Is Nebraska turning on one of its favorite sons? Here's the real issue for Scott Frost amid NCAA investigation
When your program is in the same sentence as “NCAA investigation,” it’s never a good thing. Regardless of what you think about the NCAA and its diminishing role in college athletics, there are short- and long-term associations with that. Recruiting? Yep. Public image? Absolutely. It becomes a national story. Everyone starts talking about it. Before long, you’re trending on Twitter in mid-August before an all-important Year 4 starts.
OK, so we got a little specific there at the end. But yes, that’s all in reference to Scott Frost, who is the face of an NCAA investigation into his use of analysts and off-campus workouts during the pandemic, as first reported by Brett McMurphy.
If you’re in the dwindling pro-Frost camp, you probably scoffed at that. You might’ve even fired off a “Nick Saban gets away with way worse than this” tweet. Mind you, if Frost had a fraction of Saban’s track record as a head coach, perhaps that story would’ve never seen the light of day. Or if it did, it would’ve been brushed off.
However, context is important here. Or rather, it’s everything.
You see, it’s not just that Frost is 12-20 heading into Year 4. Frost watched the guy who hired him (Bill Moos) surprisingly step down a few months ago. Frost is also the guy who reportedly was behind Nebraska’s bizarre attempt to bail on this year’s Oklahoma game and replace it with a Group of 5 opponent. Someone leaked that story to McMurphy.
What else was leaked to McMurphy? The fact that Nebraska has been under NCAA investigation, which was later confirmed by the school via a release. How did the NCAA find out? Well, if I had a guess, I’d say there was some sort of tip and that the NCAA didn’t come across it by driving by local parks in Lincoln to make sure Nebraska was staying clean.
Call me crazy, but it sounds like there’s some important people at Nebraska who want Frost gone.
Firing a coach with cause, in most cases, allows a university to avoid a buyout, which in Frost’s case, is significant. Because he received an extension in Dec. 2019, Frost’s buyout would be $20 million if we were fired this season. Or, this could be part of an attempt to fire him with cause at season’s end, just as schools like Tennessee (Jeremy Pruitt) and Florida (Jim McElwain) did in recent memory.
Remember, Nebraska paid Bo Pelini his $6.54 million buyout with payments that finally ended in February 2019. Remember nice Mike Riley? Well, he might’ve been nice, but he was also smart enough to get a lump sum buyout of $6.3 million from Nebraska, which was paid after he returned to Oregon State and took a measly $50,000 salary to offset a tiny fraction of what Nebraska owed him.
Back in November 2018, in the middle of Frost’s first season, Moos talked about finally escaping having 3 coaches on its payroll (via Journal Star).
“We really don’t have that much debt left,” Moos said in Nov. 2018. “We went ahead and absorbed it last year to get it behind us, and we felt that we had a good enough year revenue-wise that we could handle that. Those things for the most part are behind us, and we’re moving forward at this point.”
So think about that. Nebraska was on the hook for over $12 million for ex-head coaches and that’s not factoring in Frost’s deal, which was originally 7 years for $35 million ($5 million per season). That contract had 2 years added to it near the end of a 5-7 season. Why? Moos admitted he wanted to build momentum.
Moos is no longer making decisions at Nebraska. Now, that duty falls to recently hired athletic director Trev Alberts. Ideally, athletic directors aren’t evaluated based on someone else’s decisions. Also ideally, athletic directors don’t feel the immediate need to cut bait with a coach once deemed the savior in order to pay him a $20 million buyout.
Does that mean Alberts, who took over in June, is plotting against Frost? Absolutely not. For all we know, he’s rooting for a fellow star from the Tom Osborne era to figure things out and get Nebraska back to some sort of national relevance in 2021. If that happens, that $20 million buyout doesn’t loom so large.
But someone within that program appears to be searching for an out. Maybe that wouldn’t be the case if Frost simply had a $5 million buyout. But he doesn’t.
Things are starting to smell fishy with all of this. It’s almost as if Frost went from the guy who publicly could do no wrong, to now, he’s the guy he can do no right. Whether it’s watching his best player bolt in his pre-draft season (Wan’Dale Robinson) or watching one of his former blue-chip recruits bolt and then get called out by his famous family (the McCaffreys), this hasn’t been the best year for Frost’s image.
And that’s coming from someone who stuck up for Frost and Nebraska when it was being mocked nationally for wanting to find a way to play football last year. This is different now. Of course, it’s also ironic given the nature of the NCAA investigation.
Remember this summer when that bombshell report about Arizona State dropped? Herm Edwards was accused of hosting recruits in the facility during the extended dead period because of COVID. An anonymous person sent the NCAA dozens of screenshots, receipts, pictures and emails proving that the program illegally hosted these recruits. Yahoo Sports, which was one of several media outlets that were tipped off about the NCAA investigation, was told by a source “it’s clear whoever provided it had a ton of access and knowledge of the football program.” In other words, it was a leak from within.
Top assistant Antonio Pierce reportedly divided the coaching staff with his “aggressive tactics,” which resulted in multiple coaches getting fired. That same source told Yahoo there were “too many disgruntled people.”
Would anybody be surprised to hear there are some disgruntled people in Nebraska?
This wouldn’t be the first time that an anonymous tip resulted in national (negative) attention for a scrutinized Nebraska coach.
This is the same program that had the infamous Bo Pelini postgame audio leak, wherein he told Nebraska fans to, um, “kiss my a– out the f—ing door.” That very private, expletive-laced interaction from 2011 wasn’t released until 2 years after the fact, and it came from a person who “was particularly exercised by Nebraska’s flameout against UCLA on Saturday.” That proved to be the beginning of the end for Pelini, who was fired at the end of the 2014 season.
Will we look back on this strange offseason as the beginning of the end for Frost? It’s possible.
Not long ago, it seemed impossible that Frost would fail at his alma mater. Three years in, it’s not just that his offense got worse every year or that he coached the program’s first 3-year stretch of losing seasons in 60 years. It’s that he started with about as much support as a coach could have, and with each new demerit, he appears to be losing the people left in his corner.
This NCAA investigation will likely continue into the season and Frost will still get a chance to turn things around. Among the things on Frost’s to-do list? Win more than 3 B1G games. Produce a top-50 offense. Beat Iowa. Make a bowl game. Avoid getting fired.
How realistic is that unofficial to-do list? Time will tell.
If Frost has some powerful enemies within the program, that to-do list might have a few more stipulations. Wednesday’s news didn’t exactly quiet that notion that the walls are starting to cave in on him.
We’re about to find out if Frost can escape.