Let’s take a drive.
1. Most Nebraska football fans probably are reticent to recount the awful nature of last season. Losses piled up, debilitating losses, losses in which the Huskers looked less than enthusiastic to be playing a game at all.
During an extensive interview with new Nebraska head coach Scott Frost last week, I asked him to describe his level of concern with the impact last season -- a 4-8 record and six losses in the last seven games -- perhaps had on players from a confidence and emotional standpoint.
“Everything’s a habit,” Frost said. “And sometimes mediocrity can become a habit, too. We dealt with it two years ago (at UCF).”
The Knights were 0-12 in 2015, and head coach George O’Leary was fired before the season ended. To be fair to O’Leary, the Knights had seasons of 10-4, 12-1 and 9-4 right before the program tanked, necessitating the hiring of Frost.
Even so, 0-12 sounds devastating. I’m trying to imagine what it would feel like around our state if Nebraska finished 0-12. I’m not sure my mind will allow me to venture into such a dark place.
Most Husker fans would tell you that last season was bad enough.
So, let the program’s regeneration begin.
“There are a lot of steps that need to take place,” Frost said. “The kids need to love being here again. They need to look forward to being at practice, being around each other and being around the coaches.
“You go from hoping to win to thinking you can win to expecting to win to knowing you’re going to win,” he added. “That’s a process. We’re on the first steps of all that.”
The players must trust that the coaches can get them to the top.
The staff's work at UCF should help in that regard.
2. Frost acknowledges that recruiting players to Nebraska’s program has some challenges that his staff didn’t have in Orlando, Florida, where talent and speed abound.
Which helps explain the recent hiring of Bob Welton as a full-time member of the Huskers’ recruiting department. The Ohio native arrives from Tennessee, where he spent five years as the Vols’ director of player personnel under Butch Jones – who was fired Nov. 12 after a 0-6 start in the SEC. Jones was 34–27 record at the school.
“There’s not as many kids right around here, so I think we need to be as organized as we can be and as efficient as we can be in recruiting,” Frost said. “I think he’s going to be a good addition to help us make sure we’re reaching the kids we need to reach.”
Frost said he knows Welton from Welton’s time as a college scout with the Cleveland Browns from 2004-13. Before joining the Browns, Welton was a high school head coach for seven seasons in Michigan.
Frost said he’s in the final stages of filling out his staff. He’s down to hiring people in “support roles,” he said.
“The nuts and bolts of it are done,” he said.
The new coach is cognizant of maintaining a manageable staff size.
“We have a lot of people in this building,” he said. “I’m not used to dealing with so many people. There’s a point where you’re not as efficient because there are too many people. I want to make sure we don’t get past that point.”
3. It may seem trivial at first blush that NU system president Hank Bounds is a regular at Memorial Stadium during recruiting-visit weekends.
But it’s no small matter to Frost.
"I can't tell you how much impact that has on parents, especially,” the coach said. “You go on a typical recruiting visit and you get to see recruiting guys and assistant coaches, and get a little bit of time with the head coach. When kids come here, they spend time with me, they spend time with (athletic director) Bill Moos, they spend time with the president of the university. I think that shows the kind of unity of purpose that Nebraska needs to be about."
4. Even after all these years, it sometimes surprises me what strikes a chord with Nebraska football fans.
Folks seem awfully interested in Frost wanting to go to regular morning practices in the fall. I’ve covered the team for 25 years, and there never have been regular morning practices during the regular season.
Frost said he’s a firm believer in morning practices, saying players will sleep in and miss class but won’t sleep in and miss practice. What’s more, he says, morning practices kick in everyone’s metabolism, meaning folks will stay more alert throughout the day.
He then mentioned something that seems particularly practical in a pure football sense.
“The way we practice during the week of a game, it’s important for us to be done practicing hard by Wednesday at noon, so our kids can recover for the games,” Frost said.
Nebraska will practice Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings this spring. As for the fall, it comes down to class schedules working out for everyone. “We’ve gotten a lot of support from Donde Plowman (executive vice chancellor), Hank, Ronnie Green (chancellor) and people on campus,” the coach said. “I think we’ll be able to get it done.”
You might say it’s an example of “unity of purpose.”
5. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The 43-year-old Frost spends a decent amount of time on sporcle.com, which specializes in trivia quizzes.
"He's a factoid freak," NU associate athletic director for football Matt Davison says. "You could ask him, 'What are the five countries that border Uzbekistan?' He might know because he's a geography whiz. He's constantly doing things that make him think quickly."
It all makes sense. Frost has to call plays quickly because doing so gives his up-tempo spread offense an advantage.
Sure enough, before our interview last week Frost wanted me to try a sporcle quiz – name the top 100 home run hitters in MLB history. Forget that. I wanted to go with the top 100 scorers in NBA history. Between me, Frost and assistant A.D. Keith Mann, we got 75 of them in roughly 15 minutes (with some late help from Davison). Not bad.
It was my first meeting with Frost. My takeaway jibes with a description of Frost from an NU staffer: “He says some real (stuff) and means every word of it, but it’s coming from a laid-back, low-volume dude.”
6. Frost used “Cornhuskers” in a sentence in my Sunday column, and more than a few readers really appreciated it.
Nebraska’s athletic department marketing machine began pushing “Huskers” instead of “Cornhuskers” in the early- to mid-1990s.
I prefer Cornhuskers. I’ve always preferred Cornhuskers.
“You don’t make it by apologizing for not being a huge metro area or not being near beaches or mountains,” a long-time reader wrote to me in a text message. “And you certainly don’t make it by tweaking your core identity based on marketing consultants. Be the corn. Stand tall like that bin-busting crop stands in July. That will get you the respect and distinction you so longingly crave.
“Be yourself. Nobody respects a place that isn’t proud of itself.”
Extra point: Holy smokes, tell me Gervin wasn't poetry in motion ...