As No. 15 Central Florida begins its preparations for the American Athletic Conference championship game against No. 20 Memphis on Saturday in Orlando, head coach Scott Frost on Monday did little to quell the growing sense that he will leave UCF for Nebraska.
The first 24 hours after Mike Riley was fired saw some dominoes fall that seemed to strengthen NU’s positioning for the 42-year-old Wood River native, like Florida moving on from its pursuit of him and hiring Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen.
That trend only continued Monday, and signs point to Frost becoming Nebraska’s next head coach, multiple sources have told the Journal Star.
In a Monday interview on 1620 The Zone, CBS Tampa sports director Ryan Bass, who covers UCF, said, “(Frost) doesn’t let a lot of things out, but this has just steamrolled and this has been hard to contain. … Some of his staffers have cleaned out their desks at UCF. They’re finalizing some paperwork that they have to get done and it seems as if it is imminent that Scott Frost is leaving UCF. Now, I have not heard that from Scott Frost himself or anyone exactly close to Scott Frost, but I will tell you that UCF people are certainly preparing for Scott Frost’s exit.”
Frost spoke Monday both on a teleconference previewing the AAC title game and a news conference and answered direct questions about Nebraska by attempting to deflect attention to his players. However, he also came off as though there’s writing on the wall.
“I’d be hurt if Nebraska wasn’t interested in me,” Frost said during the news conference. “We’re undefeated and I’m from there. When you win, a lot of people are interested in you. That doesn’t matter. What matters are these players and what they’ve accomplished and they deserve the focus to be on them and not me.”
Not surprisingly, though, much of the focus is on the head coach who's become a hot commodity in the coaching world.
“I’m not going to say much,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much I care about these players and that’s been true of my past, it’s going to be true every year I’m coaching. Our entire staff is that way. These guys are special and they deserve my best — I’ve said that all year, they deserve our coaching staff’s best.”
Asked earlier in the day on an AAC teleconference directly if he would be UCF’s head coach in 2018, Frost said, "All I want to talk about is this football team, I've said that multiple times. These guys have done everything I have asked of them and my focus is on this football team."
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A win in the title game would likely put the Knights in Jan. 1’s Peach Bowl as the Group of Five representative in the New Year's Six set of bowl games. Frost appears to have a decision to make before that.
“Every year in college football there’s tough decisions to make and those kind of things happen and when the time is right, we’ll make them,” Frost said. “I know it would be really hard to leave this team because of how much love I have for this group of guys and how much effort they’ve given us.
“All I’m going to do is go back to my office and watch more film. This shouldn’t be about me. I know the questions are going to come, but these guys have earned the right for the conversation to be about them and the game they won on Friday and the game they’re going to play on Saturday.”
Frost said he doesn’t address the speculation with his players.
“I’ve been doing my thing,” he said. “I’m a loyal guy and I’m loyal to my family and I’m loyal to people that care about me. I’m loyal to this coaching staff, I’m loyal to these kids. I’m loyal to my alma mater, but I’m more loyal to the people that I’m going to battle with every day and that’s been at Kansas State and Northern Iowa and Oregon and here and, right now, my loyalties lie with these players.”
Those players and Frost together have put together an 11-0 season. They topped South Florida, 49-42, on Friday night to clinch a spot in the AAC title game and now can earn a likely trip to the Peach Bowl if they beat the Tigers for a second time this season. UCF topped Memphis, 40-13, in late September.
That’s a dramatic turnaround from an 0-12 year in 2015 and a 6-7 mark in Frost’s first season, and one he reflected on Monday.
“I can’t tell you how much pride I take in the fact that we came here and took on the task of fixing something that wasn’t in a good place when we took it over,” he said. “I don’t think the players were in a good place. This university is special and this community special. It gives me a lot of pride to know that we came in and righted the ship. I knew this place could be the type of place that could compete for conference championships every year.
"I’ve got to tell you, I thought it would take a lot longer than this to get it to this point. We’ve made the right choices on the steps we’ve made along the way. The biggest part is I’m thrilled for these players, especially these seniors."