Scott Frost’s final day at UCF filled with conflicting emotions, difficult goodbyes
ORLANDO, Fla. — Scott Frost stood, and everyone else took a knee. All eyes were on coach one final time.
Most wore white, flat-billed conference title hats, which matched their white jerseys covered in grass stains. Frost’s black polo stuck out amid the wood lockers and white uniforms.
His eyes were puffy. And his voice was broken.
“Nobody is ever going to be able to take this away from you,” Frost told his team. “I want to thank you for pouring so much into my life. It’s been the best year of my life. It’s been a joy to coach you.”
Frost’s words sounded like a goodbye, because they were. On Saturday afternoon, not long after No. 12 Central Florida’s 62-55 win over No. 16 Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game, Nebraska announced the hiring of its 33rd coach — Scott Frost.
Frost agreed to a seven-year, $35 million deal to become the head coach. He’ll be the highest-paid coach in Husker history and will return to his home state and alma mater, where he won a national title as a quarterback in 1997.
“I am thrilled that Scott is returning to his alma mater to lead the Husker football program,” Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos said in a press release. “I truly believe that we have hired the premier young coach in the country and that exciting times lie ahead.”
Saturday was full of conflicting emotions for Frost. It began with a late bus ride and ended with a plane ticket.
And what happened in between the two trips made the move to Lincoln that much harder.
* * *
Scott Frost was late to his final day of work.
In the lobby of the DoubleTree hotel, decorated with black and gold streamers, Frost’s undefeated Central Florida team sauntered onto the midnight black team bus one by one.
Assistants in suits followed.
Frost was nowhere to be found.
The bus stalled in the parking lot for a few minutes, one seat remaining in the front. Finally, in a slim grey suit and red-and-white button down, Frost exited the lobby, suitcase in hand. He took his seat in front, fist-bumped a coach and the bus rolled off.
At that point, the news hadn’t leaked. But what the day was really about was on everyone’s minds.
Speculation of Frost’s departure from UCF after two seasons has been heating up ever since Nebraska’s firing of Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst in September. His replacement, Bill Moos, wasn’t shy about discussing Frost during media appearances the past few weeks, confirming after Mike Riley was fired that Frost was being targeted to replace him.
But, Moos said, he was going to wait for the end of UCF’s season to make anything official.
So on Saturday, bars in Lincoln and Omaha clicked on the UCF game. A watch party in Nashville for Nebraska fans was formulated. And in Orlando, fans could sense the impending change. Some brought signs.
Everyone loves a Frosty — please stay forever.
All I want for Christmas is Frost next season.
Thank you, Frost.
The UCF bus stopped in front of Spectrum Stadium for what would be Frost’s final game in Central Florida, a place Frost has fallen in love with over the past two seasons. A place his athletic director said he wouldn’t leave unless it was for his alma mater.
Frost exited the bus and walked through a crowd of fans, some who had shirts with his name on it. He went into the stadium, and knew what lay ahead might be the best — and worst — of times. A big win was going to bring him even closer to the place he was destined to leave.
* * *
The news leaked in the fourth quarter.
Tied 48-48, Frost was trying to figure out how to slow down the Memphis Tigers and how to use his final two timeouts in regulation.
Meanwhile, Nebraska fans were dancing in living rooms.
News of his agreement with Nebraska made its rounds online and Twitter was set ablaze by joyous Nebraska fans.
In Orlando, Spectrum Stadium caught wind of the news. And with 8:20 left in the fourth quarter, during a media timeout, the entire stadium began chanting:
“We want Frost! We want Frost!”
At one point during the break, UCF showed Frost on the big screen pacing the sidelines, which was met by loud cheers.
Frost took over UCF after the program’s 0-12 season in 2015. In 2016, Frost pumped life back into Central Florida with a 6-7 year. In 2017, with the win over Memphis, UCF finished the regular season 12-0 and conference champions.
Shirts celebrating Frost’s two-year success peppered the stands. UCFast, UCFierce. In the bookstore, shirts celebrating the 49-42 win over USF last week, which clinched the division title, were flying off the racks.
And as news spread, fans figured they’d try their best to show Frost love and convince him to go against the report that was swimming through Twitter.
In the final minute of regulation, UCF blocked a field goal, which was called back because of a delay of game. UCF defended another field goal, which sailed wide right.
UCF couldn’t score in the final 30 seconds, and the AAC title game went into overtime.
After months of speculation, of worries and rumors, Nebraska fans, Spectrum Stadium, and Frost, would have to wait for their answer just a little longer.
* * *
Frost deflected all week.
He’s focused on his players. He’s focused on the progress of the week. Memphis can’t be beat unless it’s 100 percent of the focus, Frost said Friday.
Elsewhere, Nebraska’s focus was on Frost. While Tennessee flipped through coaching candidates and athletic directors, while Florida hired Dan Mullen and Texas A&M hired Jimbo Fisher, the coaching carousel moved right along without Nebraska.
Moos had his sights set on Frost for awhile and secured the deal with him well before the Memphis game on Saturday.
As soon as the game was over, the job was Frost’s to take.
Which might be why after UCF pulled off the double-overtime win at home, Frost couldn’t stop crying. It was time.
UCF picked off a pass to keep Memphis out of the endzone, and the two highest-scoring teams in the NCAA finished the highest-scoring AAC game ever with UCF on top, 62-55.
Spectrum Stadium erupted as the Knights piled in the end zone, Frost right in the middle of it all.
Frost got up and was met with a microphone. He was in tears
“What they just did, it’s not just improbable, it’s impossible,” he said, his eyes welling up.
After the interview, Frost walked through the swarm of players in no particular direction. An assistant found him and wrapped him in a hug. Players tapped Frost on the shoulder and engulfed in an embrace. He said “I love you” to the crowd as he made his way to the podium for the awards ceremony, the big screen following Frost’s journey. Every few steps he’d wipe his eyes.
During the trophy presentation, ESPN’s on-field interviewer was drowned out on the loud speakers by the fans who remained in the stadium.
“We want Frost!”
“We want Frost!”
Frost put his hand over his eyes, and stared at the ground.
The AAC commissioner took the microphone and began to congratulate both teams for a wonderfully played game.
He, too, was drowned out.
Frost took the trophy, raised it toward his team and was engulfed in gold confetti. For the first time that day, he couldn’t be seen.
* * *
UCF Athletic Director Danny White wouldn’t say how long Frost has been talking about leaving. But it’s been awhile.
“He’s been conflicted,” White said. “And he was conflicted because he can see how special of a place this is.”
Throughout the past two months, since at least when Eichorst was fired, White said he and Frost have spoken often about the Nebraska coaching vacancy.
And the feeling White got from Frost in that time was that the pull to his alma mater was just too much, despite how much Frost loved UCF.
“It was a very difficult decision for him,” White said. “He understands and communicated to me how many times how special UCF is in comparison to some of the other openings for this college football season.”
In the postgame interview, when asked if Frost had told his team his plans, he said he hadn’t.
“But I will,” he said.
His eyes grew red again.
“It’s unbelievable the spirit and the heart they have,” Frost said. “This team is resilient and we’ve been through lightning delays and hurricanes and missed games, 12-straight weeks of games. These guys have answered the call and risen to the challenge every time when they have had the opportunity to.”
He called UCF “an unbelievable place with unbelievable potential.”
Minutes after the press conference concluded, Nebraska made it official and announced Frost as the coach. Presumably around the same time, Frost told his team in the locker room.
In the statement announcing his hire, Frost said taking the Nebraska job is a “great honor and privilege.”
“The state of Nebraska and the Husker program mean a great deal to me,” Frost said. “This is home.”
If Nebraska is home, Orlando is his second home. Frost said he doesn’t plan on selling his house and wants to retire here one day. He loves it too much.
But before he can do that, there’s work to do.
By the time he left for the airport for Lincoln, Spectrum Stadium was empty. As the sun set on the day and the Frost era, the fading light lit up gold confetti strewn across the UCF field.
On the concourses around the stadium, canvas mimicking stone lines the walls behind concession stands and gift shops. For the Knights, it’s supposed to show the building of a castle. Which Frost, in two years, has helped reconstruct with an 18-7 record and conference title.
At Nebraska, the foundation is already built. It was forged in Frost’s childhood, growing up in Wood River. And in 1997, when he led Nebraska to an undefeated national title.
On Sunday, when Frost is officially introduced as head coach by Moos, Frost won’t be late for the bus like he was Saturday morning.
He’ll be right on time to help guide Nebraska in a new direction.