Scott Frost had tears in his eyes as he celebrated with his University of Central Florida football team, after the unbeaten Knights wrapped up the American Athletic Conference title Saturday afternoon.
He had tears in his eyes moments later at a news conference as he tried to explain what the team meant to him and listened to the players say the same about him.
The tears came not just because of a 12-0 season, or the prospect of a team that went winless in 2015 punching its ticket to a New Year's Day bowl.
They came because Frost knew these were the final moments of his tenure at the school. And because he knew what he was leaving behind but also what he was about to embark on.
A long-awaited trip home.
The 42-year-old from Wood River, a former Husker quarterback, was named Saturday as Nebraska's new head coach after signing a seven-year, $35 million contract. According to a news release, new Husker Athletic Director Bill Moos will introduce Frost during a noon Sunday news conference at Memorial Stadium.
Moos selected Frost after consulting with UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green and NU President Hank Bounds. Moos said Frost is a rising star in the profession and a natural fit to lead the program.
He added that Frost is well-prepared to take over a tradition-rich program like Nebraska, in part because of the successful coaches he's learned from during his playing and coaching careers.
"I am thrilled that Scott is returning to his alma mater to lead the Husker football program," Moos said in a prepared statement. "I truly believe that we have hired the premier young coach in the country and that exciting times lie ahead."
Frost called it a "great honor and privilege" to lead the Nebraska program after guiding Central Florida the past two seasons.
"I have been fortunate to be at a wonderful school the last two years, but Nebraska is a special place with a storied tradition and a fan base which is second-to-none," he said. "I am truly humbled to be here. The state of Nebraska and the Husker program mean a great deal to me. This is home.
"I am appreciative of the confidence Bill Moos and our University leadership have in me to lead this program. I would not have the opportunity to be in this position without a lot of great people who have helped me throughout my career. Specifically, I would like to thank Coach (Tom) Osborne, who has played such an integral role in my life over the past two decades, both on and off the field. Go Big Red!"
Minutes after his No. 14 Central Florida team knocked off No. 20 Memphis 62-55 in double-overtime in Saturday's American Athletic Conference Championship Game, the TV broadcast showed Frost with tears in his eyes as he embraced his players. Asked in the post-game news conference whether he'd addressed his team about his future, Frost said, "I haven't talked to them yet, and I will."
It was a celebration-worthy season, as UCF improved to 12-0 and likely clinched a berth in the Jan. 1 Peach Bowl as a result.
"This has been fun," Frost said. "This game was fun, last game (a 49-42 win against South Florida) was fun. This season’s been fun. This has been the best year of my life."
Frost, who smiled widely and appeared to have tears in his eyes throughout the news conference, was asked directly if he had coached his last game at UCF. He reiterated wanting to address his team and lamented the speed with which change happens this time of year.
"They should give you time after the season to make decisions, and they don't," he said. "These things happen at the wrong time. ... I've been game-planning and coaching and doing the best I can for these guys and then decisions land on you and they're hard decisions."
UCF athletic director Danny White said later Saturday that Frost attracted attention from several schools through the fall — he declined to name them specifically — and that the pair had an open, running dialogue throughout.
"I think it's fair to say that the pull to alma mater won the day," White said.
Frost's average base salary of $5 million per season will make him the third highest-paid coach in the Big Ten behind Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Michigan's Jim Harbaugh and 10th in the country.
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Whether it was a reflection of market forces or simple leverage, Nebraska pushed a lot of chips into the middle of the table with the hiring of Scott Frost as head coach on a 7-year, $35-million deal. Where does Frost's deal rank compared to his conference contemporaries?
Frost will next be tasked with restoring the program to the national prominence it enjoyed while he was a Husker. Frost helped NU earn a share of the national title in 1997 and engineered a 24-2 career as the starter. His final game, a decisive win against Tennessee and Peyton Manning in the 1998 Orange Bowl, was also Osborne’s final time on the sideline coaching the Huskers.
Since then, the Husker program has steadily declined, seeing good years under Frank Solich, a little success under Bill Callahan, an up-and-down, 67-27 ride under Bo Pelini, then a 19-19 three-year period under Mike Riley that ended when he was fired Nov. 25 after a 4-8 season.
Now, Frost takes control of the top football post at his alma mater.
Frost spent two successful seasons in charge at UCF, turning an 0-12 team into a 6-7 outfit in his first season, then guiding the Knights to 12 straight wins this fall.
He has a reported $3 million buyout to leave the school, which is half of the remaining money on his contract. Per multiple reports, Frost also had an extension offer from White that he had been mulling, but held off signing, in recent weeks.
Moments before Nebraska issued a release officially announcing the hire, Moos sent an email to school donors and football season ticket-holders introducing the new head coach.
The 66-year-old administrator was able to do so before he hits the six-week mark of his tenure here. That, naturally, drew rave reviews from Bounds and Green.
"We are immensely pleased to welcome (Frost) home with his growing family," Green said in a statement. "This is a great day for Nebraska, because we anticipate his proven leadership will have great impact on our student-athletes for many years to come."
Added Bounds, “The best predictor of future performance is past performance, and Scott Frost’s record speaks for itself. He’s going to be a great leader of young men and of our football program. I couldn’t be more excited to welcome Scott and his family back to Nebraska.”
Frost has never seemed like a sure bet to be a Husker lifer. After his standout high school career as an option quarterback and track star, he began his college football career at Stanford. There, he started twice at quarterback and five games at safety before returning to Nebraska in 1995.
After sitting out a season because of NCAA transfer rules, Frost succeeded Tommie Frazier at quarterback in 1996, leading the Huskers to an 11-2 record. And in 1997, he powered a unit that led the nation in total offense, scoring and rushing yardage.
Frost was a third-round NFL Draft pick by the New York Jets in 1998 and drifted around the league until 2003, including stops in Cleveland, Green Bay and Tampa Bay as a safety and special-teams player.
In December 2002, while on injured reserve for the Packers, Frost served as a temporary graduate assistant for the Huskers, the last time he set foot on campus as part of the NU program.
He learned from several greats during his career, including Bill Walsh at Stanford and the likes of Jon Gruden, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick in the NFL. That education continued through college stops at Kansas State and Northern Iowa before Frost was hired by Chip Kelly to coach wide receivers at Oregon.
That’s where Frost took a master’s course in offensive football, learning the system he's used this fall at UCF — the Knights entered Saturday leading the nation in scoring (48.3 points per game) while ranking third in yards per play (7.4).
He was Oregon's offensive coordinator for two years under Mark Helfrich when Kelly left for the NFL, then got a chance to run his own program in December 2015 when he was hired by UCF.
Frost's star in the coaching industry has risen fast. He quickly became one of the most sought-after young coaches on the market as the Knights gained steam this season.
One of those interested was his alma mater, and now, 20 years after he left as one of the top quarterbacks in NU history, he returns as its head coach.
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