Listen to Dave Ellis talk about his return to Nebraska, and he sounds an awful lot like the guy who brought him back into the fold in Lincoln.
While traveling the nation as perhaps America's top consultant in the world of sports nutrition, Ellis watched from afar as the Nebraska football program fell from its perch at the top of the football world.
A Nebraska alum who was a critical piece of Tom Osborne's championship teams in the mid-1990s, Ellis and NU coach Scott Frost had a lot of the same thoughts on the Huskers' demise, even if they weren't in the same place.
"It was, at times, too painful to watch. There’s nobody that was around when we were getting this thing done — when we would win at home and on the road we expected to win, we carried ourselves with that kind of swagger, because we were better-prepared — that could probably sit back and say that it’s not been hard to watch," Ellis said recently from his office in Colorado Springs, Colorado. "So I followed it enough to know that the opportunity to get back in here and turn this back in the right direction was a special opportunity that I take very seriously.
"I think we have an obligation to not only do that for our fans and for a great head coach like Scott, but to cement Tom’s legacy the way it should be properly cemented."
Now, with Frost back, Ellis is back, too.
The Omaha native was announced as Nebraska's director of performance nutrition a little more than a week ago. His first task, much like the mantra Frost has repeated since his hiring in December, is to get back to the things that made Nebraska great — embrace the past while innovating for the future.
"I'll be honest with you — we've got to get some things that we were doing right 17 years ago back in place," Ellis said.
Ellis was in the same role at Nebraska starting in 1994, which you might recall was the start of a pretty good run for the Huskers.
He left in 2001 to try his hand at what at first was to be a role with Major League Baseball. That quickly morphed into a consulting role that saw Ellis working with top teams and athletes across professional and amateur sports, as well as the military.
"Talk about stimulating. I mean, going in and problem solving, sorting out the cultures of different organizations, figuring out who the real advocates are, championing all of that to where we can really move the needle on progress for a team," Ellis said. "And there's just been a lot of growth there along the way because it's such a dynamic world outside of college that I couldn't have imagined beforehand."
While working with clients across the nation, Ellis found out just how far ahead of the game Nebraska was in its heyday in the mid-1990s.
"What we were doing was pretty far ahead of the curve so long ago that I literally just spent the last 17 years bringing people up to speed on a lot of things that we were doing," Ellis said. "But I would tell you, along the way, it moved immensely. And every one of those stops along the way has taught me something that I didn't know.
"Because there's no school for this. There's no way to replicate the dynamics of working in athletics in a curriculum. There is only going and doing it, and solving problems that are unique to these sport cultures."
Ellis had been consulting with the Huskers since January, when Frost and strength coach Zach Duval tapped him to help reset Nebraska's training table.
The familiarity among the three made it a natural fit. Frost starred at quarterback and Duval worked as a student assistant, graduate assistant and assistant strength coach while Ellis headed up the nutrition side of things.
Before long, the idea was floated of having Ellis return to Nebraska full time. And with all the opportunities Ellis has come across over the past 17 years, home outweighed them all.
"To go full-circle in a career, where I started, where I cut teeth as a student and did my undergraduate work ... and gradually got the opportunities to pick up the nutrition reins full time, I've always had an IOU for Nebraska," Ellis said. "Because it made me, as far as my career that I had as an adviser, flying all over the place and working at different levels of sport."
The chance to work with Frost appealed on a deep level to Ellis. Much like the football coach, Ellis holds Osborne in high esteem. And he sees a lot of similiarities between the two.
"And I think that’s an inspiring force for me personally, still," Ellis said. "I want to come back and try to help Scott instill all that, but most importantly I see it in Scott. I see the same quiet wisdom that I saw in Tom, and a guy that was so secure in his own skin as a head coach. And was a super-rational decision-maker that was way out in front of everybody when it came to high performance. I see that same wisdom in Scott. I think Scott must have soaked it up while he was here, obviously as an athlete, and studied it after he left as an aspiring head coach. And I think Scott would be the first to say that he’s not running from it, he’s embracing it.
"And I’ve always embraced it. It’s carried me for 17 years in practice."