Frost plans to follow Osborne formula to rebuild Nebraska
LINCOLN, Neb. — Tom Osborne, like most others in this football-mad state, senses a resurgence coming for one of the college game’s historical blue bloods.
The 81-year-old Osborne, who won 255 games in his 25 years and ended his career with national titles in three of his last four seasons, acknowledged he had disconnected emotionally from the program as it languished under Mike Riley. Nebraska’s first preseason practice under new coach Scott Frost is Friday and Osborne is among the many interested in what happens next.
“I guess I’m a little bit more engaged right now in terms of wanting to go to practice, wanting to be actively watching the games than maybe in the last three years,” Osborne said in an interview. “Not that I wasn’t interested and not that I didn’t want them to do well, but I just really didn’t understand the culture. So this culture, I think, I will understand a lot better.”
Osborne should. The culture Frost promises, after all, is going to be akin to the one Osborne fostered back in the day when the Cornhuskers were among the best teams in the nation.
Frost lived it as Osborne’s quarterback in 1996-97, when Nebraska went 24-2, 16-0 in Big 12 regular-season games, and split the ‘97 national title with Michigan.
“If you have a company that’s best in its sector for 25 years and then it underperforms for the next 10 or 15, you’re crazy if you don’t look back at what made that company the best in its field for as long as Nebraska was the best in college football,” Frost said. “We need to get a lot of those things back. We’re going to embrace it some of the same ideas and try to get the program back close to where it was when coach Osborne was here.”
That means pursuing prospects who truly fit the system — in this case, Frost’s no-huddle spread option offense and the 3-4 defense — and developing them rather than chasing and pampering four- and five-star recruits.
It means bringing back a cutting-edge strength program that was the envy of college football from the 1970s through the ‘90s and spawned beefy offensive linemen who wore down the opposition.
It means restoring the walk-on program to the point it builds the roster to 150 players, facilitates a practice environment where players are fully engaged rather than standing around, and stimulates competition where hungry prospects are given opportunities to push scholarship players for jobs.
“Coach Osborne had the formula figured out,” Frost said. “Some of the things he did to make the program arguably the best in the country can still work today. Nebraska has just gone away from them. We’re going to adopt a lot of things again and do it in a modern way and do it in a way that recruits and kids are going to want to be a part of.”
Frost left his job as Oregon’s offensive coordinator to take over a Central Florida program that was winless in 2015. Last season, his UCF team went 13-0 with a Peach Bowl win over Auburn, and he was Associated Press national coach of the year. His homecoming to Nebraska has been one of the top stories of the offseason. The 43-year-old Frost grew up 100 miles west of Lincoln and it seems a natural fit that he would embrace Osborne’s ways.
Still, don’t expect Frost to be Osborne 2.0.
“This isn’t going be a reincarnation of 1995, 1996 or 1997,” Osborne said. “He’s going to have his own offense, his own defense, his own way of doing things. I think he does understand some of the basics you better do at a place like Nebraska, where there is a lack of significant population and a certain culture. That’s why I would predict he’ll be very successful.”
Frost said he is pleased with the groundwork done in the spring and summer, but how the Huskers fare in the Big Ten West in 2018 is anyone’s guess. He inherited a program that went 4-8 and allowed more than 50 points in four losses. Also, the Huskers have no quarterbacks who have taken a snap in a college game.
“I know if we’re getting better day by day, we’re going to be really dangerous and hard to beat in the very near future,” Frost said. “We’ll see how this first year goes. People better get us now because we’re going to keep getting better.”
The Huskers already have seen significant gains under strength coach Zach Duvall, who worked with Boyd Epley as a Husker Power assistant in the 1990s and came with Frost from UCF along with most of the coaching staff. The 2018 fall roster shows the projected starting offensive linemen have gained 15-25 pounds since the spring.
There are at least 19 new walk-ons joining the team, and several of them could play this season.
Osborne, who rarely showed up in the football complex after his run as athletic director ended in 2012, said he plans to go to practice once or twice a week.
A year ago, Osborne gave up his Memorial Stadium suite, saying he didn’t need the spacious box and that the athletic department could use the revenue from selling it. He said Tuesday the athletic department has reserved the box for him this year and welcomes him to use it to entertain boosters, former players and friends.
Osborne is all in — again.
“He’s around all the time. I want him around,” Frost said. “That’s an unbelievable well of wisdom I can tap in to. He’s been in my seat. He knows Nebraska. If I have any problem, I’m going to Tom.”
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It was a close game, but after some thrilling back-and-forth plays the Rifle Bears were able to pull off the 28-20 victory over The Academy on May 1.