By Pat Harty
CHICAGO – To sort of borrow a line from one of my all-time favorite movies, “48 Hrs”, there is definitely a new sheriff in town in Lincoln, Neb.
Scott Frost might be short on talent from a player standpoint, but he is long on confidence and isn’t afraid to speak his mind or make bold predictions.
Nebraska’s new head football coach issued a warning to opponents at Big Ten Media on Tuesday:
“I know if we’re getting better day by day, we’ll be really dangerous and hard to beat in the very near future,” Frost said. “People better get us now.”
The second part of that statement, the people better get us now part, is a pretty bold statement, and it could ultimately backfire if Frost doesn’t meet the challenge of restoring Nebraska to dominance.
And at Nebraska, dominance truly means dominance, because to many Cornhusker fans, the glory years from the 1990s aren’t that far removed.
Nebraska fans have been accused of being delusional and of living the past as the program slipped from elite to mediocre over the past 15 years.
Frank Solich wasn’t good enough despite winning a lot more game than he lost. His record was 58-19 in six seasons from 1998 to 2003.
Bo Pelini wasn’t good enough despite winning at least last nine games in each of his seven seasons as head coach.
And neither Bill Callahan nor Mike Riley were good enough period.
It is now painfully obvious to Nebraska fans that not just any coach can win big in Lincoln.
Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne look even better now than when they retired as Nebraska coaching legends because the incredibly high standard that each of them set has been way beyond the reach of everybody else at Nebraska.
In fairness to Nebraska officials, they stuck with Pelini for a long time by today’s coaching standards, even though he was abrasive, combative and rude.
But Nebraska still is 0-4 in head coaching hires since Osborne retired in 1997.
Riley’s three-year stint from 2015 to 2017 was a disaster that hit rock bottom when the Cornhuskers basically let Iowa run all over them during a 56-14 beat-down in last season’s regular-season finale in Lincoln, Neb.
Riley is a nice guy with high character and a deep love for his players, but he was a horrible fit at Nebraska.
He was everything that Frost isn’t.
Riley was 60 years old and presumably in the latter stages of his coaching career when he shockingly landed the Nebraska job on Dec. 14, 2014.
He also had no ties to Nebraska, or to the Midwest for that matter, and had suffered through 10 losing seasons combined as a head coach in the Canadian Football League, in the World League, in the NFL and at Oregon State before coming to Nebraska.
Frost, on the other hand, is 43 years old and entering the prime of what has been a steady and sometimes spectacular rise up the coaching ladder.
He is also a Nebraska native and a former Nebraska quarterback who led the Cornhuskers to their last national title in 1997.
You almost have to remind yourself that Frost started his career at Stanford and was a two-year letterman when he transferred back home to Nebraska because his allegiance to his alma mater is so strong and because Nebraska fan absolutely adore him.
You’d be hard pressed to find a Nebraska fan, or a member of the Nebraska media, who doesn’t think with the utmost confidence that Frost is the answer to Nebraska’s lingering problems in football.
And part of that confidence comes from Frost himself with how he projects an image of strength and self-assuredness.
Frost wasn’t cocky or arrogant at Big Ten media day, but he also wasn’t humble or self-deprecating as we see so often with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who has won four of his last five games against Nebraska, including the last two by a combined score of 96-24.
“If Nebraska is the type of program it should be, that’s going to be a big game,” Frost said of the rivalry with Iowa. “We’ve got to hold up our part.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for coach Ferentz and what he’s done. But we’re gunning for them.”
That was another warning from Frost, who already is making an impact in recruiting at Nebraska, partly at the expense of Iowa.
The Hawkeyes lost two recruits to Nebraska last week, including defensive end Mosai Newsom from Waverly-Shell Rock. The other loss was Omaha linebacker Nick Henrich, whose father played tennis for Iowa.
The hope was that Henrich's connection to Iowa would help the Hawkeyes, and maybe it did for a while.
But when it came time to make a decision, Henrich couldn't turn down the chance to play for Frost and for his home-state school.
It is widely assumed that Frost will seal the Nebraska border in recruiting, much like Barry Alvarez did after being hired to rebuild the Wisconsin program in 1990.
Iowa fans should just be happy that star tight end and Omaha native Noah Fant didn't have the same decision to make in recruiting. Fant turned down a chance to play for Riley at Nebraska, and who could've blamed him at the time, considering the state of the Nebraska program in 2016.
Frost gives the impression that it isn’t a question of if he succeeds at Nebraska, but when, and Cornhusker fans love his boldness and his frankness.
They love it so much that it’s easy to forget that Frost has only two seasons of head coaching experience.
He led Central Florida to a stunning turnaround, finishing 6-7 in 2016 and 13-0 last season.
Frost was red hot and his alma mater was ice cold when they joined forces.
It was the perfect match at the perfect time, or so we’re led to believe.
Nebraska fans don’t want to hear this, but there is always the chance that Frost might fail to restore his alma mater to greatness. He could be pretty good by averaging eight or nine wins, but that isn’t what Frost or Nebraska fans have in mind.
In their opinion, this story only has one ending and that is Nebraska’s long-overdue return to dominance.
But with that comes a warning to Nebraska fans.
Michigan fans felt the same way about their beloved former quarterback Jim Harbaugh, but he has yet to make Michigan elite again. Harbaugh is just a combined 1-5 against Ohio State and Michigan State and hasn’t defeated the Buckeyes or won even a division title.
The path to a national championship is also more difficult now than it was when Osborne coached at Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers would not only have to win the Big Ten West Division title and the overall conference title, but also two games in the playoff to win a national title.
That’s no easy task, even for Scott Frost.