LINCOLN — Mike Bellotti sat at a table flanked by his coach-in-waiting, Chip Kelly. Oregon was looking for a new wide receivers coach.
It was January 2009 and the men were set up in a room in Nashville, Tennessee, during the national coaches convention. Bellotti, the Ducks’ coach and soon to be athletic director, had advertised the job nationally and was interviewing the final 10 or so candidates to help run an offense gearing up to be one of the most prolific in college football.
As it turned out, the man who landed the open position was a young, unrecommended FCS assistant who wanted to discuss defense for the majority of the meeting.
“We spent 25 minutes talking about tackling,” Bellotti said. “And I loved it, actually.”
Nearly nine years later, Bellotti — now an ESPN analyst — laughs at how Scott Frost unexpectedly won him over during their encounter. The Ducks had made an offseason commitment to shift to a spread offense with shotgun formations and zone-read concepts. They would need their wideouts to block more and be physically tougher.
So it resonated with the 14-year Ducks coach when Frost passionately broke down tackling techniques. It stuck when he said the “Tampa 2” defense — a scheme he learned under coordinator and former Husker Monte Kiffin as a defensive back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003. The scheme — known for two high safeties and an active middle linebacker — was the toughest to succeed against.
“This is a guy that played quarterback in college and I don’t know how much tackling he actually ever did,” Bellotti said. “But he talked his way through both the execution of a tackle, how you teach preparation, etc. He wasn’t a slam dunk for the job, but he did impress me during the interview and that’s why you interview people, just to find out what you don’t know about them. Or maybe what you do.”
Frost got the job and, in that moment, changed the arc of his career that took off like an Oregon no-huddle drive. Now Nebraska’s new coach, he still emphasizes many of the same tenets that sold Bellotti and had Kelly nodding along.
“The No. 1 thing we talked about is bringing an energy to it, bringing a toughness to your players, and also coaching players with the attitude that you care for them,” a 34-year-old Frost said at the time. “One of my old coaches talked about (how) players are easy to motivate when you know how to care for them.”
‘The whole package’
Frost beat long odds to wind up in Oregon. They were just as steep two years earlier in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley — now finishing his 17th season with the school — knew who Frost was from his playing days as a national champion quarterback at Nebraska in 1997. But those accolades don’t matter much when sifting through a pool of nearly 200 applicants vying to be the Panthers’ next linebackers coach.
Frost was a graduate assistant at Kansas State in 2006 and had no full-time coaching experience to put on a résumé. Farley summoned him for an interview anyway, in part because of the endorsement of an equipment manager he worked with at Kansas as an assistant in the late 1990s.
It didn’t take Farley long to see it for himself: This guy has a presence about him.
“I mean, he was a quarterback, he was a defensive back (as a player),” Farley said. “So I was trying to figure out if he could teach and coach linebackers. That was really my only concern. But when I spoke to him, I could see he had a way to communicate. I would call him a ‘grass coach.’ You get on the grass, he can show you how to do it as much as tell you how to do it.”
Frost accepted the job and began building friendships with staff, including then-tight ends coach Erik Chinander (now Nebraska’s defensive coordinator) and quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco (same position at NU). On the field, he made sure linebackers were prepared through film study and tough practices. UNI went 12-1 in 2007, then 12-3 the next year as Frost added co-defensive coordinator duties.
But it was the other stuff that stood out to Farley and many players. The pheasant hunting Frost did with his dog. The pride he made obvious — vocally and visibly — in his alma mater at Nebraska.
Northern Iowa also has a Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter. Frost started it at the school, first among some linebackers before eventually opening it up to the entire campus.
“Scott’s the whole package,” Farley said. “The thing I remember most about him is his relationship with his players is tremendous. He was always a great teacher, but the thing that stood out ... he always had a very calm way of relating to the players and always had good relationships, particularly with the segment he coached for us.”
Oregon glory days
The interview in Nashville was actually the second time Bellotti and Frost crossed paths. The first was even more enjoyable for the veteran coach.
Frost made his first collegiate start Nov. 12, 1994, for Stanford while Bellotti operated as Oregon’s offensive coordinator. Frost threw an interception on the first play of the game, and the Ducks rolled 55-21 in Palo Alto.
As it turned out, the two never coached a game together because Bellotti decided to step down and take over as Oregon’s athletic director in March. After spending his last 10 seasons as a player and coach focused on defense, Frost began a four-year stretch soaking in Kelly’s up-tempo attack that ranked in the top three nationally three times by averaging more than 46 points per game.
When Kelly left for the NFL after the 2012 season, new coach Mark Helfrich promoted Frost to offensive coordinator. The Ducks remained a top-five scoring unit each of the next three years, including 2014, when Oregon made the title game of the inaugural College Football Playoff with Frost calling plays for Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota.
From afar, Bellotti followed the career of the smooth talker he met in Nashville. On one ESPN broadcast, he recommended Nebraska hire Frost before the school settled on Mike Riley in December 2014 to replace Bo Pelini.
The analyst’s lasting memory of Frost actually came during Oregon’s upset loss to Boise State in 2009. In a game marked by LeGarrette Blount sucker-punching an opposing player after the final horn, Frost escorted Blount off the field, restrained the 6-foot-2, 250-pound running back from attacking a heckling fan on the way to the tunnel and prevented further escalation of a dangerous situation.
“Some guys have the look of the head coach,” Bellotti said. “It’s the presence, the ability to communicate, the ability to command attention. More importantly now, it’s communicating with young people, both from a recruiting standpoint and a teaching football standpoint.”
Ready for some fun?
Peruse the list of Nebraska players to become head coaches at the college level in the past quarter-century. It isn’t all that long.
Mike Minter. Craig Bohl. Turner Gill. Frank Solich. Tony Samuel. All but Minter — who began at FCS program Campbell in 2013 — spent multiple seasons as Husker assistants on their way to head coaching positions.
Not Frost. And none of his fellow Nebraska grads has been given the keys to a program with this kind of resources since Solich took over as a first-time college head coach for a retiring Tom Osborne in 1998.
Beyond that, Frost is the only one in that group to attract multiple Power Five schools among his suitors.
“There were others that really, really wanted Scott, and some prestigious programs, and there were some prestigious coaches that really, really wanted Nebraska,” NU Athletic Director Bill Moos said at Frost’s introductory press conference last week. “But this is a fit, and we talk about fit here and it has substance. You got to fit at Nebraska, and I don’t know any better fit than this gentleman on my left.”
So what’s next for Frost in Lincoln? Farley and Bellotti say to expect personality, teaching and knowledge from the new head Husker. Plan on strong relationships among the staff and players.
And brace for some fun football.
“He knows what he wants to do offensively and I think he’ll recruit players to that style of offense,” Bellotti said. “I think in this day and age it’s hard to play good defense, so you better play good offense. You’d better be able to outscore people when it comes down to that. I think you can watch Central Florida and see what he’s accomplished in two years and say, ‘OK, this might be the blueprint for what he can do at Nebraska.’ ”
Football coaching influences through the years? Scott Frost had many — and big names, too
Scott Frost wasn't hurting for big-name mentors through his football playing and coaching career. A look at some of the people who influenced Frost — named head coach at Nebraska on Saturday — along the way.