The slam-dunk hire that wasn’t: If Scott Frost didn’t work out, where does Nebraska go from here?

If there’s been a slam-dunk, surefire recruit over the last few years, it was Scott Frost at Nebraska. In fact, when Frost accepted the job at his alma mater in 2017, his arrival could legitimately have been hailed as one of the best programmatic matches in recent history.

He was a native Nebraskan boy. He was a national championship winning star quarterback for the Cornhuskers. He was an accomplished coach who made the greatest two-year turnaround in UCF sports history. But perhaps more importantly, Frost not only knew the culture of Nebraska … he knew it part of the culture.

It had credibility. It was refreshingly cheeky. Above all, however, Frost had a plan. In the end, it’s possible that even Frost himself doesn’t quite know what went wrong.

The closest comparison to this situation is Jim Harbaugh, who had a similar background at Michigan as Frost did at Nebraska. The change? Harbaugh, like a beloved former great, won. Maybe it wasn’t “enough” until last season, which culminated in a College Football Playoff appearance, but he made it five straight and finished 8-5 or better every season until the COVID-19 pandemic. Change was the result.

When Frost, 47, was fired on Sunday late in the 45-42 loss to Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt, an obvious question loomed over the college football world: If Frost didn’t work at Nebraska, who would?

Whoever replaces Frost will walk in the door knowing the obvious: Nebraska has lost its way, and the road map isn’t immediately available. Getting on a hamster wheel of trainers would slow down any program. Frost, Nebraska’s fifth head coach since Tom Osborne retired in 1997, was just the latest example of a giant blowout that no one saw coming.

Nebraska is now a rebuild, the scope of which its next coach may not understand. By leaving the Big 12 in 2012, Nebraska lost much of its history and tradition — to the point that the average 17-year-old recruit might have trouble distinguishing Tom Osborne from Ozzy Osbourne.

All of this combined to highlight Nebraska’s isolation as an outpost in a league that boasted its big-city ties to New York and Chicago. Thanks to more realignment, it is now the closest Big Ten program to future members USC and UCLA (1,500 miles). So here it is.

ESPN executive Burke Magnus made news a few weeks ago when he said the network is looking for rivalries, not markets, in realignment. Try to name Nebraska’s biggest rival in the Big Ten. A made-up rivalry with Iowa never caught on with the masses. However, to be realistic, these are unforgiving times.

Nebraska needed to take the Big Ten’s money and cut ties with a big part of its history, but that doesn’t mean it fits. In fact, the Big Ten’s move looks like a net negative. Look at what many Nebraska athletic directors and administrators did with those millions: not enough. A conference marriage of economic ease has witnessed the continued erosion of a program. This has all been confusing.

The program formerly known as a national power had plenty of practice at this. He tried the unknown (Bill Callahan), the fiery defensive assistant (Bo Pelini) and the backup (Mike Riley).

Nebraska could be back; there’s just too much ambition there. In the process of watching Georgia Southern gain 642 yards on Saturday, perhaps the game’s most loyal fans were screaming their lungs out. There are NIL growing opportunities for players, which negates the isolation issue.

Athletic director Trev Alberts, another Huskers legacy, has taken a calm and steady approach to the inevitable. The school ate up $15 million of Frost’s buyout money to get in line early to hire the best possible coach and make sure recruiting didn’t suffer further in the 19 days it would take. expected to see the purchase drop to $7.5 million on Oct. 1. .

As long as the Nebraska job is open, the program is a national story. No. 6 visits Oklahoma this week, so consider that game a three-hour commercial for what can be in Lincoln, Nebraska. A potential coaching savior and talent to follow will watch. There are many achievements coaches that would be a good fit.

Gary Patterson, a young 62-year-old, would be interested. The former TCU coach, now a Texas analyst, had his fingerprints all over the Longhorns’ stout defensive effort against No. 2 Alabama last Saturday.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has competed at the highest level at an SEC basketball school, winning 10 games twice in a division that includes Florida and Georgia. How hard can it be for Kentucky’s winningest coach — Stoops passed Bear Bryant on Saturday — to win the Big Ten West?

Iowa has yet to crack double figures in points in a game two weeks into the postseason. Wisconsin just got beat at home by Washington State. Heck, if interim coach Mickey Joseph can start a fire, Nebraska isn’t out of the division race it year. But let’s not get carried away.

Nebraska’s itchy scalp is drawing blood to the scalp at this point. However, a turnaround is possible. USC this season looks to go from 4-8 to Pac-12 champion. All it took was joining Lincoln Riley and giving him the space to be successful. Riley brought with him a quick transfer philosophy that has worked magnificently so far.

But a turnaround has been possible in Nebraska many times in the quarter-century since Osborne retired. If there was a clear process, there wouldn’t be of The Process — Nick Saban’s mysterious, ultra-effective corporate-athletic philosophy. It has often been imitated, but never duplicated.

Consider that Alabama faced a similar situation in 2007. Rich Rodriguez, according to core reports at the time, had accepted the job. Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, he cooled off. Saban will go down in history as the best backup plan in the world.

It’s just as surprising that Nebraska is average. There is an entirely separate discussion to be had if the program goes back to national championship contention. Probably not, only because there have only been a handful of teams that have been in the conversation over the last 15 years. Most of these teams reside in the SEC.

But the Big Ten has sent a message that it wants to overtake the SEC in … everything. The conference just announced a landmark media rights deal that could net over $1 billion a year, and Nebraska will have access to that money starting in 2023. Will that make a difference? (Typically, such revenue accumulates backward, starting as a trickle and peaking in later years.) Nebraska can’t afford that kind of slow pace for this rebuild.

The Cornhuskers program, the fans, the players — heck, all of college football — have waited long enough. In the end, Nebraska will pay whatever it takes to get back the guy it identifies as the ideal candidate to lead this program back into position.

The cruel reality? After Frost’s hiring fell through, no one knows if it will make a difference.

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