Pernell: Frost continues to build championship culture
This staff has done this before. They mended a fractured team psyche and flipped the culture at Central Florida. Their results speak for themselves. Frost has commented that the rebuild he is now undertaking in Lincoln has the potential to be smoother than the one he managed in Orlando. The reason being he and his staff – all of whom followed him – have now been there and done that. They don’t need to learn the schemes like they did in year 1 at UCF. These coaches know them inside and out, and are better equipped to teach them to Husker players expeditiously.
This staff knows what worked and what didn’t in their approach the first time around. They know what they should tweak and they know what they should emphasize. Their experience at UCF has helped to accelerate the process in Lincoln. Staff continuity is something Frost values. He saw it first hand as a player, where Tom Osborne’s staff remained intact for large chunks of his tenure. He also saw the benefits while at Oregon. Several of his colleagues in Eugene were holdovers from staffs under head coaches Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti.
Taking what he learned at Nebraska and Oregon, putting his own stamp on it, and then implementing it into his program is a common theme. Much of Frost’s coaching philosophies can be traced back to what he learned playing for Tom Osborne and coaching under Chip Kelly. It can be seen in what he did at UCF and it’s the model he is using again with Nebraska. So let’s take a look at several components of what will be the foundation of Frost’s program going forward.
Led by new strength coach Zach Duval, a disciple of Boyd Epley, the top priority since Frost arrived in Lincoln has been getting the team back to its Husker Power roots. Frost has known how he would want his players trained for some time. “I was at Oregon a long time, and one thing I thought was, what if you took that speed and tempo and the way we moved and put it with Husker power? It would be really dangerous,” Frost has said. “That’s what we did at UCF. We took the scheme I knew with the training I knew at Nebraska. We can do the same thing here.” He has begun to do just that, but it’s going to take more than one offseason to really get the overall results he wants.
“When I got back to Nebraska, (the players) hadn’t really squatted in three years, weren’t lifting very much,” Frost said during last weeks Big Ten Media Days. “Our guys were out of shape. I didn’t see the passion or the unity… I just know they didn’t lift like I wanted them to lift.” Duval, who was named 2017 strength and conditioning coach of the year by FootballScoop, went to work immediately. Following winter conditioning, it was revealed players had lost a combined 389 pounds of fat, gained 436 pounds of muscle and lost an average of 2.8 percent body fat. To put that in perspective, that’s about 1,362,000 calories in fat lost overall. And now we’ve spent all summer hearing about how much muscle the entire team has gained. Just looking at the changes in the media guide, 56 returning scholarship players have added a combined 800 pounds.
Two weeks ago, the (brilliant) decision was made to bring back Dave Ellis to be the Director of Performance Nutrition for the Nebraska Athletic Department. A leader in the nutrition industry for over 30 years, Ellis originally worked for Nebraska throughout the 1980s before spending about four years at the University of Wisconsin. He returned in 1994 and started the school’s original nutrition department. Ellis is often credited, along with Boyd Epley, for helping establish Nebraska football’s strength and conditioning department as the nation’s best. He eventually left in 2001 and for the last 17 years has been the President of Sports Alliance Inc. He has been one of the countries most sought-after consultants in the world of sports nutrition. He’s been involved with private nutrition work with LeBron James and Tom Brady and has also consulted with multiple different NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL organizations.
Another change will be the continued use of morning practices. Frost implemented the change to morning practices during the spring – something not done at Nebraska in more than 30 years – and will continue with them through fall camp. Thanks to Bill Moos, Hank Bounds and associate athletic director for academics Dennis LeBlanc, Frost will be able to keep the morning schedule throughout the fall as well. Once the fall semester begins, the team will have the mornings until 11:30 cleared out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and until noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Frost picked up the schedule from Kelly while at Oregon, and took it with him to UCF. He’s a firm believer in it and made it a priority when he got to Nebraska. The philosophy behind it being that players practice and perform better earlier in the day, while also helping with discipline issues like skipping classes during the season. “It’s great physiologically to get up out of bed and get moving,” Frost explained. “Our kids are going to be able to do that. I think you’re at your best and at your highest testosterone point in the morning, so we’ll be able to get more out of them in the morning.” During the season, Frost likes to have his team practice hard on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. With the team off the field by 11 a.m., the players have extra time to recuperate. “That really helps us recover, prepare, and then re-energize the guys so that we’re fresh and ready for football games. It’s been a formula that’s worked for us.” Another potential advantage? It should help with the 11 a.m. starts that are common in the Big Ten.
Frost also plans to grow the roster and reemphasize the walk-on program. This fall, Frost will welcome roughly 20 walk-ons from the 2018 class, many of which turned down FCS and Division II scholarship offers to walk-on at Nebraska. He would like to eventually grow the roster to around 15o. As Frost said in his Feb. 7 news conference on national signing day, “Nebraska has been known for having a lot of players on the team... a lot of walk-ons. I’d like to get back to that. The best thing Coach Osborne did was have everybody practice... and part of that is what led to the development of players and helped walk-ons and young players get better faster and get on the field and help the team. I think that’s an asset that Nebraska can have if we’re willing to expand the roster.”
There are 140 player names listed on the Husker official roster page right now, though a few aren’t on campus yet. In order to reach Frost’s goal of 150, Bill Moos will need to continue working through some Title IX issues. I don’t anticipate Frost adding 20 walk-ons every year. Roughly 10-15 per class would help him land right around his goal of 150 after factoring in the 85-man scholarship limit. As it stands now, with 140 players, Nebraska will have the largest roster in the conference. Most of the other schools in the Big Ten are around the 120 mark.
But Frost isn’t just looking for bragging rights. His comments about how Osborne had all those players getting reps isn’t just complimentary lip service. It’s something he implemented starting with spring ball. “We gotta learn the offense, we gotta learn the defense,” Frost said heading into spring. “We gotta be crisp. The more reps we can get, the better. Repetition makes you better at anything. We practice at a fast pace, so we’re going to get a lot of repetitions. We’re going to split the team some so we get even more reps. You don’t get better without practicing, and we want as many guys up and moving as we can get.” Frost aims for 130-140 total reps per practice. He achieves this by dividing a large number of players into smaller groups practicing at once. Then he adds the element of a fast tempo. This is how Nebraska practiced all spring, and now that the players have gotten accustomed to the approach and the philosophy behind it, they’ll get even more out of it in the fall. It should lead to better execution over time.
Perhaps the biggest shift in philosophy by Frost is the new competitive nature in every aspect of the team. The staff has been open to the media about their honest approach with current players of their intentions to build a formidable roster with a competitive culture and mindset. Either the current players will adapt and embrace it, or they will get recruited over.
This past June 11-12, Bill Moos, Scott Frost and members of the Husker football staff embarked on a 26-town ‘Husker Nation Tour’ to meet the public. While in Freemont, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander told a story about a then-recent meeting he had with current players. ‘You know where we’re going?’ Yes, the players knew the coaches were planning to head out to recruit. Chinander said a current player remarked it was to get some freshmen. “No. no. We’re trying to find guys to take your spot. Every single one of you. And your job is to not let that happen,” Chinander bluntly stated. “The real guys, and I don’t know how many real guys we got in here, the real guys, you’re going to teach that kid to take your spot knowing that he can’t ever do it – if you’re a real guy. And we’ll see how many real guys we got. Eventually we’ll start getting them. They’re going to teach these young kids, ‘Hey bro, this is what you got to do to take my spot, but I’m going to give you a heads up: It ain’t ever going to happen.’ Then when you get guys like that, that’s when it really starts to happen.”
Back in March, Zach Duval also touched on this in an interview on KOZN-AM in Omaha. “All I can do is develop what I have, and the coaches’ jobs... is to recruit the talent coming in. I tell the guys in winter conditioning: It’s my job to make you better than what the coaches are going to bring in, because it’s their job to bring in better talent than you right now.”
But make no mistake. Along with the culture of competition that this staff is instilling, they are also making sure these players know they care about them. They want to nurture them as well. Frost’s mantra for his players is “play with a desire to excel and no fear of failure.” It’s something he picked up from current Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. I love that quote and I love the mindset it develops. You simply can’t learn when you are afraid of making mistakes. You learn from mistakes. Coaches can’t learn about players unless they’re going full speed, and players can’t do it in games until they do it in practice.
Frost and his staff have all mentioned they will not yell or cuss at players. “I don’t think that’s the right thing to do, and I also don’t want to make kids afraid to go make a great play,” Frost told reporters back in March. “If someone misses a tackle or drops a ball, they don’t need to be yelled at. They need to be taught the right way to do it so it doesn’t happen again. And once you take away that fear of what might happen if you make a bad play, it really frees you up to go make great plays.” I can’t say enough how much I love this approach. It breeds a culture where kids aren’t afraid to go out and compete. To leave it all on the field. Is there any wonder why UCF came out and stood toe-to-toe with a superior team like Auburn and outplayed them?
That sort of competitive culture is what Pete Carroll built at USC. It’s what Nick Saban has at Alabama. It’s a culture where a Top 100 recruit doesn’t hit campus and think he’s already arrived. He doesn’t assume he will have a starting job waiting for him. He doesn’t act like a prima donna. I’m looking at you Lamar Jackson. It’s a culture where a Top 100 recruit doesn’t show up and fail to work hard. He doesn’t go through the motions figuring his natural talent will be enough to get by. Are you listening Avery Roberts? At the same time, it’s a culture where a current player doesn’t figure he has his position wrapped up just because he started the year before.
I firmly believe that Nebraska is on the precipice of something special. Frost is building this thing the right way. He is taking from what he knows was a proven model in Lincoln. He is reintroducing this program to the things that worked before, while also continuing to implement forward-thinking and innovative ideas. Tomorrow is just the next step in building Nebraska back to where they belong.
Prior to contributing to HuskerMax, Jeremy Pernell co-founded the all-football website N2FL.com. From 2002-2014, he served as the editor in chief of the college football portion of the website which focused heavily on talent evaluation, which included NCAA recruiting and the NFL Draft. He has analyzed and covered the NCAA and NFL for 25-years. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.