When Scott Frost left Nebraska following the 1998 Orange Bowl with a national championship under his belt and an NFL career on the horizon, he had already studied under two of football’s great coaching minds.
Two years under Bill Walsh at Stanford — Walsh coached the Cardinal for three years after a 14-year stint and three Super Bowl wins with the San Francisco 49ers — and two more under Tom Osborne in Lincoln would constitute for most players a lifetime worth of experience.
Frost, though, was just getting started.
His NFL career and early years in college football put him in proximity to an all-star cast of football minds. Frost, known as a voracious worker, has used those experiences and his own prowess to establish himself as, in athletic director Bill Moos’ mind, “the premier young coach in the country.”
Former Oregon head coach Mike Belotti, hired to Eugene by Moos and eventually the man that hired Frost to UO, agreed.
“He’d been around some of the best coaches in the world, but he also had enough confidence in himself that he didn’t need to be anybody else, he could just be himself,” Belotti told the Journal Star. “Once he figured out what that was, there was nothing that was going to stop him.”
Here’s a look at how the coaches Frost has played for and worked with have shaped his experiences as he takes over as the head coach at his alma mater.
Bill Walsh (Stanford, 1993-94) and Tom Osborne (Nebraska, 1995-97)
Walsh coached Frost for two years at Stanford after a 14-year run in charge of the San Francisco 49ers that yielded three Super Bowl titles.
Frost has referred to Osborne as a mentor and a hero. The Husker legend is one of the two most notable influences on Frost’s football life, with Chip Kelly likely being the other.
Osborne played a key role in helping Moos land Frost this fall, 20 years after he and his former quarterback won a share of a national championship together in his final year coaching.
“He does visually remind me of Tom Osborne and Bill Walsh,” Belotti said. “He reminds me of those two guys. I had a chance to get to know those guys — coached against Bill Walsh and have met Tom Osborne through various other things. I really think he carries himself in that manner.”
Frost is somewhat reserved and even-keeled publicly, but players swear by his energy and enthusiasm day-to-day.
“I keep saying Tom Osborne,” Belotti said. “Bill Walsh was a little more flamboyant and not as reserved. (Frost) doesn’t go out on a limb too many times, he says what he feels is the truth and what he and his players can back up with their actions. In this day in age, it’s kind of refreshing to see a coach that’s not constantly trying to toot his own horn.”
Bill Parcells (head coach) and Bill Belichick (defensive coordinator), New York Jets, 1998-99
Frost arrived in the NFL and immediately had two Hall of Famers to learn from. Parcells was fresh off a successful run with the Patriots and Belichick began his shortly after.
For being exposed to high-level defense for the first time, what better person to learn from than perhaps the best NFL coach of his generation?
Jon Gruden (head coach), Mike Tomlin (defensive backs), Raheem Morris (defensive quality control), Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2003
Frost had another trio of successful coaches and mentors in Tampa. Gruden, of course, led the team to a Super Bowl the season before.
Frost has credited Tomlin previously with being the one who told him he should consider getting into coaching when his playing days were over. Morris played a key role in Frost’s transition to college coaching years later.
Also on staff: Former Husker defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
One other note: It’s easy to overlook Frost’s 2001 season with the Cleveland Browns (12 games, 11 tackles) but in addition to head coach Butch Davis, that staff included Bruce Arians (OC), Chuck Pagano (DB) and Todd Bowles (assistant DB). Not bad.
Morris (defensive coordinator), Kansas State, 2006
Morris spent exactly one year in the Little Apple between stints with Tampa Bay. It just so happened that he helped convince Frost to jump back into coaching and take a graduate assistant position at KSU while he was there.
Morris left the Bucs to become the defensive coordinator in 2006 for first-year head coach Ron Prince. Frost and Morris both left after that season — Frost to Northern Iowa as a linebackers coach and then co-defensive coordinator, Morris back to Tampa as the defensive backs coach — but two years together helped Frost continue his studies of the defensive side of the ball.
Mark Farley, Northern Iowa, 2007-08
This is the first time Frost had a defensive position to coach for himself. In 2008, he shared coordinator responsibilities with now-North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman. Also on that staff: NU quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco. More than future staffers, though, Frost used his time under Farley to quickly build on a budding reputation.
“I knew that he’d played offense and been a quarterback, so I trusted his understanding and knowledge of the whole game,” Belotti said. “I’m interviewing him to be a receivers coach because that was the position we had available, and we talked about tackling for 20 minutes. … I just felt like his background, his knowledge and all the ways that it fit together was going to be a great match. I like people that don’t just have one view of the game. He really impressed me.”
Chip Kelly, Oregon, 2009-13
Belotti never worked on the same staff as Frost, though. Instead, he moved to a departmental role and Kelly was elevated from offensive coordinator to head coach. Thus began Frost’s years-long immersion into the world of wide-open, spread-out football.
“I don’t think Chip Kelly gets enough credit for affecting college football,” Frost told SB Nation this fall. “You look back at when he started this offense. Everyone else was running something that looked more pro-style. Now, you look around the country and everyone’s running a version of spread. A lot of them are tempo, and a lot of the schemes that we are running back (back then), everybody’s running.”
Frost worked under Kelly for four years — the Ducks went 46-12 and earned a national title game appearance — and then served as offensive coordinator for Mark Helfrich for three. Factor in his two seasons at UCF, and Frost’s first year at Nebraska will be his 10th using this offensive system.
“Very similar,” Belotti said of what Frost did in Orlando. “Scott got in at a great level … but there were some things that Scott had to learn. He learned it, he learned how to recruit. It was a different animal at Oregon than any place he’d ever been. It wasn’t like Stanford or Nebraska or his other stops along the way. There were some things from an offensive standpoint and how to get the most out of the players, coach the players.”
The Nebraska era begins
At 42, Frost has a seven-year, $35-million contract and has been tasked with restoring his alma mater to glory. The turnaround happened fast in Orlando, but all parties involved have pointed at the length of his deal as an indication that they are not willing to take shortcuts in rebuilding. Moos’ bravado about Frost’s status, though, is certainly shared by Belotti.
“If you just flip the script and go from a losing program to a winning program, that’s one thing, but to go from the depth of despair that caused George O’Leary to say, ‘I’m out of here,’ and then to change it to where you’re competing for the best record in the nation … and they play an exciting style, too,” Belotti said.