LINCOLN, Neb. — Scott Frost wants to return Nebraska football to the 1990s.
Not necessarily the same run of championships or a level of winning beyond every other program nationally. But success will happen, Frost said Sunday, if the Cornhuskers rekindle their passion and harness the power dormant within their storied program.
“We’re going to put a product on the field that this entire state can be proud of,” Frost said as he was introduced as the 30th coach in Nebraska history.
Frost, 42, left UCF on Saturday after two years at the school, completing a 12-0 run to the AAC title with a 62-55, double-overtime victory over Memphis. He arrived in Lincoln on Saturday night and was greeted by approximately 100 former Nebraska letterwinners — including many from the 1997 team he quarterbacked to a share of the national title — in the weight room at Memorial Stadium on Sunday.
“Words can’t describe how much it means to be back here at a place I love,” Frost said, “a place that I understand, a place that I want to represent.”
He met with the Nebraska players, asking them to prepare to work upon their return to campus in January after the upcoming semester break. The Huskers did not qualify for a bowl game — just their third postseason absence in 49 years — after a 4-8 season that led to the dismissal of third-year coach Mike Riley on Nov. 25.
In Frost, athletic director Bill Moos said he believed he hired “the pick of the litter.”
A native Nebraskan, Frost led former coach Tom Osborne’s final teams in 1996 and 1997. Osborne, whose Nebraska teams won at least a share of three national titles and 60 of 63 games in his final five years at the helm (1993-1997), remains a mentor to Frost. He attended the festivities on Sunday, sitting in the front row alongside university leaders and former players.
Osborne also attended the surprise welcome Sunday in the weight room.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen,” Osborne said. “I don’t think Scott knew it was going to happen. A lot of those players have gone through periods of frustration and concern, because they knew how it was — and they’ve seen how it has been.
“I think all of them are just hopeful that somehow, things can get back to the way they were at one time. And it won’t be exactly the same. This isn’t like 1997 all over again. But just some of the chemistry and some of the basics will be restored.”
Nebraska won the most recent of its 46 conference titles in 1999. It has remained in mediocrity since joining the Big Ten in 2011, posting a 34-24 league record. Riley finished 19-19 in his time at the school.
“It’s going to take a lot of dedication from a lot of people,” Frost said. “But there is a formula that worked here for a long time. Times have changed a little, but some of those same things can make this work again. A lot of good people care about this place, working really hard, its toughness, its dedication, work ethic.
“That’s what Nebraska is. That’s what the people of Nebraska are. And that’s what this place is going to stand for.”
Frost plans to bring the majority of his coaching staff from UCF. The Knights were selected Sunday to play in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl against Auburn. Frost may help coach in the Jan. 1 game, though he said details have not been finalized.
For now, he’s focused on recruiting at Nebraska and providing positive energy to a place in need of it.
“It feels like we’re moving forward,” offensive guard Jerald Foster said after the meeting with Frost. “We haven’t really done anything yet, but it does feel like at least everyone is on board with Frost and what he’s going to bring to Nebraska.”
Of the meeting, Frost said, he saw an excited group with “a lot of fire in their eyes.”
“I let them know that there was going to be a lot of hard work to be done,” he said. “But things are going to change. A lot of things are going to change.
“I played here. I saw the best of this place. I also saw some hard times that maybe other people hadn’t. But that’s what makes this place great — the passion that the people here have for it.”
Moos, hired Oct. 15 to put Nebraska on a path that would fix its football problems, targeted Frost early in his search. Frost turned down overtures from other programs, including Florida, to return to his roots.
Moos said he was impressed with Frost’s pedigree. He played for Bill Walsh at Stanford in addition to Osborne and coached under Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, Bill Snyder, Chip Kelly and others atop the profession.
But Frost’s love for his players impressed Moos most, he said.
“There were others who really, really wanted Scott,” Moos said. “And some prestigious programs. And there were some prestigious coaches that really, really wanted Nebraska. But this is the fit. We talk about fit here. And it has substance. You’ve got to fit at Nebraska.”