Scott out, Joseph named interim coach at Nebraska

Associated Press

Nebraska has fired Scott Frost, the situation so dire in the once-proud football program that athletic director Trev Alberts made the move only three weeks before the coach's contract buyout would have been cut in half.

The Cornhuskers lost 45-42 to Georgia Southern as a three-touchdown favorite at home Saturday night, and the student section chanted "Fire Frost" at the end of the game.

Frost was 16-31 three games into his fifth season, and his .340 winning percentage was second-worst among Nebraska coaches who lasted more than four years.

"You run a professional organization that has high standards, (and) accountability has to matter," Alberts said at a news conference. "Scott and I talked about this: 16-31 was not at a level that was acceptable to us."

Associate head coach Mickey Joseph was named interim coach for the rest of the season. The Huskers play No. 6 Oklahoma at home this week.

Joseph, 54, is the first Black head coach at Nebraska in any sport and among four new members of the staff this season. Like Frost, he is a former Nebraska quarterback, having played from 1988-91.

"I won't meddle in Mickey's decision-making process," Alberts said. "I encouraged Mickey to be the head coach and make decisions as the head coach. There'll be some structural changes and things that I think Mickey believes in."

Alberts didn't elaborate on what changes Joseph would make. Joseph is scheduled to meet with reporters on Tuesday.

Joseph returned to Nebraska as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator after coaching receivers at LSU from 2017-21. He also was LSU's assistant head coach his last two seasons there.

Alberts made a surprising move last November when he announced he would bring back Frost after what turned out to be a 3-9 season. Frost fired four offensive assistants, had his pay cut from $5 million to $4 million and agreed to having his buyout drop from $15 million to $7.5 million on Oct. 1.

Alberts said the university didn't try to negotiate a lower buyout and declined to comment on whether donors contributed the money to pay off Frost.

"The University of Nebraska has a long history of living up to what we've agreed to," Alberts said, "and so the contract is what the contract is."

Alberts said firing Frost now gives him ample time to conduct a thorough search for the next coach. He said it would be best if the new coach were in place for the early signing period in December but added that the process won't be rushed.

The Huskers opened the season with a 31-28 loss to Northwestern in Ireland, struggled into the fourth quarter before putting away FCS North Dakota 38-17 and then allowed 642 yards while losing to a Sun Belt Conference team in Georgia Southern.

The 47-year-old Frost's spectacular failure was never envisioned when he left Central Florida as the hottest coach in America.

The storyline for his hiring was delicious, with Frost returning to his home state and the school he quarterbacked to a share of the 1997 national championship.

He had taken over a Central Florida program that went 0-12 in 2015, and two years later he led the Golden Knights to a 13-0 record and a Peach Bowl win over Auburn.

Frost, who grew up 90 minutes west of Lincoln in Wood River, was hailed as a savior of the program when former athletic director Bill Moos signed him to a seven-year, $35 million contract.

Moos boasted he had gotten "the pick of the litter" from the 2017-18 coaching cycle and that Big Ten powers would be "running scared" once Frost got the Huskers on track. Frost, when asked about having to possibly adjust his style to the Big Ten, shot back that he hoped the Big Ten would have to adjust to him instead.

What followed were four-plus seasons of underachieving and undisciplined play - and unhappiness among a loyal fan base desperately hoping for a return to a semblance of the program's glory days.

There was never an indication that would happen under Frost. His Huskers were famous for losing close games - 22 of his 31 losses were decided by eight points or fewer - and for getting beat as double-digit favorites.

The Frost era was the worst at Nebraska since Bill Jennings was 15-34-1 (.310) in the five years before Hall of Fame coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne reigned over four decades of sustained success that brought five national championships and 22 conference titles.

The Huskers have gone through five coaches since Osborne retired in 1997, and they are a shell of their former selves. They haven't won a conference championship since 1999, and they haven't won more than five games in a season since going 9-4 in 2016 under Mike Riley.

Frost was 10-26 in Big Ten games and, worse, 6-18 against West Division opponents. His teams never won more than three conference games in a season or finished higher than fifth place in the seven-team West.

Asked why he didn't wait to make the change, Alberts said: "We owed it to the players, to give them a different voice, perhaps a slightly different vision. ... We needed to inject something into this team to give them the confidence and hopefully help them compete. I think nothing would please me more than to see a pretty significant change and help this team get over the hump and win some games."

--Joseph wants the job

Mickey Joseph wants to be Nebraska's next head football coach and not just the interim guy for the next nine games.

Joseph met with the media for the first time since athletic director Trev Alberts asked him to lead the program the rest of the season following the firing of Scott Frost on Sunday.

"I think when you accept the job as interim head coach, that's the opportunity you're working for, to become the head coach," Joseph said. "But we understand what goes along with this profession. It's wins and losses, and that's what it's going to depend on."

Joseph, 54, opens his stint as interim head coach with a home game against former conference rival and sixth-ranked Oklahoma (2-0) on Saturday. The Huskers (1-2) have lost 18 straight against Top 25 opponents.

Joseph played quarterback at Nebraska under Tom Osborne from 1988-91, has worked at all levels of college football and was receivers coach and assistant head coach at LSU before joining the Cornhuskers' staff this year. He's best known for his abilities to recruit and develop NFL talent.

Alberts said he told Joseph he planned to do an exhaustive coach search. The expectation is that money will be no object because of the huge increase in cash coming to Big Ten schools when the $1 billion-per-year conference television contract begins in 2023.

"We will see how the season unfolds, but I think we have an opportunity to hire an outstanding coach to lead our program," Alberts said. "I would love to see Mickey grow into that, and we will just see where it goes. We will do a national search and if at that point, if Mickey is an obvious candidate, he will be part of that conversation as well."

Joseph is the first Black head coach at Nebraska, interim or permanent, in any sport.

"I haven't really thought about that because I've been a football coach, I've been a Black football coach, all my life," he said. "I'm more concerned about the boys and getting the boys ready to play on Saturday. It's bigger than me."

Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at Central Florida, told The Associated Press he expects Nebraska to take Joseph's candidacy seriously.

"Nebraska should give him a hard look with the understanding that turning the program around that quickly is a difficult situation," Lapchick said. "Measuring his success can't only be measured on the wins and losses he has but the relationships with the players, how hard they play, how the team congeals under his leadership."

Turner Gill, also a Black former Nebraska assistant and quarterback under Osborne, was a finalist for the Cornhuskers' job that went to Bo Pelini in 2007. Gill went on to become head coach at Buffalo, Kansas and Liberty.

Lapchick said the Nebraska athletic department has done diversity and inclusion training since the 1990s. Most other schools, he said, didn't provide such training until after the death of George Floyd in 2019.

"I know the fact (Joseph) is the first doesn't mean they weren't trying to do that before," he said. "I am very personally pleased - both wanting the best for Nebraska football but also changing what's going on around America in general in light of the racial reckoning of the past several years and just the history of sport in America."

Lapchick, who in 1984 helped found the pioneering Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, publishes an annual report card on racial and gender hiring practices and is a leading voice on diversity and inclusion in athletics.

Not including Joseph, there are eight Black head football coaches this season among the 65 Power Five schools, including Notre Dame. There are three in the Big Ten.

The fact Joseph has not been a head coach or coordinator at the Football Bowl Subdivision level doesn't work in his favor, Lapchick said.

"If that disqualifies him, that would tell me his candidacy was not genuine from the beginning," Lapchick said, noting that Joseph will have at least nine games of experience at the end of the season.

This week's NCAA strength-of-schedule report shows Nebraska has the 20th-toughest remaining schedule based on its opponents' combined record of 15-4.

"We've got nine games left, right?" Joseph said. "As a coach, you've got to stand up and say we're trying to win nine games. But we're not worried about nine games right now. We're worried about this game this week."

September 13, 2022