Urban Meyer rocked. Mike Price got rolled. Scott Frost walking the sidelines at the Peach Bowl wearing a Central Florida polo over a Nebraska Cornhuskers heart — and, more importantly, a Cornhuskers contract — could go down a couple of roads, including ones with historical potholes.
It takes a special head to wear two hats simultaneously and not lose your head in process. Price took the Alabama job while preparing Washington State for the 2003 Rose Bowl. The Cougars wound up getting stomped by Oklahoma in Pasadena, 34-14. Two seasons later, Meyer was snapped up by Florida after piloting unbeaten Utah to the Fiesta Bowl, crashing the BCS party. Meyer finished what he started — although his replacement, Kyle Whittingham, served as his co-coach in the postseason — by crushing Pittsburgh, 35-7.
“Personally, I don’t know. I’d say it’s a mistake,” former Nebraska assistant turned coach and radio commentator Jim Walden told Land of 10 when asked about Frost’s Huskers-Knights juggle. “I have mixed emotions. I think it’s admirable for him to want to do that, or [that] the players might want him to do it.
“If one of his successors had been picked on his staff to do the job, then I’d say he needs to leave and go to Nebraska and let him get on with it. My history tells me that lame-duck coaches don’t usually do a very good job at bowl games.”
‘He’s a very, very integrity-driven guy’
Actually, history is all over the map, depending on the coach, the game, and the circumstance.
Alabama coach Nick Saban has had to handle this for three years running, with mixed results. Former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart wore both Georgia and Bama hats for a few weeks while the Tide were preparing for the 2015 College Football Playoff; Bama won the whole shebang — no thanks to DeShaun Watson’s 405 passing yards for Clemson — and Smart wound up wrangling 247Sports.com’s No. 6 recruiting class for the Bulldogs.
Former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin got the Florida Atlantic job during 2016 CFP prep. The Tide’s offense wheezed a bit against Washington in the semis, and Saban cut Kiffin loose shortly thereafter, letting Steve Sarkisian call plays in the title game.
New Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt — lucky devil — will continue as Saban’s defensive coordinator through however long Alabama’s playoff train takes them before rolling with Rocky Top full-time.
“At the same time, you can’t wear two hats and give 100 percent to both schools while coaching Central Florida,” Walden continued. “Again, I don’t know how many commitments they have in mid-December, but I can assure you that they don’t have all of them, and [he] needs to be out working for Nebraska. That’s what I would think.”
‘I think that he did not want to leave [UCF]. It really hurt him. And I think he wouldn’t have left for anybody else but Nebraska. I don’t think he wanted to get in that mess at Florida.’
— Ourlads.com general manager Dan Shonka on Nebraska coach Scott Frost
The Huskers have already scored two commits — 4-star safety C.J. Smith and 3-star wideout Jaron Woodyard — since Frost was hired on Dec. 2 to offset de-commitments this month from 4-star wideout Josh Moore and 4-star athlete Mario Goodrich. As of Wednesday afternoon, Nebraska’s 2018 class had the fewest commitments (10) and lowest point total (151.06) of any Big Ten program tracked by 247Sports.com’s composite rankings.
“I think [Frost] made that deal before he took the Nebraska job,” offered Dan Shonka, general manager with the Ourlads.com scouting service and a former NFL personnel man. “I think he told Nebraska, he said, ‘Hey, if I take this job, I’m coaching this team.’ I think he made that deal with the athletic director at UCF, too.
“Because, I mean, he’s a very, very integrity-driven guy, and I think that he did not want to leave that team. It really hurt him. And I think he wouldn’t have left for anybody else but Nebraska. I don’t think he wanted to get in that mess at Florida. So I think that he cut a deal, and Nebraska wanted him in the worst way, so they’re going to say, ‘Yeah, Scott, you can coach that bowl game, and we’ll get you after everything’s over.’
“He’s a driven guy. He can work on some recruiting and different stuff like that, but he’s going to be focused on helping UCF win that ballgame. And it’s not going to be easy with Auburn.”
On the flip side, as noted by Frost’s new boss, Huskers athletic director Bill Moos, the Peach Bowl is also free advertising for the Big Red. Which is a hell of a coup given that Nebraska, for the first time since 2007, doesn’t have a bowl of its own to prepare for.
“It’s a three-and-a-half-hour marketing commercial for Nebraska football,” Moos told reporters earlier this month. “Because that’s what those guys are going to be talking about, the announcers. They’re going to be showing, ‘Scott Frost in Nebraska,’ and all of this.
“Then recruits are going to be watching the offense and go, ‘Boy, I could fit into that.’ I think for whatever small negatives there might be, there are tons more positives.”
‘What happens if it’s a 40-point blowout?’
Dr. Cary Caro can think of one negative that might not be so small, though, right out of the gate: the scoreboard.
“What happens if he loses?” asked Caro, an assistant professor of business at Xavier University in Louisiana with a concentration in sports finances. “What happens if it’s a 40-point blowout?
“Is that the best advertisement that you’re going to be putting forward? If that’s the outcome, then what’s the message? He’s playing Auburn — if he’s going to be outcoached by Gus Malzahn, then what?
“There’s a lot more of a downside to something like that. If he comes out and he’s completely outcoached, what’s the narrative going into Nebraska? And those are things that can catch fire pretty quickly.”
Online betting sites have tapped Auburn as a 10-point favorite; Vegas has installed Frost’s Knights as 9.5-point underdogs. The spread is the largest of any of the New Year’s Six contests, according to Oddshark.com.
“From what I understand, from the UCF standpoint, maybe you’re building goodwill and things like that,” Caro said. “But I don’t see how this benefits Nebraska at all. There’s not a lot of good things that can come from it. I would want him fully focused on where he’s at. You’re paying the bills now.”
Whether Frost and his new staff — any staff — could do much to salvage the 2018 recruiting class remains to be seen; that’s the short-term collateral damage of a coaching staff. But Moos is right: Free air time is free air time, especially on New Year’s Day, a sacred spot on the football calendar and one that hasn’t seen a Huskers appearance since the 2014 Gator Bowl — a 24-19 win over Georgia.
Lose, and you were supposed to. Take out War Eagle, and it’s the biggest pelt on Frost’s coaching wall. Imagine what the recruits sitting at home might have to say about that.