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Frost tasked with hiring third OC in four years; What are the challenges? And where might he look?
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HUSKER FOOTBALL

Frost tasked with hiring third OC in four years; What are the challenges? And where might he look?

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Maryland Penn St Football

Kirk Ciarrocca coached as an offensive coordinator at Minnesota and Penn State in the past five years. Could he return to the Big Ten by joining Scott Frost and Nebraska?

Nebraska football coach Scott Frost and athletic director Trev Alberts often get lumped together as former standout Huskers who played for Tom Osborne during the 1990s, Alberts a few years before Frost.

The athletic director, though, said Monday that he and Frost, “didn’t really have a relationship,” before he took the NU department’s top post back in July.

The way both men tell it, they’ve developed a functional, trusting relationship relatively quickly.

“We have what I would consider a very, very strong relationship,” Alberts said. “I think he trusts me. In fact, he told me (Monday), 'I really appreciate that we can have these very straightforward, honest conversations,' and I’m not sure he’s had that before.

“I’m not afraid to tell him what I think, but I say it respectfully, and he does the same with me.”

Now, Frost will have to find an offensive coordinator with whom he can have a relationship that is either already in place or built in a similarly swift manner to the one he and Alberts purportedly have.

Frost has four staff positions to fill after firing four offensive coaches Monday, but none will be more important than the person he hires to run the offense.

The fourth-year head coach has been a play-caller dating back to his Oregon days and he’ll have a chance to lay out his vision for a new offensive coordinator this week, but Alberts indicated that Frost is planning on taking a more global role rather than focusing so much on the play sheet.

There are challenges and also some benefits as Frost sets about looking for his next offensive coordinator.

The challenges are clear: Frost is headed into a make-or-break 2022 season, meaning the pressure is intense right from the start for a new OC. Who is going to leave a good situation to invite that uncertainty?

On top of that, Frost is looking for a third offensive coordinator in five years. There’s also his coaching tree, which is relatively modest. He’s coached mostly with people he’s familiar with for several years now. Branching out, especially in crunch time, isn’t easy.

But it’s not entirely a bad situation, either. Frost won’t be bound by the $500,000 he paid Matt Lubick to be the offensive coordinator and probably not even the $700,000 Troy Walters made before. Two years guaranteed at $1 million or more per year will attract interest.

Frost is never going to be the type to completely keep away from the offensive meeting room, but, as Alberts said Monday, “Scott’s matching wits with some of the most elite college football coaches in the history of the game in the Big Ten Conference, so it’ll be a challenge and it requires the full attention of the head coach in some of those critical, CEO areas.”

With that in mind, let’s take a trip to the offensive coordinator store.

While we’re there, let’s make some coordinating or play-calling experience a prerequisite. And, just for the heck of it, let’s focus on people that have some connection or familiarity — not necessarily years and years of history — to Frost and/or Nebraska or are going to be in the market for a job. Nobody has said that Nebraska will operate within these same boundaries but, as Alberts noted Monday, “college football is a big network.”

When Frost first arrived at NU, the two most natural coordinator candidates were Walters and Lubick. Now they've both come and gone.

Even if you stay away from some of the most talked-about figures, such as LSU offensive coordinator and O’Neill native Jake Peetz or former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, it's not difficult to come up with names. 

Here are just a few possibilities.

Kirk Ciarrocca, West Virginia analyst 

Frost is familiar with Ciarrocca, 56, for the work he’s done at other Big Ten schools, including Minnesota (2017-19) and Penn State (2020).

Ciarrocca helped P.J. Fleck build at both Western Michigan and Minnesota and oversaw that prolific 2019 Gophers offense, predicated on a powerful run-game and RPO concepts off of it that gave the Huskers fits. He jumped at the chance to join James Franklin at PSU, but then Franklin fired him to hire jettisoned Texas offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.

Ciarrocca did what many coaches do after getting fired and is working this year as an analyst at West Virginia.

Joe Dailey, Boston College WR coach

Dailey, 37, is a little bit closer to home as a candidate, considering he played quarterback at Nebraska. He’s in his second year as the receivers coach at Boston College under offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, but he’s also got experience as an OC. That came in 2019 at New Mexico and also from 2014-18 at Liberty under Turner Gill, one of Frost’s mentors.

Dailey’s a Husker and Frost could lean on Gill in the vetting process, but he’d also be a new voice with fresh ideas, which Frost said he needs. It also would be a big jump for Dailey.

Like Ciarrocca, Dailey has several years of experience coaching quarterbacks.

Keith Heckendorf, Arkansas State offensive coordinator

Heckendorf, 40, is in his third year coordinating the offense at ASU. One issue: The Red Wolves have had a brutal year and are 1-8 currently. The past two seasons were much prettier, as ASU finished No. 14 in total offense in 2020 and No. 26 in scoring offense in 2019 under his direction. 

Heckendorf spent 2005-07 at Nebraska as a quality control coach and graduate assistant. Before Arkansas State, he was the quarterbacks coach at North Carolina.

Tim Cramsey, Marshall offensive coordinator

A slightly different form of connection, Cramsey is part of the Chip Kelly tree, having worked for him at New Hampshire.

Cramsey, 46, is in his fourth year as the play-caller and quarterbacks coach for the Thundering Herd, who are eighth nationally in total offense and No. 21 in scoring offense so far in 2021.

Like Heckendorf, he’s an experienced Group of Five coordinator. He shares a mentor with Frost (Kelly) and UNH connections with a couple others on Nebraska’s coaching staff.

Jeff Nixon, Carolina Panthers running backs coach

Nixon’s connection to Nebraska is a straightforward one: His son, Will, is a freshman receiver for the Huskers.

Nixon, 47, made the transition back to the NFL when Matt Rhule took the Carolina head coaching job ahead of the 2020 season.

Before that, he was the co-offensive coordinator/play-caller at Baylor and coached running backs for Ruhle as the Bears program ascended quickly.

Sonny Cumbie, Texas Tech offensive coordinator/interim head coach

On Saturday’s Fox broadcast of Nebraska’s loss to Ohio State, announcers Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt very conspicuously talked about a conversation they had with Frost in a production meeting in which Frost said NU needed to recruit better in Texas.

So, here’s a Texas native who’s spent most of his coaching career in Texas who also happens to be the interim head coach of an outgoing staff at TTU. The Red Raiders have already hired Joey McGuire as their new head coach and he’s set to take over fully when 2021 the season ends.

Cumbie, 40, has had a coordinator title at different stints at Texas Tech and TCU since 2013 and has coached quarterbacks since 2014, though he also has experience coaching receivers.

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.

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Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

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