Marc Daniels: The Night That Changed Scott Frost And His Career

South Florida vs Central Florida

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It was Friday November 17, 2017 and Scott Frost and his UCF Football team landed in Philadelphia. The 15th ranked Knights were 9-0 and heavily favored to win their final road game of the season against a 5-5 Temple team. 

Shortly after arriving at the team hotel, Frost and his players enjoyed dinner before a short night with a noon kickoff the next day. But Frost was headed out. He was not visiting local taverns or grabbing a cheesesteak at Pat's or Geno's. Frost was headed to a downtown Philadelphia hotel where his best friend and former Nebraska teammate Matt Davison had arranged a meeting with Nebraska's newly hired athletic director Bill Moos.

Moos was brought to Lincoln October 15th after leading Washington State's program. Moos was watching Mike Riley stumble through another losing season and Cornhusker fans wanted a change and they wanted Frost. The darling of the college football coaching world. Frost was one of their own. He quarterbacked the 1997 Nebraska team to a national title and his magical run at UCF made him the perfect candidate and Moos knew it. 

That night in that hotel suite Davison talked, Moos chimed in and Frost listened. The pitch was to come home. The state needed Scott Frost and they painted the picture of the golden boy restoring the great tradition of one of the sport's best programs. He was the right man at the right time. Moos could become an instant hero if he landed Frost. Davison would add to his fame on top of the "Miracle Catch" against Missouri in 1997 to keep the unbeaten season alive. They talked about money, staff, budget, history and they knew Frost was interested. He had to be because Nebraska was home.

By the time the meeting ended, both Moos and Davison felt they had their man. Frost didn't sign a contract but he certainly left the hotel knowing the job was his for the taking. One can only imagine what Frost was thinking on the drive back to his team's hotel. Afterall, UCF gave him his chance to be a head coach and there he had a team that went winless just two years before now looking at a potential unbeaten season. He had preached to his UCF players about loyalty, commitment, trust, passion and family. And so the heart felt torn. Scott Frost knew what it meant to be the head coach at Nebraska. The other part of Scott Frost had fallen in love with his team and could he leave them after what they did for him?

UCF blew out Temple the next day, 45-19 and moved to 10-0 with a Black Friday date with the rival Bulls of South Florida looming. The national media filled the airwaves and columns with the dots connecting Frost to the Nebraska job. But UCF's team was focused on beating their rival, who came in 9-1 and ranked 19th. 

On Friday November 24, 2017 the Knights beat South Florida 49-42 in a classic that captured the attention of the college football world with a massive televised audience. The win and the emotion of a memorable game filled with so many big plays got to Frost. He enjoyed the moment with his team and looked around his locker room and saw what a coach dreams of. He saw stars, role players, assistant coaches, support staffers and fans have a season you know is special and know they don't come around every season. And so his emotions rocked back and forth.

By Saturday morning November 25, 2017 Frost knew Mike Riley was about to be fired by Bill Moos and the Nebraska job would be officially open. Frost's offer was there and once out in the public his answer was needed.  

Legendary Nebraska coach Tom Osborne had supported Frost carving his own path and doing what he felt was best for him. But Osborne became a supporter of the idea of Frost returning home. Bill Moos, Matt Davison and the entire state sat waiting for the official yes from Frost.

I have said it many times before, my opinion is Scott Frost wanted to be the head coach at Nebraska someday but not in 2018. I was convinced then that Frost also would have been content if MIke Riley succeeded and the job never opened and Frost never got to coach his alma mater. But a proud son of a Nebraska native played a major role in Frost's ultimate decision. Larry Frost, Scott's father, played at Nebraska from 1966-1969. Larry Frost set numerous state records playing 8-man football in high school. He coached Scott in high school and Larry Frost dreamed of seeing his son become the head coach at Nebraska. 

Scott's parents traveled to Orlando several times during Frost's two years at UCF. Palm trees, hot weather, traffic and a different vibe compared to Nebraska never won them over. Going home for everyone was something dad wanted. Scott knew that and it played a major factor in the ultimate decision. 

UCF was prepared to increase Frost's salary. Florida came strong to offer him the keys to the Gators' program.Yes, that offer was there and yes, he turned it down. Others across the country with vacancies inquired but it came down to two choices. Frost was either taking the Nebraska job or staying at UCF.

The week leading up to the American title game with Memphis got to Frost. He knew what those close to him wanted him to do. His heart may have had different feelings. He didn't want to let his father down and had a hard time letting down a team who was trying to complete an unbeaten season and a magical year.

I have talked about on the radio show and written here about the brief chat former local TV sports anchor Pat Clarke and I had with Frost that week. We chatted outside as he sat in a golf cart almost wanting to tell his story about the other offers and why he said no. He talked about his love for UCF, his players, Orlando and that he had no doubt what he could build. He also talked about going home and family and not letting an entire state down. As tears filled his eyes it appeared that while he knew what he had to do it may not have been what he wanted to do.

Before kickoff that Saturday December 2, 2017, Frost made up his mind. He notified the few that needed to know at Nebraska that he was accepting the job. During UCF's dramatic double-overtime win against 14th ranked Memphis the news broke that Frost was headed to Nebraska. Some believe Bill Moos wanted the news out there not to spoil UCF's afternoon but to let Nebraska fans know their hero was coming home. UCF won and shortly after the on-field celebration Frost acknowledged in his post-game press conference that he needed to talk to his team about what everyone already knew. Less than 48 hours later Frost was introduced as Nebraska's new coach with a smiling Bill Moos and Matt Davison who had delivered the one they could not let get away.

Frost and his staff then juggled two jobs in recruiting for Nebraska and trying to prepare UCF for its bowl game against Auburn. It made for an awkward month for all. Frost appeared at peace with his decision and seemed more interested in convincing high school players to join him in Lincoln than focusing on a game plan to close out an unbeaten season. But he was reminded shortly before the team left for Atlanta why he almost stayed at UCF. He saw players like McKenzie Milton and Shaquem Griffin keep a team focused on the principles that Frost preached all year; loyalty, commitment, trust, passion and family. The team kept it together while a coaching staff tried to handle the responsibilities of two jobs. 

I remember Frost telling me the day before the game against Auburn that he didn't know if his team could win and Auburn might be too big and too strong and he wondered if he did enough to prepare them for such a big game. He told me if UCF won it would be because his players found a way, as they did all year. UCF won 34-27 to finish as the only undefeated team in college football that season.

The next day, Frost was gone. His two year run was over and a new era began at Nebraska. 

Since the day he left, UCF has gone 38-13 and played in a Fiesta Bowl, won another conference title and has appeared in a bowl game every year since he left. Scott Frost went 16-31 with no bowl games and no winning seasons and was fired last Sunday. 

Many have asked the question of what if Scott Frost had stayed. There is no reason to think the unbeaten 2018 regular season would not have happened with Frost. With Josh Heupel taking over, UCF ranked 21st in the preseason AP Poll. I truly believe if Frost had stayed pollsters would have had a more favorable view of the Knights and likely would have been near or in the top 10. A 25-game win streak would have been hard to keep UCF out of the college football playoff. Instead, pollsters capped UCF at 7th and the Knights were never considered for the final four. If McKenzie Milton never gets hurt, UCF likely would have beat LSU in the Fiesta Bowl and finished 6th in the polls. 

With a 26-game win streak and back-to-back unbeaten seasons with major bowl wins would have put Frost in a position to pick a number of jobs. The money would have been insane after the 2018 season. The interesting thing about that year is there were not many major P5 job openings so who knows. I'm not sure if Scott Frost would still be at UCF today. My guess is there would have been a job he would have said yes to eventually- one that was not named Nebraska. Maybe Frost would have jumped to a P5 job and then Nebraska may have opened up again and that may have been the right time.

UCF has done well since Frost has left. Josh Heupel did a remarkable job in 2018 going 12-1 and won 10 games in 2019 and six in 2020 before jumping to Tennessee. Gus Malzahn went 9-4 last year and is recruiting at a high level as the Knights get set to make the move into the Big XII. Malzahn's national name recognition is a huge plus for UCF and I think he is going to be very successful and with the conference move UCF may not have to worry about a coach leaving as they have in recent years.

The reasons why it didn't work at Nebraska are well documented by those closer to the program. In the end, the weight of a state got to be too much on the shoulders of Scott Frost. He looked aged and worn beyond the amount of years he was in Lincoln. The business of college football led to the firing despite the additional $7.5M in the buyout. 

Scott's dad saw his son become the head coach at Nebraska. Sadly, Larry Frost lost his battle with cancer at the age of 73 passing in 2020. Scott's mom still lives in Nebraska and it will always be home. I don't know what's next for Frost. Perhaps he takes a coordinator job or a G5 program comes along, but I think it's a longshot he takes a G5 job. I do think he still wants to be a head coach again. Nebraska will find a new coach with a new AD(Trev Alberts replaced Bill Moos over a year ago) and he may have no Nebraska ties. UCF will thrive as it moves into a new league with revenue like they've never seen before. 

Life is about the decisions we make. Sometimes those decisions are easy and obvious. Sometimes they are confusing and complicated. One night in Philadelphia changed Scott Frost's life- some for the good and some not. UCF is doing just fine. Nebraska will figure it out. As for Scott Frost...the rest is still unwritten.

Final note: Of the six M&M colors, which is the newest? Blue replaced tan back in 1995 to join red, yellow, orange, green and brown.

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