase in the child tax credit. But he was rebuffed.
"Senate leaders & White House fought hard to defeat expanded #ChildTaxCredit b/c of 20.94% rate but now 22% is ok?" Rubio tweeted Saturday.
Over the next decade, Republicans' tax plan is projected to add at least $1 trillion to the national debt. That would be on top of an additional $10 trillion in deficits over the same period already being forecast by the Congressional Budget Office.
"I'm not one of the total supply-siders who just believes that if you cut taxes, no matter what amount, you turn out ahead," McConnell said. "I still believe in revenue neutrality for tax reform, and I believe this is a revenue neutral tax reform bill."
McConnell's hometown congressman, Democrat John Yarmuth, said Senate Republicans had "abdicated any claim they had to being the party of fiscal responsibility."
"There is nothing remotely responsible about forcing through a ... hastily conceived bill to give tax cuts to the already wealthy and multi-national corporations," Yarmuth said in a statement.
McConnell predicted that the GOP-led House and Senate can resolve differences over the tax legislation and get it to President Donald Trump before Christmas. McConnell said he doesn't foresee any compromises that would threaten the Senate Republican coalition supporting the bill.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was the only lawmaker to cross party lines, voting in opposition along with Democrats.
McConnell also disputed claims by the bill's critics that it focuses its tax reductions on businesses and higher-earning individuals, while giving more modest breaks to others.
"I haven't run into anybody during this whole tax discussion who's very successful who thinks they're benefiting from it," the Senate leader said.
The bill would award about $2,200 a year in tax relief to the average family of four, McConnell said. "And that's pretty darn important to them," he said.
Voters ultimately can look to the nation's economic performance to determine whether Republicans or Democrats were right in the bitter tax debate.
"Look, a year or two from now, you guys can make an assessment which one of us was right," he said to reporters. "The proof will be in whether or not the economy picks up and things get better."
McConnell, the state's longest-serving senator, also indicated during his appearance in Louisville that he plans to run for another Senate term in 2020.
Asked whether he's bracing for a potential challenge from within his own party, McConnell said as a party leader he gets "a lot of slings and arrows."
"I think the best way to judge a campaign is how did it end, not how did it begin," he said, pointing out that he overwhelmingly carried the state in 2014 in the primary and general elections.
Adopting a line from the Watergate scandal, three state lawmakers have publicly questioned the content of emails exchanged between current and former University of Nebraska administrators.
The senators have also sought answers to why it took the university more than two months to make the emails public after they'd first turned them over through a public records request.
“The question that comes to mind after seeing the email release is what did they know and when did they know it,” state Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard said in a phone interview on Nov. 21.
Erdman said he was disappointed that neither NU President Hank Bounds nor University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green disclosed the records, including an email where a former UNL administrator shared concerns over treatment of conservative students on campus -- during a Nov. 16 meeting with senators.
A day later Bounds sent a letter to Gov. Pete Rickets and all state senators apologizing for the content of several emails, which were previously turned over in response to two open records requests.
The emails released included an Aug. 31 exchange between Donde Plowman, UNL’s executive vice chancellor, and her predecessor, Ellen Weissinger, in which the former senior vice chancellor says “I don’t think it’s ‘safe’ to be conservative on our campus.”
The emails followed an emotional confrontation on campus between graduate student lecturer Courtney Lawton and Kaitlyn Mullen, an undergraduate student recruiting for the conservative group Turning Point USA.
Once it became clear her initial email would go public, Weissinger wrote a follow-up email to clarify she “never once worried” that any student with conservative beliefs was in physical danger on campus, only that some students might be hesitant to voice their views in classrooms that don’t seem welcoming to an exchange of ideas.
She said her emails to Plowman were meant to reassure the administrator that the heated climate, in which a pair of threatening messages from a Florida man were left on Plowman's office phone, would pass.
“I probably shouldn’t have voiced my personal two cents worth in that email,” Weissinger wrote in her follow-up note. “In great part because I know that Donde has a different and more current understanding of these issues. But also because I was writing in a very emotional moment that didn’t lend itself to nuanced sentences.”
According to the senators, the first time they saw the email was on Nov. 17, a day after their face-to-face meeting with university system and campus leaders.
“To have them set across the table from us on Thursday and outright deny there is a problem at the University of Nebraska, that there is no bias and everything is fine, and then on Friday to release that letter of apology, is absurd,” Erdman said.
The emails at question were first turned over nearly two months earlier, in response to a public records request from Lincoln attorney J.L. Spray, a former executive director of the Nebraska GOP.
The Journal Star recently asked to review public records requests made to the university after the Aug. 25 confrontation on campus.
Of the more than 60 pages released to the Journal Star, a handful were copies of requests made by representatives of the state Republican Party, or from media outlets like Turning Point News and Conservative Review.
Kenny Zoeller, executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party, sought messages on Aug. 29 between English Associate Professor Amanda Gailey and Lawton, including emails containing the names of Republican officials or Betsy Riot, a protest organization with a Lincoln presence.
Spray’s request followed on Sept. 11, four days after UNL said it had removed Lawton from the classroom. It sought records from Plowman as well as communication between the provost, Gailey and Lawton. He also sought a directory of UNL employees.
About 180 pages of records were turned over to Spray on Sept. 21, mostly emails following the Aug. 25 confrontation on the UNL campus that sparked outrage as images from the incident were shared across social media.
Both Erdman and state Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings, who joined Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon in writing a late October editorial raising questions about the treatment of conservative-minded students at UNL, said they were unaware of the records, including the email with Weissinger's comment, turned over to Spray.
A little more than a week after NU administrators responded to the senators' editorial by defending their actions in removing Lawton from the classroom, but not firing her, the university received another public records request from writer Chris Pandolfo of Conservative Review.
The request — using nearly identical language to that included in Spray’s request — sought specific records using the words “Voicemail referencing Turning Point USA Incident,” “conservative” or “tolerant.”
The subject line of Plowman’s Aug. 31 email to Weissinger was “Voicemail referencing Turning Point Incident.” Weissinger’s response to Plowman includes both “conservative” and “tolerant."
Pandolfo, based in South Carolina, declined to say if he coordinated with Spray or anyone else in Nebraska before making his records request. Conservative Review posted its story on the emails on Nov. 20.
“I suggest this is why many Americans think reporters are the scum of the earth. Asking another journalist to unethically disclose hypothetical sources? You can’t be serious,” Pandolfo wrote in an email to the Journal Star.
As debate over the emails and their release continues, faculty at UNL said in a Nov. 27 open letter they have been "aggressively targeted by sweeping open records requests made by the governor’s allies.” More than 290 faculty across the university system had signed the letter as of Saturday afternoon.
In a recent request, dated Nov. 22, Spray asked the university to turn over emails between UNL English Department Chairman Marco Abel and other faculty or administrators over a five-month period, including communications “from any email address” controlled by Abel.
Spray did not return the Journal Star’s phone calls Thursday or Friday.
An spokeswoman said NU only wrote the letter to Ricketts and the Legislature after Conservative Review's request and not Spray's because it was likely the emails would be widely shared.
"At that point, it seemed clear the documents would be made public," spokeswoman Melissa Lee said. "We made the decision we wanted to share what we had found."
Sen. Brewer said the emails, including comments from former UNL public relations staffers looking to spin the story, have reaffirmed his drive to continue seeking answers from the university.
“We’re the ones who are going to fight the good fight,” he said. “The university can make life difficult if they want to. They did not answer our questions — if they would have done that in the beginning rather than come out with Green’s attack, this wouldn’t have went anywhere.”
Sen. Erdman said he believes the emails shed light on “an issue that has infiltrated all college campuses,” in which conservative students do not feel comfortable sharing their political views, including each campus in the NU system.
“It never was our intent to damage the university or to make them look bad, but it is our intent to solve the problem,” he said.
Gailey, who was photographed on Aug. 25 asking Turning Point USA to include her on its “Professor Watchlist,” said Republican operatives are abusing open records requests “to figure out what private citizens' politics are.”
“When you are in a state under single-party control with an extremely wealthy ruler whose single party exempts themselves from public scrutiny while using the power of the law to pry through these private political communications of dissidents, you would think you were reading about an oppressive state on the other side of the planet,” Gailey said.
“But you’re reading about Nebraska.”