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Shatel: After hiring Scott Frost, it feels like Nebraska won a championship

December 3, 2017 GMT

I’m looking at the face of karma. It’s got a ruddy face, scruffy beard, tears welling up under reddish blond hair.

Scott Frost will be called a lot of things at Nebraska. Savior. Innovator. Icon. Hero. Coach, best of all.

But as the world around me celebrates, I’m thinking about karma. Frost karma. Husker karma.

There are people at The World-Herald building in downtown Omaha with a bounce in their steps, giddy like kids. There was word of people planning a rally at 72nd and Dodge, the old national title stomping grounds having been deserted like a ghost town for nearly two decades.

Here on Championship Saturday, it felt as if Nebraska won a championship. Hope is coming back to town. Frost is coming home.

Frost was born to coach football, born to coach the Nebraska Cornhuskers. He was raised in Wood River by two coaches, Larry and Carol Frost. But he was also raised by a village of Hall of Famers, including Tom Osborne, Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Jon Gruden, Mike Tomlin and Chip Kelly, to name a few.

He grew up to lead Central Florida to an undefeated season in the second year of his first head coaching job. And now he’s the hot coach in college football, a guy who could have gone anywhere, and he wants to come to Nebraska.

Is this fate? A miracle?

I’m calling it karma.

So many images are crossing my mind now, and they all add up to this incredible Nebraska football moment.

I’m thinking of the summer of 1992, my first in Nebraska, when I hit the road to Wood River. On a Sunday afternoon, I sat in Larry and Carol Frost’s living room and talked to young Scott, who was heading into this senior year as the top recruit in the state.

I couldn’t have known 25 years ago that I was talking to a future Nebraska football coach. But based on the way Frost sounded when he talked about Nebraska, I wouldn’t have bet against it.

I’m thinking also about that night in Tempe, Arizona, the night Jake “The Snake” Plummer and Arizona State ambushed two-time defending champ Nebraska 19-0. I’m thinking about a young sports columnist, high above the field, giving the tab to a disastrous night to the first-year quarterback named Frost.

I re-read that column the other day. Man, was that harsh. I’m wondering why Frost didn’t slug me.

I’m thinking he could still take me.

I’m remembering the weeks after that game, when my old friend, the late great Milt Tenopir, pulled me aside and told me I messed up, how his offensive line let Frost down and the quarterback got too much “credit” for that loss.

And our meeting the days before that Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech in 1996. I pulled Frost aside and told him that I had gone overboard, and what Milt had said, and he said he appreciated that.

I’ve always wondered if Frost still held a grudge for that, but then, he would spend all his time holding grudges. Back then there were the boos that rained down on Frost against Central Florida, and fans who criticized his every move and throwing motion and this and that and that and this.

I’m thinking about that lovely afternoon in Seattle, when Frost, arms raised, had a redemption day at Washington. And that comeback at Missouri, the clutch play-making that always gets lost in the shadow of The Catch.

Of course, there was The Speech, after Osborne’s last game. And I’m remembering the Miami sports writer in the box who said, “There’s the next governor of Nebraska one day.” And still you wondered, at the time, would he get the votes?

Today, he might as well be governor.

Frost has since said that he felt vindicated after the national championship. He’s not coming back to settle old scores, anyway. He’s got new history to make, his own legend to create.

There’s been so much water under the bridge for Frost and his school since 1997. But what I’ve always admired about Frost was that no matter what he went through, he still had a Husker heart. And it still pumped red.

I’m thinking about that Friday afternoon in early December 2004. A week after Bill Callahan’s first season ended, Husker legend Turner Gill resigned from his staff. Gill had no job lined up. He just couldn’t take it anymore.

This was a big story, of course. There were a lot of angry Husker fans. I’ll never forget one fan who called into a local sports talk radio show, blasted away at Callahan and Athletic Director Steve Pederson and how they were “systematically tearing down everything that made Nebraska great.”

The caller’s name was Scott Frost.

I’m thinking about the lowest of lows — at the time — a year later, and Nebraska losing at Kansas. The Jayhawks had their way. This was football. It was ugly.

One of the Husker fans sitting in the seats that day was Frost, who had yet to embark on his coaching career. In the days after that KU loss, Frost would write a blog about his feelings toward Nebraska football. It was powerful stuff, from the soul. It began, “I think I care too much.”

And I’m thinking about a few years ago, when I saw Frost at the media day for the first College Football Playoff game in Dallas. He was the offensive coordinator at Oregon then, and his name was on everyone’s list as the next hot young coach. After his interviews that day, Frost and I spoke about things at Nebraska, how Osborne had been ushered out as A.D., how Frost had not even gotten a call from Shawn Eichorst about the opening after Bo Pelini was let go. He was not happy.

He should have been upset. Nebraska should have called. So many times over the last 14 years, Nebraska has gotten in its own way. It’s a wonder how these two ever got together.

You can call it fate. Or karma, forgiving, if not forgetting.

All those mistakes, wrong hires, awkward fits, changes, press conferences, buyouts, over and over and over. All that money being paid to coaches and athletic directors to do nothing. Through it all, Nebraska and its fans persevered. Was it worth it?

Yes, and we’re about to find out how much.

An interesting thing was happening as the revolving door spun in Lincoln. Just as Frost never gave up his devotion in Nebraska, NU never gave up its hunger for success, for championships, national relevance, all that.

It finally found a president (Hank Bounds) and chancellor (Ronnie Green) who were smart and competent enough to figure this thing out and hire an athletic director who coaches would want to play for, and give him the financial arsenal to work with.

It was time for Nebraska to grow up, and that attitude and the right people all came together at the same time. Finally.

Perseverance? The law of averages? One of these times, right?

Timing is everything. Call it fate. Eichorst was going to get fired at some point. But if the loss to Northern Illinois doesn’t happen, does it happen in September with enough time to hire the A.D. who would go after Frost — who was blossoming at UCF and perhaps ready to take a step up somewhere else?

It all had to come together: the moon, the stars, the (native) son and maybe a nice breeze to push that shot over the water.

One of my favorite movies is “Tin Cup,” and I like to equate Nebraska and Iowa as the main characters in the movie. Both have their own beliefs. Neither one is wrong.

Iowa is David Simms, the veteran tour pro who plays by the book and doesn’t take chances, will take par if you give it to him. Iowa has a coach it likes, and though Kirk Ferentz loses five games most years (seven of the last eight), he throws the fans a bone once in a while and is their kind of guy.

Nebraska has become Roy McAvoy, “Tin Cup,” who is a dreamer and risk-taker and lives to go for it. Husker fans have never lost their zeal to go for it, to keep pushing for national relevance and a coach who will take them back to the promised land. They kept reloading and taking their shot.

Just as Simms (“Nice 12, Roy.”) and McAvoy (“Nice par, David.”) go at it in the movie, Nebraska and Iowa fans go at it, shaking their heads at the other.

For the last 14 years or so, as Nebraska was losing its way, Frost was finding himself.

Sunday, Frost will get a hero’s welcome at a press conference at Memorial Stadium, the same place where he was once booed off the field.

Meanwhile, Nebraska officials are finally holding the winning lotto ticket — after so many years that looked like bad karma for firing 9-3 Frank Solich.

We won’t have to hear about that anymore. And judging by the reaction Saturday, this should be the beginning of repair and healing of Husker Nation.

It happens because Frost and Nebraska never stopped dreaming that this day was possible.

Call it fate. I call it karma, who may not forget, but most definitely forgives.

tom.shatel@owh.com, 402-444-1025, twitter.com/tomshatelOWH

Photos: Future Husker coach Scott Frost leads Central Florida to AAC title