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Barfknecht: Scott Frost finding footing at Central Florida, despite loss to Michigan

Barfknecht: Scott Frost finding footing at Central Florida, despite loss to Michigan

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It’s no secret how former Nebraska national champion quarterback Scott Frost emerged in recent years as one of college football’s hottest coaching candidates.

His seven years as an offensive assistant at Oregon, including time as the coordinator, led athletic directors from coast to coast to track the Wood River native’s work with the “Blur Attack.”

Frost’s mix of experiences and connections ramped up more interest.

The Academic All-American played offense in college, but defense in the NFL. He ran the defense at FCS power Northern Iowa, but led the offense at title-contending Oregon.

And the list of coaching names Frost played for or worked with is mind-bending: Tom Osborne, Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Monte Kiffin and Chip Kelly.

Having a close friend who’s a billionaire didn’t hurt, either. Nike founder Phil Knight often sat in the Oregon press box next to Frost, who was calling plays. The two still stay in touch.

Two years ago, a coaching offer came as Oregon prepared for the first College Football Playoff. But the new team wanted Frost immediately, so he declined.

We know that offer wasn’t from Nebraska.

When Bo Pelini was fired in November 2014, Mike Riley was hired four days later. Frost has said Nebraska never contacted him. But this past November, plenty of schools wanted the 41-year-old.

Frost’s family confirmed to The World-Herald that he got three coaching offers on the same day: Syracuse, Maryland and Central Florida.

Frost said no to Syracuse of the ACC and Maryland of the Big Ten. Instead, he signed with UCF — a program coming off an 0-12 season and playing in the non-Power Five American Athletic Conference.

In the immediate short term, that might look like a shaky choice.

On Saturday, No. 5 Michigan defeated Central Florida 51-14. Frost got booed loudly at the Big House by Wolverine fans in the crowd of 109,205 who remembered him lobbying for Nebraska to split the national title in 1997 with Michigan.

Adding injury to insult, his starting quarterback left in the second quarter and didn’t return.

UCF senior Justin Holman injured his leg on a 35-yard scramble. Holman, who led the Knights to a conference title in 2014, missed much of last year’s winless campaign because of injury.

Such an injury and a special-teams mess — UCF fumbled away a kickoff and had two punts and two field goals blocked — might have led to a collapse. And a 37-point spread might make you think this was a collapse.

It wasn’t.

Central Florida rushed for 275 yards against a Michigan defense considered better than its unit that finished fourth nationally last year. And the Knights held Michigan to 119 yards rushing.

“We came in here and outhit those guys,” Frost said, his trademark feistiness showing. “The score is what it is. But we outhit them. Standing on the sideline, there’s no doubt which team was hitting harder.”

Frost now is a grand total of 1-1 in his coaching career. Yet social media speculation continues about how Central Florida is simply a pit stop for him before he returns to coach Nebraska.

My advice: Don’t hold your breath.

When I asked Frost to characterize his relationship with the NU athletic department and the Husker football program, he replied: “No. I can’t. I won’t say anything about Nebraska.”

Does he have any NU connection?

“I donate as an alum,” he said, “in order to keep the season tickets that have been in my family since my grandfather bought them after World War II.”

Frost, instead of wondering what might have been at Nebraska, is busy in Orlando remodeling a program that as recently as 2013 went 12-1 with a Fiesta Bowl victory over No. 6 Baylor.

The tools at Frost’s disposal are stunning.

Among them: a vibrant city with balmy weather. Fertile recruiting ground via a short car ride. An on-campus stadium built in 2007.

Plus, the administration is committed to winning championships and becoming a national player. More proof of that came Thursday when UCF officials presented their case for inclusion into the Big 12 at meetings in Dallas.

For a school that opened in 1963 and now has the largest enrollment of any public university (63,000), this is heady stuff.

“There is a ton to offer here,” Frost said.

Danny White saw it, too. That’s why he left the athletic director’s job at the University of Buffalo and took the same post at UCF in mid-November.

White, 35, grew up in athletic administration. His father, Kevin, is the A.D. at Duke with previous stops at Notre Dame, Arizona State and Tulane. The family has a track record of knowing what works and what doesn’t.

“Most people who know college athletics as well as most coaches across the country,” White said, “realize UCF is a gold mine.”

UCF was flush with inquiries from up-and-comer sitting coaches to replace George O’Leary, who resigned after 12 seasons. White and UCF President John Hitt interviewed a handful of them.

And then they hired the only assistant coach involved in the two-week process.

“When Scott walked out the door,” White recalled, “Dr. Hitt said, ‘Danny, I think you found your guy.’ ”

White said Frost rose quickly to the top of a long list of candidates.

“We knew he checked off the boxes on character and doing things the right way,” White said. “And his style of play was really intriguing.

“Nobody is running this in the state of Florida. We probably have more speed and talent than anywhere in the country at the high school level. So we felt if we could bring the right person in to run that system here, the sky would be the limit.”

The clincher was Frost’s dedication to creating relationships with his athletes.

“Successful coaches in this era of college athletics have to connect with the players,” White said. “When he described to me how he would do that, it was very authentic and believable.”

Frost said UCF’s administrative support is top-notch. He got a five-year contract worth $1.7 million annually, with an option after two years for a two-year extension. His salary pool for assistants is $2.3 million.

“A good job can be a bad job if you don’t have people on campus in your corner,” Frost said. “There is no doubt with Dr. Hitt and Danny White that they want us to be successful, and will bend over backward to do what we need to advance our program.”

Frost has proved to be an easy sell to UCF boosters. He connected quickly with new and old supporters on the banquet circuit this spring and summer.

“I’ve been overwhelmingly surprised at how excited our alumni base is,” White said. “But having a new coach, a new style of play and new uniforms has resonated well in central Florida.

“There is a high-energy, young vibe to how he runs our football program.”

The players also grasp that there is a new way of doing things.

“Phenomenal,” is how UCF senior quarterback Nick Patti described the team’s response to Frost’s message.

“And a game like this doesn’t hurt that. The buy-in is great. The seniors are leading and the young guys are falling in line. When we go back and look at film of the mistakes we made in this game, the buy-in will help even more.”

Frost knew when he took the UCF job that there would be days like Saturday. But there never was a set plan on when or where he would become a coach — or if he would ever coach at all.

“When I was playing,” he said, “I thought coaches were crazy for all the time they spent.”

The spark ignited in 2003 when Frost was a safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Two defensive assistants — Raheem Morris, whom Frost later worked with at Kansas State, and current Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin — suggested he pursue the career.

Frost’s parents, Larry and Carol, coached him at Wood River High. Larry was coach and Carol the receivers coach. But neither guided him into the profession.

“They never encouraged me or discouraged me,” Frost said. “But it ended up being a pretty natural evolution having grown up around it.

“Coaching gives me the opportunity to be around the type of people I enjoy — driven, motivated, tough-minded and team-oriented. I would miss that greatly if I wasn’t involved.”

Being a coach, Frost has found, intensifies that feeling.

“I’ve looked at a lot of head coaching jobs the past three years,” he said. “I didn’t see anything that made me want to leave Oregon. It’s a special place.

“But UCF is a special place, too. I felt it was time to go run a program.”, 402-444-1024,

Omaha World-Herald: Local Sports

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