Apparently, getting rid of Scott Frost was worth a full $15 million to Nebraska, because the program could have saved half that amount had they waited until Oct. 1 to make the move. But, instead, they opted to do it Sunday, officially announcing the coach’s dismissal right as the NFL Week 1 slate began.
Frost’s last game, a 45–42 home loss against Georgia Southern on Saturday, was a classic script. It was the 27th one-score game of Frost’s 47-game tenure and Nebraska was 5-22 in such games, which seems mathematically improbable due to the typical coin-flip nature of tight games. But the inability to win close contests will be the defining note of Frost’s tenure.
And so, the coaching market has another September surprise. But it likely shouldn’t be so much of a surprise anymore, as this is the third year in which a coaching change has happened after Week 2. It’s nearly a year since USC fired Clay Helton, the coach who manned the sidelines for Georgia Southern.
Why dismiss a coach so early in the season? It gives interim coach Mickey Joseph a legitimate shot to prove he is the right man for the job if Nebraska opts to go that route (athletic director Trev Alberts told reporters he would love it if Joseph became the obvious candidate for the job). Joseph was brought in as assistant and wide receivers coach early in 2022. Either way, Joseph will be a trailblazer, which is most important to note:
Joseph, the older brother of former NFL head coach Vance Joseph, is an ace recruiter. In 2017, he was brought by Ed Orgeron to help LSU lock down the New Orleans area in recruiting. Joseph is said to still have a decent relationship with Orgeron, and in this spot, there are few better people Joseph can lean on. Orgeron is noteworthy for interim stints at USC (Helton ended up getting the permanent job there) and LSU, which he ended up keeping on a permanent basis. Athletic directors are often reluctant to hire coordinators for interim jobs because of the added pressures and responsibilities.
If the job doesn’t go to Joseph on a permanent basis, Nebraska has the advantage of being the earliest to market in deciding who they want to hire next. Theoretically, for ADs, being first to the market is a strategic advantage. Your deck is clear to evaluate candidates and gather information without word getting back to your sitting head coach, for instance, and you can work to hire your replacement relatively unencumbered without having to do as much cloak-and-dagger work. It also frees up players to begin their decision-making on whether to remain with the program and alleviates the awkward dance of the soon-to-be-fired coach working through a season with a husk of a staff and a roster going through the motions.
A new coach could be named before the regular season actually ends, as was the case with Helton (who was hired by Georgia Southern in November), Jim Mora at UConn and Joey McGuire at Texas Tech. Helton and Mora didn’t have jobs at the time, while McGuire was an assistant coach. In an era of transfer portals and early signing days, getting any jump on roster construction is key. Texas assistant coach Gary Patterson is a name that could be in play if he’d like to take another run at being a head coach, while TCU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley will be a hot name to note from the assistant coaching ranks this cycle.
One industry source told Sports Illustrated not to rule out some sitting Power 5 head coaches. Nebraska will be the first program to test the industry theory that Big Ten teams may be willing to spend serious cash knowing the windfall of television money is coming once USC and UCLA join the league in 2024.
In his press conference after the decision, Alberts told reporters that, “resources won’t be an impediment for hiring the type of coach we want to lead the Husker program.”
A non-exhaustive list the sitting head coaches who could fit that profile include:
- Matt Campbell (Iowa State)
- Dave Clawson (Wake Forest)
- Chris Kliemen (Kansas State)
- Jonathan Smith (Oregon State)
- Lance Liepold (Kansas)
- PJ Fleck (Minnesota)
Any coach at a certain price point could be movable, and there is no reason to think Nebraska will be unwilling to meet a high price.
Last year’s coaching cycle should change the way one thinks about head coaches who already have jobs. If the sitting head coach at Notre Dame and Oklahoma can leave, just about any coach is movable. Now, the ball’s in Nebraska’s court to pay up.
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