Nebraska is standing pat with its coaching staff into 2021.
In an hourlong conversation Friday, coach Scott Frost said he is “absolutely” planning to continue with his same 10 on-field assistants. Contract extensions, though without pay raises, are forthcoming for aides he has seen do a “great job” in recruiting and developing players during their time together in Lincoln and, in many cases, at Central Florida in 2016 and 2017.
“It was a pretty easy decision for me,” Frost said. “I believe in these guys as individuals.”
The search continues for a new special teams analyst after NU parted ways with Jonathan Rutledge this month. Better collaboration, more detail and increased buy-in are points of emphasis this offseason as the Huskers work to improve on the third phase, which has frequently been a hindrance in recent years.
Said Frost: “If we have the right guy, it’s going to work.”
Meanwhile, Nebraska is pushing forward with subtle changes elsewhere.
Frost said he ceded more play-calling duties to first-year offensive coordinator Matt Lubick than he has with any coordinator before. It was “pretty split, 50-50” the past four games, Frost said, and was “actually refreshing.” He was freed up to tend to other sideline duties like checking special teams personnel and spending time with players rather than having to “bury my face in the call sheet.”
Frost said that setup will continue into next season and he will continue to hold veto power to take over when he wants.
The coach will also take a more personal role working with quarterback Adrian Martinez, particularly with “instinctual” advice, drill work and what he’ll encounter in a game. He said Martinez has a chance to be as good as any QB in the Big Ten if he can eliminate the mistakes — a reality he saw in the final win over Rutgers in which Martinez completed 24 of 28 passes, accounting for 412 total yards and three touchdowns but committing four turnovers.
Backup quarterback Luke McCaffrey “absolutely” has a future in the program as well, Frost said. He cited significant improvement as a thrower that gives the redshirt freshman a chance to be a “special” player.
“We believe in him,” Frost said. “I not only want to keep him at quarterback, but I want to give him a chance and an opportunity to compete for the job. I think he’s crazy if he doesn’t want to stay at quarterback because I think he’ll be really good at it.”
After three seasons without a bowl game, Frost echoed Thursday’s comments from Athletic Director Bill Moos that the Huskers need to be and will be ready to contend for higher stakes next year.
“I definitely think it’s time for us to start threatening for, competing for, winning our half (of the conference),” Frost said. “That should always be the goal. I’m not sure if I felt like we had a team that was ready to do that in years past. I do now.”
But the coach pushed back on the notion that the defense has been and will be Nebraska’s immediate strength. The Blackshirts performed “a little better" than the offense in 2020, he said, but much of that was because of the veteran experience on that side of the ball. The pandemic made it a tough year to be young, Frost said, and the offense was at many spots. Fixing the mental mistakes and giveaways on offense remain top offseason priorities.
Still, he said a team meeting Thursday left him as upbeat as ever about the growth and cohesion of a program he began to rebuild three years ago. The trials of 2020 — lowlighted by transfers and chronic on-field mistakes — set up 2021 in a way that made the offseason fight to play worth the effort.
“I’m just glad we played because I think a lot of those growing pains that we went through this past year would have probably happened next year if we hadn’t gotten to play football,” Frost said. “Some of those things we shouldn’t have allowed to happen but some other things I think were inevitable as we’re building this roster and have young guys that are learning to do it. I’m glad that they got those lessons out of the way last year.”
The same was true for Frost personally, who called 2020 “a hard year” that began with pandemic shutdowns in mid-March and included bringing players back to campus a month later and battling for a season into the fall. His father, Larry, died in mid-September. Frost said he’s still not sure he’s fully processed that.
He and his wife, Ashley, spent four or five days on a beach in Mexico after the season. By the end, he was ready to get back to work.
“I gotta tell you, I’ve never felt this good about our football team, the culture on our football team, the attitudes on our football team and the talent level on our football team,” Frost said. “It was pretty noticeable in the team meeting room. So I’m as excited as I’ve ever been.”