LINCOLN — Inside Oregon's new, futuristic Football Performance Complex, Scott Frost could indulge any wish his football heart desires. Haircut from the on-site barber? Done.
“Phil Knight wants us to have the best football facility in the country,” Frost said of the Nike CEO who paid for the $65 million building and most of the other athletic palaces on campus.
Inside, the former Nebraska quarterback's new office — complete with a hydraulic walnut desk and glass “chalkboards” with embedded TVs — overlooks the Ducks' practice fields. The team's main meeting theater has seats made of the same leather used in Ferrari cars. The black granite-and-steel structure — like the Ducks' garish, multi-colored Nike uniforms — reflects the bought glamour of Oregon football.
But it's on those practice fields where the grit and substance can be found. If there is any abiding advantage to the scheme Frost now coordinates — an attack that's been among the nation's top 10 scoring and total offenses for each of the last three years — it's in those workouts, the volume of repetitions, the muscle memory required, the secrets kept by former coach Chip Kelly about the whole enterprise. Secrets now handed down to Frost.
“If I said it in the newspaper,” he said with a chuckle, “then everybody would know.”
With Kelly's departure to the NFL and Mark Helfrich's promotion to head coach, Frost now has the keys to college football's Ferrari. At 38, he'll call the plays for what might be Oregon's most talented offense yet. And, unsurprisingly, Frost keeps close the advice given by a former coach who had to recruit him to play at Nebraska two different times.
“Coach Osborne told me, 'Bloom where you're planted,' ” Frost said recently. “He believes in doing the best possible job wherever you're placed, and growing as a coach.”
In his fifth year at Oregon, Frost has done that. Kelly hired him in 2009 away from Northern Iowa to be the Ducks' wide receivers coach. Frost spent most of the last four years close to Kelly on the sideline as the head coach called plays. Frost developed the reputation as a good closer in recruiting and, according to wide receiver Daryle Hawkins, “as an intense, fun-loving guy.”
“He expected a lot out of you, but he'd like to joke around, too,” said Hawkins, Frost's first recruit out of Omaha Central High School in 2009. “We laughed a lot, to say the least. He's been awesome.”
Kelly — who won 46 games in four years, second among BCS coaches to Alabama's Nick Saban during that span — nearly left after the 2011 season for an NFL job at Tampa Bay. That prompted Oregon's administration to prepare for the possibility of it happening one year later. When Kelly finally did depart after last season for the Philadelphia Eagles, just ahead of an NCAA penalty that effectively barred him from college football for 18 months, Oregon promoted Helfrich from offensive coordinator. Helfrich tabbed Frost as his offensive coordinator 11 days after that.
“He's a sharp guy who gets the big picture,” Helfrich said. “He does a great job identifying with a bunch of guys, which comes in handy when you're dealing with a bunch of different units offensively. Everything meshed well.
“He's a guy that played. He has that credibility.”
Frost jokes that he tries “to spare players the agony of an old guy talking about the glory days.”
“But if there's a lesson I learned as a player — the easy way or the hard way — I try to impart that,” he said.
When Helfrich was offensive coordinator, he, not Kelly, was the primary “game-plan designer,” Frost said. On Sundays after games — usually after wins — Oregon's coaches would gather and lay out the structure for the next game. They'd tinker and tailor the plan throughout the week and then hand it over to Kelly, who called plays with Helfrich offering suggestions in his ear piece.
Helfrich will forgo the play-calling duties — giving them to Frost, who will stay in the press box — because he wants to “be able to communicate with anybody on the team at any given moment, and be able to look some guys in the eye.”
“I couldn't really do that and be 100 percent involved in the offense,” Helfrich said. “I'll still have a high percentage of involvement.”
Frost doesn't drop many hints about how he'll call plays or how Oregon plans to stay “one or two steps ahead” of programs trying to emulate what the Ducks do.
He has several influences from which to draw. Tom Osborne, his college coach, who blended the option with a quick-throwing game that occasionally resembled the run-and-shoot. Frost said he touches base with Osborne on occasion. His first college coach at Stanford, the late Bill Walsh, the godfather of the West Coast offense. His parents, Larry and Carol Frost, who coached Scott in high school and now coach at Lincoln Parkview Christian. And, of course, there's Kelly, who was an assistant coach at New Hampshire for 13 years before a meteoric rise to the Eagles.
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“Most of what I'll use now,” Frost said, “I learned under Chip.”
Kelly's shotgun-spread offense is the rare no-huddle attack that leans more on the running game than the passing game. Nebraska's is another. Though the two offenses have stark differences — Oregon's not likely to run a three-tight end power toss like Nebraska does — the programs now have this link, understated as it may be, because of Frost's presence in Eugene, and NU's switch to a no-huddle attack when Shawn Watson's tenure as the Huskers' offensive coordinator finally ran aground at the end of 2010.
Frost's name predictably buzzed in Husker circles when Watson left Nebraska for Louisville, but Frost said coach Bo Pelini made an “excellent” hire in current coordinator Tim Beck.
Frost has been back to “play a few golf rounds” with Pelini over the years, and, this summer, Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst gave Frost a tour of the new East Stadium expansion — a far cry from the days when, as a boy, Frost used to sit up in the East balcony, occasionally afraid he'd fall off.
“Nebraska will always be home,” Frost said, adding: “My chocolate lab's still there with my parents.”
Frost said he has a good relationship with Beck, who rebuffed offers to leave after NU's regular season and received a hefty pay raise. Beck says he and Frost may occasionally ask each other about a play or scheme, but haven't had a long sit-down meeting.
Said Frost: “If I can help them, I'd be happy to help. And I know it's the same way with those guys. ... Tim's done a tremendous job. The proof's in the pudding.”
Frost also briefly saw current NU signal-caller Taylor Martinez during his summer visit. Two Husker quarterbacks, a quick meeting of minds.
“I'm proud of Taylor Martinez,” Frost said. “He's certainly taken a lot of scrutiny, as I did when I was there.”
Frost's advice: Focus on the fun, the team, the game, and “shove all the distractions” to the side.
Not bad advice for Frost, as he faces a different kind of scrutiny: the play-caller after Kelly.
Hawkins, now a senior, gives a strong endorsement.
“It feels like nothing has changed,” he said of Kelly's departure and Frost's promotion. “Everybody just slid to the left a little bit.”