INDIANAPOLIS — Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts drove to town, dished with his new Big Ten colleagues and even found time to chat with his old quarterback.
Not Tommie Frazier. Jim Harbaugh.
The Michigan coach was the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback during Alberts’ NFL career. Alberts has a sense of humor about the brevity of that career, too.
Where’s my name in the ring of honor, Alberts said, looking up at the names around Lucas Oil Stadium. Harbaugh’s is there. Alberts, not quite.
He then joked the Colts’ current palace, home of Big Ten media days, was a “slight improvement” over the old RCA Dome.
“Particularly the turf,” Alberts said. “We had the concrete with the turf that you just zipped up.”
In the 12-minute interview after that quip, Alberts got down to business, striking a tone different from jovial Bill Moos or nowhere-in-sight Shawn Eichorst. Alberts and his football coach, Scott Frost, have already talked four times — three since Alberts’ hiring nine days ago. What the two Husker legends discuss, Alberts said, will stay between them.
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“I can promise you, you will never hear me talk about numbers of wins, low or high,” Alberts said on the field after Frost finished his 15 minutes at the lectern. Alberts noted the fundamentals, the “areas of discipline” that lead to being a successful football team.
“I think, sometimes, we’re so focused on the outcome that we forget that the process will be the primary driver in getting the outcome we all want,” Alberts said.
Alberts’ contribution to that process boiled down to one word Thursday: Apparatus.
It’s not a sexy word, but it’s the one we’ll revisit from time to time this season as Nebraska football sinks or swims against a very hard schedule.
In short, it means surrounding Frost and his staff with the kind of people and expertise that let Frost coach football and recruit the best players to do it.
“We’ve got a lot of hard-working people,” Alberts said. “But are we all in the right roles? And are they all activated where they need to be — and given the autonomy to run?”
Alberts said it’s hard for him to hold coaches accountable “if the administrative level isn’t executing at an elite level.”
He didn’t say Frost lacked all-encompassing support before now. Frost pretty much did.
“There are 1,000 things I could be freed up to do,” Frost said to the media around midfield. “I’ve spent a lot of my time — more time than I’d want to — in my three years dealing with things that didn’t have anything to do with football. And I won’t say more than that.”
He offered plenty. It’s a freedom Alberts invites and wants from his coach, especially because it’s coming back at Frost.
“Scott Frost is going to hold me accountable and I’m going to hold him accountable,” Alberts said. “And we’re going to have the kind of trust that we’re going to have the difficult discussions with one another. Because we both love this place.”
Yes. On Thursday, their planets aligned.
Frost used words like “excited” and “glad” to describe his reaction to Alberts’ hiring. Their comments about the Big Ten — which has taken Nebraska’s lunch money for four seasons now — walked in lockstep.
Alberts: “This is a conference that has elite coaching, this is a conference that has elite offensive and defensive coordinators, with elite amounts of resources. The margins of error in this conference are very, very small. We need to understand that.”
Frost: “This is a good league. There are good coaches on every team. It’s a deep league — you can win every week, you can lose every week — and usually there’s a small margin of error. And those are some of the details we’re addressing this offseason.”
We can recite the details by memory.
Turnover margin. Poor and mismanaged special teams play. Shoddy field position. Strange bouts of inconsistency, like beating a pretty good Penn State team only to get housed by a pretty bad Illinois team. In a sense, Thursday, reporters covered so well-trod that we could have said: “Same old stuff, right? Fixed it yet?”
It’s part of what makes the 2021 season exciting — Frost understands the league well enough to plot some revenge — and, quite likely, the first half of a two-part movie. Alberts, taking the job a month before the start of the season, can’t shift the administrative tide so easily in that short of time. Unless the bottom drops out on a fairly experienced squad — which happened in 2007 against a schedule much like this — Frost is running it back in 2022.
Alberts likely senses this — knows the pratfalls of moving too fast, which his predecessors at Nebraska have at times done — and Frost’s fairly relaxed demeanor Thursday suggests he knows he has a team that can hold its own for most of its games. Plus, if Frost embraces it, he has an ally in Alberts, who likes big, innovative ideas as much as Frost.
“We think the same way, I can tell that right away from my conversations with Trev,” Frost said.
The last guy, Bill Moos, did, too. But he largely kept his hands off the football operation. Alberts’ suit jacket might swing in front of Frost’s door more often.
It’s the job Alberts has been waiting to do, even if before June he didn't know it’d be there for him to do.
“It’s awesome,” Alberts said. “Wouldn’t change for the world. It’s a dream.”