The Athletic

Fake Pelini: Time to enjoy Nebraska football the way God intended, Husker Nation

Husker Nation had whispered it. The students had sung it. And finally, on Sunday, Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts announced it: it was time for Scott Frost to go.

There had been clear signs that Frost wasn’t the right guy to lead the Cornhuskers for a while, but Husker fans refused to acknowledge them. After all, Frost had been the perfect recruit at the perfect time, the favorite son with direct ties to Tom Osborne’s Championship era. It was meant to bring Nebraska football back to dominance and make us proud again. The Frost experiment had to work. There was no plan B.

And so we sifted through every maddening loss and insignificant win for shreds of hope, ignoring what the rest of college football accepted as obvious: Scott Frost’s teams were perpetually nearly good, capable of both compete with everyone and lose against anyone.

Frost’s side in 2021 went 3-9, losing all nine games in single digits. New! This had never been accomplished in the history of college football. It takes a particular style of sucking to be able to play in nine close games and find ways to lose them all.

Even that 3-9 record couldn’t deter Husker Nation, though. We squinted at the 2022 schedule until we saw seven or eight wins lay ahead, as if the next 12 games could be magically different from the previous 30.

But a C+ student doesn’t suddenly become just because he got a new backpack, and so the first three games of 2022 looked a lot like what we saw in 2021. Obviously Scott Frost was always Scott Frost. Last week’s inexplicable loss to Georgia Southern left no doubt that Frost would never be the coach we had planned him to be, that we had completely misjudged him from the start. So he had to be punished.

(How angry was Alberts with Frost? If Nebraska had waited until October 1 to fire him, Frost’s $15 million buyout would have been cut in half. Is there something in your If the person renting my basement until the end of the month turned out to be an opera singer or a lion tamer or an arsonist, I’d probably offer to pay his moving expenses, call him an Uber, maybe even let him keep the silverware he’s been slowly stealing But $7.5 million to leave three weeks sooner? I’ll never be this mad at anything.)

The Frost debacle showed that association with the Osborne era not only does not guarantee success, but has become counterproductive, a soothing illusion. Frost should have been fired after the 2021 season, but his favorite son status earned him one more (unnecessary) chance. It would have been more humane and constructive to let him go 10 months ago so that 2022 would be year 1 of reconstruction, instead of year zero of the Football Nothing that the rest of this year has become.

Since the departure of Tom Osborne, Nebraska’s coaching research has had one guiding principle: We expect to compete for championships here. “Championship” was left conveniently undefined – for a time the national title was Nebraska’s annual goal, but more recently we’d settle for a trophy from a bowling alley named after a lawn tool .

Osborne’s 25-year-old shadow is long and cold and has left us in a constant search for his perfect replacement. And so every post-Osborne coach had to disappoint us. One was too nice, another too mean, another too corporate, but all committed the same deadly sin: they failed to make us proud of Nebraska football the way Tom Osborne did. Somehow, pride had become the main part of the head coach’s job description.

Nebraska will hire a new coach, because that’s how it works. We’ve heard the possible names before – Matt Campbell, Mark Stoops, David Drake, Jim Leonhard – each as unsatisfactory as it makes sense. These aren’t household names (in fact, I made one up and you barely noticed). But there will be a next guy, and we owe it to him to get the old Nebraska football trophy case out before he gets here. I love this trophy box: Heismans, championship trophies, retirement jerseys.

But he must build his own again.

College football has completely changed over the past two decades (years?), but Husker fans have reason to be hopeful. Nebraska is planted in a stable, wealthy conference and a $160 million facility upgrade will be completed next summer. The transfer portal and name, image and likeness opportunities are wildcards that could make it easier to climb the college football ladder. And the Husker fan base remains enraged and ready.

But for the foreseeable future, Husker Nation would be wise to approach Nebraska football as God intended: as a source of entertainment, not identity.

We can still peek into the old trophy case once in a while, look at old photos, and watch grainy YouTube videos (admit it, we all do). But when we’re done, let’s close it. We’re building a new one, remember.

Nebraska’s new coach should win, and soon. It will be his job. Our job will be to stop there.

(Photo: Dylan Widger/USA Today)


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