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LINCOLN, Neb. — Scott Frost is definitely not the only college football coach who can quote verses of scripture. He’s probably not the only head coach who regularly does crossword puzzles, preferring this publication’s puzzle and only filling out the grid in pen, of course.
He’s very, very likely the only one of his peers who can recite classic works of poetry, however, and absolutely the only head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision who can do all of the following: quote scripture verbatim, get through a week of crossword puzzles and regurgitate poetic stanzas by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Thomas More and Robert Frost — his “Uncle Bobby,” Frost joked.
“I like some Longfellow,” he said, in a line that has to be a first in the history of college coaching. “I can remember things really quickly. If you gave me a poem to read right now, I could memorize it in five minutes.”
Frost said he doesn’t have a photographic memory, but that statement of modesty came not long after he recalled one individual play as a safety for the New York Jets, when he missed on intercepting a Peyton Manning pass, and then another in a game against the Denver Broncos, when he failed to close on a crossing route.
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Or when he brought up Oregon’s 2010 win against Stanford, remembering the Ducks’ comeback from an early 21-3 deficit and correcting a reporter who misstated the final score — it wasn’t 38-35 but a three-touchdown win, he said, capped by a late touchdown run by former Oregon running back LaMichael James.
Photographic or not, there’s no ignoring the role this ability to draw on facts, figures and formations has played in a rapid rise through the coaching ranks: Frost’s quick-trigger recall is one reason why he’s viewed as one of the top offensive minds in college football, and why less than a decade after his first power-conference position and after just two years as the head coach at Central Florida he finds himself at the controls of his alma mater.
“The guy showed leadership and recall from the time he first got here,” said former Nebraska running back Jay Sims, a teammate of Frost’s from 1995-97. “It’s not surprising. Scott has always been a sharp guy.”
At the suggestion of a Nebraska athletics department staffer and with the help of a verse-a-day calendar, Frost has memorized at least one passage from each book of the Old and New Testament, and all of the Book of James. He’ll knock out crossword puzzles in airports, during a quick break in his office or while multitasking. He’ll do the same with the quiz site Sporcle — recently quizzing himself on the 195 world capitals, for example.
Frost’s father, Larry, a former Nebraska receiver, would read his sons poetry. He’d often recite Longfellow’s The Village Blacksmith, so that sits in Frost’s memory bank. It runs in the family: His brother, Steve, a former Stanford defensive lineman and three-time Jeapordy winner, can rattle off Casey at the Bat and its sequel, Casey’s Revenge.
This doesn’t surprise Frost’s former teammates at Nebraska, where he led the Cornhuskers to 24 wins and the 1997 national championship as a two-year starter. Frost grasped the makeup of Tom Osborne’s option offense within months of arriving on campus as a transfer from Stanford in the winter of 1995, and that April led a team composed of backups to a win in the spring game against the Cornhuskers’ intimidating starting line — a group that would go on to pace one of the most dominant seasons in college football history.
“He learned so quickly about what our offense was,” said former Nebraska cornerback Eric Warfield, an eight-year NFL veteran. “Everything he did was near perfection.”
Years later, he’d blend the outline of that system into the offense he learned at Oregon under Chip Kelly, creating a spread-based scheme predicated on tempo with a Midwestern backbone. Being able to retain and recall information is a key asset for any offensive coordinator, not just in pregame planning but with in-game diagnoses and adjustments. In that respect Frost isn’t too different than other coordinators in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The results are unique, however. UCF went from winless in the season prior to Frost’s arrival in 2016 to unbeaten, self-described national champions last season, propelled by an offense that ranked first nationally in scoring and second in yards gained per play.
“That’s a big deal in our whole approach to coaching,” Nebraska inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said. “Everything’s fast, everything’s sudden, everything’s attacking.”
Fans in attendance on Saturday for Nebraska’s spring saw glimpses of this offensive potential tinged with predictable missteps: a unit composed primarily of projected contributors averaged more than 2½ plays per minute, ending with more than 500 yards of total offense, though turnovers and penalties were an issue.
Still, it’s this offense, and the favorite son at the controls, that has the fan base overjoyed at the prospect of a renaissance. While natural to the honeymoon phase, those expectations can be described best as idealistic, especially those that anticipate anything beyond a bowl berth and increased competitiveness in Frost’s debut season.
But the greater sense of optimism that abounds in Lincoln — that this program can reclaim some dignity, if not one day a Big Ten Conference championship under Frost’s direction — is reasonable. Nebraska once took home conference titles and bowl trophies with regularity; reaching a similar point in the next decade seems more possible than ever. After all, Frost as much as anyone recalls what it took to reach those heights.
“His mind is unbelievable in seeing things,” said Nebraska running backs coach Ryan Held. “Some guys have it and some guys don’t. He has it.”