LINCOLN — Newly hired coach Scott Frost is bringing some friends to Lincoln.
Frost and Nebraska officially announced the hiring of seven assistants Monday, all of whom were with Frost at Central Florida.
Those hired were defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, offensive line coach Greg Austin, special teams and outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt, defensive backs coach Travis Fisher, running backs coach Ryan Held, quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco and defensive line coach Mike Dawson.
“This is an outstanding group of coaches and men of tremendous character who have played a key role in our success at UCF the past two seasons,” Frost said in a statement. “They are excellent teachers, mentors and recruiters and have earned great respect from the young men who play for them. I am proud they have chosen to join our staff as we get started at Nebraska.”
The new assistants will all have two-year contracts through Dec. 31, 2019.
Frost has not yet hired an offensive coordinator or wide receivers coach. It is expected that former Husker linebacker Barrett Ruud will be hired as the 10th assistant when schools are allowed to add a 10th assistant come January when NCAA rules change. Ruud is currently on the recruiting trail for Nebraska.
Athletic Director Bill Moos said on Sunday the pool of money to pay the 10 assistants and strength coach will be $5 million. Last season’s assistants were the highest paid in school history, around $3.8 million in total salary.
Chinander will be the second-highest paid assistant in school history with an $800,000 a year base salary. Former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s salary for 2017 was $825,000.
The 2017 staff will be paid similarly to Mike Riley’s assistants. Linebackers coach Trent Bray was paid $400,000 a season ago, and now Dewitt will be paid $475,000 at a similar position. Former offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh had a $450,000 a year salary, which will be replaced with Austin’s $475,000 salary. Running backs coach Reggie Davis’ $350,000 salary is dropped slightly for Held, who will be paid $300,000. Fisher will be paid $100,000 less than former defensive backs coach Donte Williams, who made $400,000.
Nebraska did not have a quarterbacks coach in 2017. At that position, Verduzco will be paid $350,000.
Nebraska has $1.8 million left to hire an offensive coordinator, receivers coach and strength coach.
In the past two coaching hires, both Riley and Bo Pelini kept assistants from the previous staff. Should Frost follow the same pattern, the most plausible position for Frost to retain would be wide receivers coach Keith Williams, since that spot is still open.
But even so, a majority of the Nebraska coaching staff will now be fresh blood, which Frost is excited for.
“A lot of coaches when they get a bigger job or change from one school to another think they need to go out and hire some different people,” Frost said. “The guys that helped us win there can help us win here.”
Chinander served as a defensive graduate assistant at Oregon before following Chip Kelly to the NFL as an assistant defensive line coach in 2013. He returned to Oregon as the outside linebackers coach (2014-15) and followed Frost to UCF, becoming the defensive coordinator. Chinander was a walk-on offensive lineman for Iowa from 1998-2002 and helped lead Northern Iowa to the FCS national championship game in 2005 and the semifinals in 2008 as the tight ends coach. He coached with Frost at UNI during the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
In 2017, Chinander’s defenses allowed 25.2 points, 165.8 rushing yards and 262.8 passing yards per game. UCF ranked 95th in the country in total defense. Nebraska was 103rd in total defense.
Chinander will be joined by Fisher, Dewitt and Dawson from his previous defensive staff.
Fisher, a UCF cornerback himself, had all four starters from the 2016 UCF team sign with NFL teams following the season. Fisher was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the second round of the 2002 NFL draft and registered 299 tackles and nine interceptions in his career. He was hired in 2013 as UCF’s defensive quality assistant under coach George O’Leary. In 2017, UCF ranked fifth nationally with 18 interceptions. Nebraska’s corners did not have any interceptions in 2017.
Dawson is a member of the Chip Kelly coaching tree. He coached with Kelly at New Hampshire and with the Philadelphia Eagles as a defensive quality control coach in 2013. Frost hired Dawson in 2016 as the defensive line coach. In 2017, UCF was fourth in the conference in rush defense, allowing 4.4 yards a carry and 165.7 yards a game.
Under Chinander’s 3-4 defense, there will be separate coaches for outside and inside linebackers. Dewitt will handle the outside linebackers, which he did at UCF in 2016 and 2017. Dewitt will also be the special teams coordinator. In 2017, UCF was second in the AAC in kickoff return yardage and first in punt return average. They were 11th out of 12 teams in punting.
UCF’s No. 1 national scoring offense will have most of its staff in Lincoln next season. Even though Frost doesn’t have an offensive coordinator yet, he expects the offense to run as it did at UCF.
Instead of modifying his system to the Big Ten, Frost said on Sunday: “I’m hoping the Big Ten has to modify their system to us.”
It will start up front with Austin, who played offensive guard at Nebraska from 2003 to 2006. He made 18 starts in his career and was named honorable mention All-Big 12 in 2006. Austin coached with Frost at Oregon, then followed Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles from 2013 to 2015. The past two seasons, he’s been at UCF.
Running backs coach Ryan Held was a walk-on receiver at Nebraska from 1993 to 1996. He began his coaching career as an undergraduate assistant on the Huskers’ 1997 national title team. He climbed his way up through the coaching ranks at smaller schools and was head coach at Peru State, Southwestern Oklahoma State, Highland (Kan.) Community College and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College. In 2016, he joined Frost. In 2017, UCF was sixth in the AAC in rushing offense, averaging 201.2 yards per game. Nebraska averaged 107.5 rushing yards per game.
Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco will join Frost for the third time. They two also coached together at Northern Iowa and UCF. Verduzco has coached since 1977. Under Verduzco, UCF was the No. 1 passing offense in the AAC, averaging 339.2 yards per game.
As a sophomore in 2017, UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton threw for 3,795 yards and 35 touchdowns. He also ran for 497 yards and seven touchdowns.
Frost spoke with conviction at his opening press conference about bringing Nebraska back to the top. And part of that comes from his confidence in the staff he’s bringing with him.
“I will tell you that the staff I hired at UCF is a group of men that are unbelievable coaches that have unbelievable character,” Frost said. “If it wasn’t that way then we wouldn’t have been able to make the turnaround (at UCF) that we made.”
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Erik Chinander, defensive coordinator
Chinander has spent the past two seasons as the defensive coordinator at UCF. A 2016 Broyles Award nominee as the nation’s top assistant, Chinander comes to Lincoln after leading a dramatic defensive turnaround. His UCF defense allowed 12.5 fewer points in 2017 than it did in the season before his arrival. Chinander’s defense also ranked fourth nationally in takeaways in 2017. Chinander spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons as the outside linebackers coach at Oregon, after serving on the Philadelphia Eagles defensive staff in 2013. Chinander has been on the staff of one FCS and two FBS teams that have played in a national championship game.
Troy Walters, offensive coordinator / wide receivers coach
Troy Walters served as Scott Frost’s offensive coordinator at Central Florida the past two seasons. One of the nation’s top assistant coaches, the 2017 Broyles Award Finalist has six years of Power Five experience in his nine years as a collegiate assistant.
Greg Austin, offensive line coach
A former Nebraska offensive lineman, Austin brings eight years of coaching experience to the Husker staff. Austin has spent a total of five seasons working on offensive staffs with Frost, including the past two seasons as UCF’s offensive line coach. Austin helped the UCF offensive line rank among the national leaders in fewest sacks allowed in 2017, while heading into the bowl season ranked first in the nation in scoring and fifth in total offense. Austin also has three seasons of NFL coaching experience, working on Chip Kelly’s Eagles staff from 2013 to 2015. Austin made 18 career starts as an offensive guard at Nebraska and was an honorable-mention All-Big 12 pick in 2006.
Jovan Dewitt, outside linebackers/special teams coach
Dewitt brings a wealth of experience to the Nebraska staff, with 18 overall years of coaching experience, including nine seasons as a defensive coordinator and four years as a special teams coordinator. Dewitt spent the past two seasons as the associate head coach at Central Florida, where he worked with the linebackers and served as special teams coordinator. In 2017, Dewitt’s linebackers helped UCF rank third in the AAC in scoring defense and pass efficiency defense. Dewitt has previous college FBS experience at Army and Florida Atlantic and worked on the staff at Northern Iowa from 2009 to 2011.
Mario Verduzco, quarterbacks coach
Verduzco brings 41 years of coaching experience to the Nebraska staff, including serving as both a junior college and high school head coach. Verduzco served as the UCF quarterbacks coach the past two seasons and directed the development of McKenzie Milton, who was one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in 2017. Milton completed better than 69 percent of his passes this season, while throwing for 3,795 yards and a school-record 35 touchdowns. Verduzco was Missouri State’s offensive coordinator in 2015, after a 14-year stint with Northern Iowa, working on the same staff as Frost for two seasons. Verduzco spent five seasons at Rutgers from 1996 to 2000, and prior to that coached for 19 seasons at various levels in his home state of California.
Mike Dawson, defensive line coach
Dawson brings 19 years of coaching experience to Nebraska, including the past two seasons on the UCF staff and three years of experience in the National Football League. At UCF, Dawson’s defensive line ranked fourth in the AAC in rushing defense in 2017 and two of his three starting defensive linemen earned all-conference honors. Dawson spent three seasons on Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles staff from 2013 to 2015, working with the defensive line. Dawson also has college coaching stops at several schools, including Boston College, Akron, New Hampshire, Pittsburgh and Maine.
Ryan Held, running backs coach
Held returns to his alma mater with 17 years of college coaching experience, including 12 seasons as a head coach. On Frost’s staff at UCF the past two seasons, Held has coached the running backs as the Knights led the nation in scoring offense in 2017, while ranking fifth in total offense. Held previously made a name in the coaching community as a successful junior college, Division II and NAIA head coach. Held served as a head coach at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, Highland (Kan.) CC, Southwestern Oklahoma State, Oklahoma Panhandle State and Peru State. Held was a part of two national championship teams in 1994 and 1995 as a walk-on receiver for the Huskers, and began his college coaching career as a graduate assistant on Tennessee’s 1998 national championship team.
Travis Fisher, defensive backs coach
A former NFL cornerback, Fisher joins Frost’s staff after working on the UCF defensive staff for the past two seasons. Fisher’s defensive backs were a big reason why the Knights recorded 55 takeaways and scored eight defensive touchdowns over the past two seasons. In 2017, UCF ranked fifth nationally with 18 interceptions. Fisher had two defensive backs earn first-team All-AAC honors and UCF ranked in the top 20 nationally in interceptions. A former Knight cornerback, Fisher was selected in the second round of the 2002 Draft by the St. Louis Rams and played eight seasons in the NFL. He began his coaching career at UCF in 2013, spent one season at Southeast Missouri State and has been in Orlando the past three seasons.
Sean Beckton, tight ends coach
Sean Beckton will be a first-year Husker assistant in 2018 after previously spending his entire coaching career in Florida. A 22-year coaching veteran, Beckton spent 19 seasons coaching at Central Florida, his alma mater, including serving as the Knights’ tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator under Scott Frost the past two seasons.
Zach Duval, strength and conditioning coach
Zach Duval previously worked as a Husker student assistant (1994), graduate assistant (1995-96) and assistant football strength coach (1997-2002 and 2008). Duval spent the past two seasons as the director of sports performance for football at Central Florida, where he also oversaw the school’s entire sports performance department.
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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.”