The reluctant rock star: Scott Frost's life at Nebraska

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Scott Frost just wanted some wings.

Easier said than done, of course, for the first-year Nebraska football coach, basking in the 36-week-long glow spawned by his hire nine days after Thanksgiving of last year. For more than eight months, the people of this state have counted the days -- minutes, in fact -- until Sept. 1, when Frost is set to run through the tunnel at Memorial Stadium before the 362nd consecutive sellout at this proud place.

They also counted the days until Frost's first open-to-the-public scrimmage, for which the announced crowd of 86,818 shattered a Nebraska spring-game attendance record in April. They counted down until the opening of fall camp this month and to the upcoming Fan Day, when the line simply to say hello and shake Frost's hand would stretch a mile if the school allowed.

So, yeah, enjoying a quiet meal out is no small feat here for the 43-year-old native son and former national-champion quarterback.

But Ryan Held, the Cornhuskers' running backs coach and ex-Nebraska QB himself, made it happen recently. Held sneaked Frost through the back door of a restaurant. They ate in a corner, where Frost would stand the best chance, according to Held, to "not have 150 people come in and ask for his autograph."

"We kinda blocked him in," the assistant coach said, "so he could just be a normal person."

Life back home gets crazy for Frost, who has yet to visit his former stomping grounds of Wood River since he took the Nebraska job. Frost would love to see his old high school, he said, but in his position, "you can't just drop in." When he ventures off campus to recruit inside the state, Frost is often mobbed.

"I don't get that recognized," said Barrett Ruud, Frost's inside linebackers coach and a Lincoln native who is the leading tackler in program history. "He gets a different reception."

Frost is known to pull a ball cap over his eyes. Still, he's easy to spot. During a round of golf with ex-teammates Jason Peter and Matt Davison at Lincoln Country Club, where privacy comes at a premium, a passerby stopped to greet Frost while the coach dug through a bush in search of his errant shot.

"Scott knows the deal," Peter said.

Here's the deal: Frost is a rock star, viewed in no uncertain terms as the second coming of former legendary coach Tom Osborne, whether Frost likes it or not.

Gone are many of the physical signs that welcomed him to Lincoln last fall -- the billboards, business marquees and Christmas light displays.

But the avalanche of snowflake emojis has remained as emotional attachment deepens.

"He's really created this whole Scott Frost portfolio that is very, very appealing to a lot of people," said Peter, an All-America defensive tackle who starred alongside Frost in Osborne's final two seasons as coach.

Hail Varsity Magazine pictured Frost on its cover as a real-life superhero, complete with a packaged figurine. The Omaha World-Herald published a comic book to illustrate the story that brought him home and later a full-scale biography on Frost's life.

Does this borderline-worshipful treatment make Frost at all uncomfortable?

"I think it speaks to the passion of Nebraska's fan base," Frost told "I don't think there are many places than can even approach what we've got. At Nebraska, they're around every day. And they're such good people that it's a pleasure to meet everybody who comes up to us and just wants a second of our time."

Nebraska, with five national titles and more wins in its history than every FBS program but Michigan, Ohio State and Texas, seeks its first conference title since 1999. After a 4-8 finish in 2017, the Huskers face a steep climb to get back on top.

You wouldn't know it from the optimism bursting through the seams of every red hat around Lincoln, but they'll give him something of a pass this year. Next year? Maybe not.

Frost, ever in tune with his constituency, proclaimed last month at Big Ten media days that "people better get us now," a hint that league foes won't want a piece of the Huskers when Frost gets it rolling.

The coach believes he knows the formula. Not surprisingly, it bears a strong resemblance to the plan Osborne parlayed into 255 wins over 25 years before his retirement at the close of a 13-0 season in 1997 that also marked Frost's senior year, capped by a thrashing of Peyton Manning and Tennessee.

According to Frost, many of the problems at Nebraska over the past two decades were "self-inflicted."

"They were intentional departures from the things that made Nebraska what it was," Frost said. "I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I'm smart enough to look back at some of the the characteristics and traits of the program when Coach Osborne was here that made it successful.

"And if we do our best to implement those things and try to reach those goals and do it with a modern offense and defense, I think that's a good formula."

Specifically, Frost reignited the walk-on program that powered Nebraska's unmatched depth and player development in the Osborne era. He brought Husker Power-bred Zach Duval from UCF to lead the strength and conditioning program and rehired Dave Ellis, the school's former nutrition czar who left for private business 17 years ago.

Frost has modeled his goals in practice efficiency and player support, too, after his experience as a player at Nebraska.

"I will tell you that when I got here [from UCF]," Frost said, "a lot of the things that existed around here weren't the way that I wanted them."

Some of his objectives are less tangible. In an interview last week, he mentioned character, integrity, discipline, hard work, unity and fun.

"Regardless of what style you run," he said, "those pieces haven't changed."

Osborne enjoys an up-close view of the reclamation project. The 81-year-old former coach attends practice regularly. Last week, on the morning of the first break for the players of preseason camp, Osborne chatted with Frost in the head coach's office.

"He doesn't want to be involved," Frost said. "He just wants to support us. But it makes me happy that when he comes into the office, he seems genuinely excited about us being here and the direction that we're taking the program."

It's "surreal," actually, Frost said, to sit across the desk from Osborne with the former quarterback's role reversed from his playing career. The presence of Osborne in Lincoln and Frost's parents nearby played a large role in his decision to leave Orlando.

"If I was ever going to come to Nebraska," he said, "it needed to be now."

The Frost-Osborne connection entirely makes sense. Upon closer inspection, though, it seems Frost might combine the best traits of his other recent predecessors. That is, he shares Mike Riley's comfort in the spotlight, Bo Pelini's noted intensity, Bill Callahan's general football savvy and Frank Solich's understanding of the Nebraska way.

Count his players among the Frost fanatics.

"The biggest thing is," sophomore offensive lineman Matt Farniok said, "he's got heart. He cares so deeply about everything."

True freshman QB Adrian Martinez said Frost is equally at ease lounging with the Huskers as directing practice. On campus since January and in contention for the starting job, Martinez said he already feels compelled to "fight" for Frost.

"It took me maybe 15 minutes to know I wanted to play for this guy," Martinez said.

All of this has only elevated Frost's lofty status. It's no wonder he struggles to find a moment of peace in the corner of a restaurant.

The coach said he can handle the red-hot spotlight in exchange for the energy Nebraska fans deliver daily. They're hungry for a return to the old ways, he said -- and by that, he's not talking solely about their desire to contend for championships.

"They're excited to have a program they can be proud of," Frost said in Chicago last month, "a winning program, something they can relate to and be a part of again. There's some pressure that goes along with that."

For Peter, the situation harkens to his and Frost's playing days, when Osborne sat on the opposite side of the desk for his meetings with the quarterback.

"People ask what Coach Osborne was like as a coach," Peter said. "And I say he was great. He really expected one thing out of us. And that was everything."

No different today than what the entire state wants from the new coach.