ORLANDO, Fla. — There’s a lot of hate on a winless football team.
In 2015, after Central Florida’s 0-12 season, defensive back Tre Neal hated pretty much everyone.
He hated a lot of his teammates. Didn’t hang out with any besides in his position group. That was the norm, he said.
He hated practice. Hated losing every week. Hated the coaching staff and the fact coach George O’Leary resigned midway through the season. And Neal wasn’t alone. He could sense everyone was upset with everyone.
“It’s crazy how much hate that 0-12 team had,” Neal said.
And then in December 2015, Scott Frost walked in the door and refused to let his team be anything but close.
“It’s crazy how far we got just from love,” Neal said.
According to a handful of UCF players, the foundation of the 0-12 to 12-0 turnaround in two seasons was a culture Frost and his staff built of love, respect and joy. Three things that were barren inside the program before Frost’s arrival.
“When Coach Frost got here, we just started working on loving each other,” Neal said. “Guys are gonna play, guys aren’t gonna play. We all love each other.”
Frost was formally introduced as Nebraska’s 33rd coach on Sunday. He’ll be taking over an NU program that wasn’t winless in 2017, but is coming off a tough stretch of seasons. In three years under coach Mike Riley, the Huskers were 19-19. In 2017, they finished 4-8, their worst record since 1961.
But similar to UCF, Nebraska needs some rebuilding from the inside. Which is what Frost does best, UCF players said.
After the 2015 season, UCF wasn’t a team as much as a collection of guys who happened to wear the same uniform. Everyone was doing what was best for himself, linebacker Shaquem Griffin said.
So one of the first things Frost did was schedule a one-on-one meeting with every player, Griffin said. He asked questions about their families, their backgrounds. Then he told his players to do the same thing with one another.
Frost and the coaching staff made a directive that the entire team needed to stick together. If you’re going around campus, bring a teammate, he’d say. Hang out outside of the football complex. Learn about one another.
Frost arranged a mandatory barbecue in fall camp for players to come to the stadium, eat and chat.
The entire coaching staff reiterated the idea of unity in every breakdown during practice, too.
Before practice in the huddle, Frost or defensive coordinator Erik Chinander would yell: “One team!”
The players responded: “One heartbeat.”
“That carried us a long way,” Griffin said. “It’s not about who your best friends are, it’s about seeing each other as family and being there for each other.”
As guys got to know one another, and as the wins became more and more frequent, the fun Frost promised when he was hired set in, quarterback McKenzie Milton said.
Because of scheduling conflicts, UCF played 11 straight games in 2017. The team dealt with lightning delays and hurricanes, and that can all wear on a team, Milton said. But there wasn’t a day in that 11-week stretch when he and his teammates didn’t love what they were doing.
“I think a lot of times in college football guys get caught up in the pressure and stuff like that, but this coaching staff, especially Coach Frost, they just made everything so fun,” Milton said.
Unity is something Frost’s already preaching at Nebraska. It’s something he’s believed in since his playing days. On the day he was hired, Frost mentioned that at Nebraska under Tom Osborne there was a “unity in purpose, and unity in belief, and unity of understanding and unity of support for this program, what it stood for, and what it was accomplishing.”
“This program needs that again. This state needs that again,” Frost added. “We’re going to be a more united team than anybody else. That’s what Nebraska’s about.”
Frost’s vision of a united team is what he saw after UCF’s 62-55 double-overtime victory over Memphis last weekend.
Neal intercepted the pass that ended the game and won Central Florida the American Athletic Conference. Neal fell into the end zone after the whistle blew the play dead, and the UCF sideline dogpiled on top of him. Frost included.
Before the Knights posed for pictures with the AAC trophy on the field, Frost hopped the barricade between himself and his players. He wrapped his arms around the guys next to him and smiled with tears in his eyes. Players slapped Frost on the back after the photographers finished, and when the ceremony was over, Frost stood arm in arm with his team and sang the UCF alma mater one final time.
A few hours later, when news was confirmed that Frost was leaving UCF for Nebraska, a broken Frost addressed his team in tears.
Inside the sullen locker room, the hate from a couple of years prior was gone. He stood in front of what he promised he’d build at UCF. A cohesive, well-oiled machine. A team that won and won together.
But the unity he built was breaking because of him. And in his final speech to his team last weekend, he showed just how strong that bond he helped create was.
“You guys have touched my life more than you know,” Frost said, hardly getting the words out. “And I hope that I’ve touched yours. There’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do for any one of you guys. I would do absolutely anything for you guys if you reach out to me. It’s been the best year of my life. You guys are family.
“I love you,” Frost said. “And I always will.”
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Chris Kelsay, DE, 1999-02
"He knows how special this place is. Previous coaches were not aware of how special and important Nebraska football is to the state. Having grown up here and played here and seeing what he's done down in Florida in just a couple years, it's pretty exciting the opportunity that awaits him here. Anybody that grew up in Nebraska and played in Nebraska, it means a little bit more to those guys."
Dan Alexander, IB, 1997-2000
"I think it's awesome. He's probably the smartest quarterback I've ever worked with. He definitely knows how to run a team. From a leadership standpoint, from somebody who got in a huddle and made a team around him better, I think he's the best quarterback I worked with. I just know what kind of guy he is, what he can do with a team, what he could bring in as a coach."
Danny Noonan, MG, 1984-86
"I don't see how you couldn't hire Scott to come back. After all the things that have happened the last 20 years ... I don't see how you can't hire Scott. And Nebraska is going to give Scott more rope than anybody else, OK? Obviously we're going to pay him, what he wants for however long he wants. He's a hot commodity now, a huge commodity now, and I think he'll be an outstanding hire."
"Hiring Scott Frost is actually what this program needs. We have lost our identity, toughness, and more importantly our culture. Scott will understand what this place is all about and how hard you have to work to be successful on Saturdays. We were all so fortunate to play for Coach Osborne and his staff. Scott will be a reflection of that and bring his leadership and direction to the program. This is much-needed. Good luck Scott Frost and welcome home!!"
Erik Wiegert, OT, 1989-91
"Scott is six years younger than me so I don't know him personally, but he obviously has a great understanding of the Cornhusker traditions and culture that were so successful for so many years. He seems to have a rare natural ability to motivate and teach young men. I think he'll be very successful. The ex-players I know were all thrilled that he might be coming to Nebraska."
"If he can approach his mentor's level of performance, we'll be great (laughs). It's hard for me to speak for the guys in the '90s who knew him, but I hope they're real excited. I was pretty much a Riley guy until probably the Minnesota game, and then I gave up, but I don't think they realize how bad of shape Bo left us in, both psychologically and otherwise. I'm also of the opinion it will take five, six, seven years if you really want to turn it around. But I'm like everyone else, I hope he's the right guy."
"Obviously it's important to get a former player in here that understands the program, understands what the culture needs to be and understands how special a place Lincoln is and Nebraska is. It's huge. I'm excited again about this football program with him coming in here. I think the energy and the boost of swagger or confidence that he brings is what this program needs. The program is kind of dry right now, not a lot of enthusiasm. It's dead right now and it needs a boost of energy, and I think that's what Scott will bring."
Mickey Joseph, QB, 1988-91
"I think that you're getting somebody who understands the culture, and you got to understand the culture there because it's different than around the nation. It's a great fan base that's really going to support you. The football hasn't been what it's needed to be the last few years, but the fans are still there, and Scott's gonna understand that culture. I can't speak for him, but I'm sure he's got a plan to get it done up there."
"I love seeing Scott Frost be our next head coach for the University of Nebraska. We can get back to our winning ways and tradition. It will be a great opportunity for him and his family."
"If Scott understands that Nebraska is arguably the toughest recruiting sell in college football, if he understands that he's not going to get many four- to five-star athletes — it gets cold here and those fancy-schmancy warm-weather kids struggle when they have to play in temperatures below 40 degrees — and if he understands that he needs to develop two- and three-star athletes into four- and five-star players, things will go well for him."
"Scott Frost represents the University of Nebraska's best hope toward returning its football program to its former greatness. For 40 years, Nebraska was the most consistently successful college football program in the country, and it didn't attain that status by accident. It did several things distinctively: It cultivated a deep walk-on program, it embraced a physical style of play, it maintained high ethical standards and it prized a culture of hard work ... everyday. While there may be others who qualify as top-notch college coaches, Scott Frost has shown that he not only qualifies as a coach, he has shown that he actually embodies the unique qualities that are requisite to success at Nebraska."
Willie Harper, DE, 1970-72
"From coaches that I know who have coached with him, they — and I myself — have nothing but great things to say about him. He's one of the smartest coaches that they've been around. I spoke with him some years ago and I was totally sold and confident with him. He knows both sides of the ball inside and out. He relates to the players, and they all love him as a person. He is a great teacher in the classroom and can demonstrate what he is coaching on the field. This is time for Nebraska to start raising up its own, who know, understand and can breathe Husker culture."
"Scott coming home is awesome. Finally someone that has Nebraska DNA, that obviously knows what we as alumni and Nebraskans need to succeed — work ethic and the right mix of young men. We have to have patience, though, because he has to change the culture back to what we all know and love."
Jerry Murtaugh, LB, 1968-70
"What I think it might mean, not that he can do it, but he's proven himself, he has the record, he knows Nebraska, he's been through all this. So when he does come back, you surround him with great people — meaning a coaching staff — you pay him, you give him a minimum of five years without firing him, and let him do his job. And then we'll go from there."
Jamel Williams, LB, 1994-96
"It's going to help bring back the roots of Nebraska. Even though you can be a great coach, people come in here and don't know the magnitude of how different it is — the hype, what it's all about, how crazy it is — until they leave. When you come in you just think you can handle it or think you may know, but you don't until you're out the door and on the outside looking in. I think somebody coming in here, who knows what's going on, is huge for the program and the state."
"Welcome home, Scott. Congratulations on a great season. All us ex-Huskers are extremely excited. Husker tradition needs a Husker to lead us back to the glory days. Walk-ons, Blackshirts and the greatest fan base in America will help you and your staff get us back to national prominence once again."
"Scott's an ex-ballplayer so people know who he is and maybe he can do something recent coaches haven't been able to do. We're Nebraska, we're used to winning, and right now we're not winning."
Adam Carriker, DE, 2003-06
"Husker Nation, we got our guy. He’s a successful coach, who is also a Nebraska guy that understands what Nebraska is all about. He has what it takes to get the Huskers back on top. It will take time to build this back up the right way and we need to support Scott and his staff along the way. We all have the same goal: To win football games, championships and represent Nebraska as not only a great football program, but as the the great state that it truly is."
Dave Rimington, C, 1979-82
“Very happy about Scott coming home. The future is bright and I’m confident that given time he can take us to places our program hasn’t seen in a long time.”