In the first College Football Playoff National Championship Game, two young, offensive wizards stood on opposite sidelines.
One was 39-year-old Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman. His meteoric rise in the coaching profession hit new heights when third-string Buckeye quarterback Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes to dominant showings in the Big Ten Championship and in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Alabama.
The other coach was 40-year-old Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost. After becoming a staple on Chip Kelly’s staff, Frost stayed under Mark Helfrich to lead the Ducks’ high-powered attack. In the second year of the post-Kelly era, Frost led the No. 4 offense in the country and was the mastermind behind Marcus Mariota’s Heisman Trophy season.
Herman’s offense won a shootout that night, and Herman got his first gig as a head coach at Houston. Frost, meanwhile, waited another year before he also left to take over an American Athletic Conference program.
After two seasons at Houston, Herman became the most coveted head coach candidate in America. LSU swung and missed on a chance to land Herman, and he went to Texas. Had there been more SEC openings, Herman would’ve had even more interest.
This offseason, there could be plenty of SEC jobs available. The likes of Arkansas, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Texas A&M could all have vacancies.
They’d be wise not to whiff on Frost.
I know. I know.
Frost, in the eyes of many, is the obvious choice for Nebraska if and when that job becomes open. He’s a Wood River, Neb., native (a town an hour west of Lincoln with just over 1,000 people), he won a national title as a player at Nebraska and he’s everything Husker fans have wanted in a coach for two decades.
It’s an obvious match, and frankly, it’s hard not to see the UCF coach ending up in Lincoln. He didn’t get the job in 2014 because he didn’t have any head coaching experience. Frost certainly got that the past two years.
Frost has put together one of the most impressive rebuilds in the country after he got to Orlando in 2016. He inherited an 0-12 UCF program, which had all the competition in the world in the state of Florida.
In Frost’s second season, UCF is 4-0 and ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press poll while Florida and Florida State are both unranked. Frost’s team ranks No. 1 in FBS in scoring offense and No. 11 in scoring defense.
Oh, but who has UCF played?
Well, a couple of weeks after Memphis beat UCLA — how do you like that transitive property, Texas A&M? — Frost’s UCF squad destroyed Memphis 40-13. And remember Maryland? You know, the team that went into Austin and spoiled Herman’s Texas debut? UCF went TO Maryland and throttled the Terps 38-10 (yes, they lost their second-string quarterback).
Herman became a hot commodity after that 2015 season at Houston when his team went 13-1 with wins against Louisville and Vanderbilt, then against Florida State in the Peach Bowl. His team earned the Group of 5 slot in a New Year’s 6 bowl and made the most of it.
Frost could easily follow in those footsteps. The difference could be that while Herman’s Houston squad actually took a step back in Year 2, Frost’s squad figures to take a big step forward.
As long as UCF reaches double-digit wins this year, their paths really aren’t that different. There’s also the fact that Herman’s recruiting ties were in Texas and Frost’s are in Florida.
But there’s something else I like about Frost that doesn’t get talked about enough. It’s something every SEC athletic director making a hire should take into account.
In addition to his incredible turnaround at UCF, Frost has experience as both an offensive and defensive coordinator. How many rising head coaches can say that?
That, in my opinion, is what makes Frost a unique candidate.
As coaching carousel season ramps up, Frost’s name is going to continue to get thrown out there. But in all likelihood, he won’t be talked about the same way Herman was. Maybe Frost’s soft-spoken, “Nebraska nice” demeanor has something to do with that.
Perhaps that’s why when I suggested Frost as a possible fit at Tennessee, a colleague laughed me out of the room and told me that Frost “wouldn’t be well-received by fans” and that “he’d probably be No. 10 on their list.” My colleague claimed Frost’s background, as a Group of 5 coach, was too similar to Butch Jones’.
I could spend hours on why Frost is absolutely NOT Butch Jones 2.0, but I’ll spare you.
As Frost continues to rack up wins — perhaps somebody will stay within three scores of UCF this year — SEC fans will continue to debate the top coaching candidates that they’d want taking over their respective teams. Some have already said that there’s not a candidate like Herman on the market this year.
There is. And he’s doing one hell of a job in Orlando.