How Bill Moos, Tom Osborne and Matt Davison drew Scott Frost to Lincoln

WoLINCOLN — Kendra Moos had to close down the cattle ranch. And once she did, the wife of Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos made the two-day drive from eastern Washington to her new home. She had the dog in the cab and a cooler of Special K Ranch beef on dry ice in the back.

NU’s football team had just been hammered 54-21 by Minnesota. Bill hadn’t fired Mike Riley, but the die on his tenure was cast. And when Kendra rolled into town, there was not only a little condominium shopping to do but a trip to take. Pack a bag, Bill told her. We’re leaving.

“It was an adventure,” Kendra said.

The destination was a key meeting between Bill and Scott Frost, now Nebraska’s football coach, that was arranged by Frost’s close friend and former teammate, Matt Davison. When you’ve been in the athletic administration business as long as Bill and Kendra have — and they’re clearly in it together — you know just about everyone, and they knew of and admired Frost’s work as an Oregon assistant and Central Florida head coach. There was excitement in meeting him, but not nerves; Bill, Kendra said, doesn’t try to sell himself.

The rendezvous point: a hotel conference room in Philadelphia. Frost’s Central Florida team was in town to play Temple. Nebraska was playing three hours away at Penn State. The gathering was small — Bill and Kendra, Davison, Frost, and Frost’s operations guy, Wood River native Gerrod Lambrecht, were among the attendees — and, yes, there were cheesesteaks. A few other snacks, too, for this face-to-face chat Bill felt he needed to have with Frost before he could offer him the job.

First, Kendra had to find a bowl.

It’s the little things that count when calling a native son home.

* * *

What happened Sunday — the applause, the grinning ex-Husker teammates, Frost in a crisp suit with a red tie, this unifying moment in Nebraska football fandom — wasn’t a slam dunk when Moos took the job in mid-October.

Nebraska landed Frost — with a seven-year, $35 million contract — and, on the surface, the courtship appeared easy, drama-free.

But Moos, Davison and a key ally — Husker legend Tom Osborne— had to navigate Frost’s considerable loyalty to UCF and Frost’s reasonable concerns about whether the conditions were right at Nebraska for him to return. If he could do it his way, no obstacles. Once Frost makes a firm decision, he thinks and acts fast, like his offense. It is, his supporters say, part of his talent. He commits and gets results.

By Frost’s own admission Sunday, he’s cautious about plunging in. Analytical.

“Listen — I didn’t get engaged until I was 41 years old,” Frost joked. “Obviously, I have trouble making decisions.”

Trust matters to Frost. You have to earn it. And one guy who had was Davison, that Husker receiver who caught the Flea Kicker in 1997. Davison is famous for that, but is also known now as the frank, funny NU football and basketball analyst for Husker Sports Network. He’d become close friends with Frost. Both men were in each other’s weddings.

When Moos took the job, he didn’t know that. But his second week at Nebraska, he found out.

Moos had a meeting in his office with the man who’d once occupied it. Osborne.

The coach is a fount of knowledge of all things Huskers, and Moos wanted to learn. So their meeting was a broad, wide-ranging talk about Nebraska.

In the process of the conversation, Frost’s name came up.

“He wasn’t pushy about Scott,” Moos said of Osborne. “He said, ‘I think he’s ready and would be a good fit, but there’s lots of good coaches out there.’”

Osborne also mentioned: If you really want to know about Scott, ask Matt.

“So as soon as Coach left the office, I had my assistant Mitzi to get a hold of Matt,” Moos said. “He was there in 15 minutes.”

Davison became a “conduit” between Frost and Nebraska. Frost joked that Davison was “pestering” him to take the job, but it was really just close friendship. Texts. Calls. Explaining how the leadership landscape was different in 2017 from 2014, when Frost didn’t get a phone call from then-Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst.

“I didn’t call every day, but we talked a lot over the last six weeks or eight weeks,” Davison said.

Moos was willing to fly to Orlando to meet with Frost, but Davison arranged a Nov. 17 meeting in Philadelphia. Frost would arrive after he’d finished all of the prep with his UCF team.

It was late enough in the evening, Kendra said, that the hotel restaurant was closing down soon.

“I had to improvise, and I always want to make sure everybody’s fed,” Kendra said. “So I went to the gift shop and bought all kinds of things, went to the kitchen, asked them to wash a bowl, put the bowl on the table, put everything in it and put soda pops and water around it. You’ve always got to be ready.”

Bill Moos said the meeting turned into a “casual” conversation. No notes. It lasted an hour.

“I needed to know I was working with someone who’d do whatever it takes to help us win football games,” Frost said. “I really believed that about Bill.”

Bill joked that Kendra “gives a tough interview,” but she has ample experience with coaches, since several have sat in her living room recruiting her sons, who played college football.

“I listened to what Scott said and thought gosh, if he were in my living room, recruiting my child, this Mama Bear would be saying, ‘You are going to play for that man,’” Kendra said.

After that meeting, Moos said he backed off contacting Frost. He noted that Frost was most interested in taking care of his assistants — he’s bringing most of them from UCF — instead of himself, and it was Moos’ idea for the seven-year contract, although Frost appreciated it.

As those details got hammered out between NU and Frost’s agent, the Huskers officially ended their season at 4-8 with a humiliating 56-14 loss to Iowa on Nov. 24. UCF beat South Florida, 49-42, the same day. Moos fired Riley Nov. 25; in a press conference hours later, he made clear Frost was a top choice. He danced around a question about the Philly meeting.

By Monday, Nov. 27, Frost signed the memorandum of understanding with Nebraska. NU administrators and graduate assistants started calling current Husker commits about an impending coaching change. Interim coach Trent Bray told The World-Herald on Tuesday that it wouldn’t be “too long” before a coach was announced.

Frost confirmed he picked Nebraska “last week.” And he had. But, late in the game, there were genuine second thoughts that perhaps only one person — Osborne — could address.

* * *

Frost was surrounded by reporters Sunday itching for answers.

“There have been roadblocks here that have been in the way of football success, and they were created unnecessarily,” he said.

That line carries 14 years of history. The firing of four head coaches — starting with Frank Solich in 2003 — has sent NU football into decline. Fights between administrators. Fights between old fans and new fans. Coaches calling athletic directors dirty names. Athletic directors silently freezing out coaches. Audiotapes. Press conference arguments. Players voluntarily taking off their Blackshirts. Former assistants saying current assistants are “full of it.” Coordinators making their position coaches do calisthenics. The strain. The gaps.

This much is clear: Frost hated all of that noise. And, at UCF, he didn’t have it. He didn’t often have a full stadium, either, but he had harmony. Everyone pulled in the same direction. Boosters were pouring in money. The athletic director was an open, active cheerleader for the program on Twitter. The local media saw Frost the way Nebraska media once regarded Bob Devaney, as a visionary turnaround artist.

Nebraska was his physical home. But could he make it like the football home he remembered, the team he played for, like Osborne’s program?

“I saw the best of this place,” Frost said. “I also saw some hard times that maybe other people hadn’t. But that’s what makes this place great, the passion people here have for it. Watching it from afar, I’m not sure that that passion was unified, that that passion was always completely supported.”

On Friday night, not 24 hours before he took the job, he called Osborne, who’d shoot him straight. They talked for “quite a while,” Osborne said.

“He’d made a commitment prior to that, that he would come, but sometimes, you’re just not comfortable,” Osborne said. So Osborne listened. He said he didn’t lean one way or the other. He just answered questions.

But Osborne clearly said enough that Frost believed he could resurrect Husker football, that all the strong, plain talk in his press conference could come true.

“If he wouldn’t have believed this was the right time and the right place for me, he would’ve told me,” Frost said. “Even though he probably would’ve liked to have me back, if those things weren’t all taken care of and this wasn’t the place that he thought I should be, he wouldn’t have told me to come.”

Frost said it was still a hard decision, but Osborne felt good about Moos, NU President Hank Bounds and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green.

“That made me a lot more comfortable with taking this job,” Frost said. At the end of that call, Osborne believed the same thing.

And so, on Saturday, he coached UCF to an American Athletic Conference title. He saw his parents — Larry and Carol — at the game. He wasn’t sure they knew before the game he was headed to Nebraska — Frost doesn’t want reporters calling his parents to ask them, either — but they knew afterward, which is when Frost wanted everyone to know.

Frost told UCF players he was leaving for Nebraska. It was an emotional meeting. Then he and a bunch of his operations guys and assistants got on a plane that was originally headed for tiny Beatrice Municipal Airport before, at the very end of the flight, it switched routes to Lincoln, landing after midnight. Two SUVs picked up Frost and his men.

Frost met with the current Husker team at 9 a.m. Sunday. He hadn’t slept and had hardly eaten.

“I’m about emotioned-out,” Frost said.

Surely he saved a little emotion for the moment he saw his old coach in Moos’ office.

Osborne paid his former quarterback a quick visit.

“That’s why you play the game,” Moos said. “Those kind of relationships. The respect Scott has for his old coach, that’s pretty special.”

Bill and Kendra’s adventure had a perfect ending.

“I’m impressed with Scott,” Kendra said. “I’m happy for Nebraska. I think you’ve got so much success coming down the road.”

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