After perhaps the most fan-friendly experience UCF Football has ever had for a Spring Game, the anticipation for Scott Frost’s first actual game as UCF’s head coach, on a scale of one to ten, should be around 35 by August.
There’s little doubt that, in his first four-plus months on the job, Frost has injected a hefty shot of adrenaline into a program that was flailing lethargically around Thanksgiving. And it may very well (and, I believe, certainly will) translate into results on the field. That’s good for everyone – fans, players and coaches alike.
Which is why I’m trying to not get too excited. Or, as Mike Huguenin said:
— 96.9 The Game (@969thegame) January 18, 2016
The O’Leary Era, for all of the coach’s foibles, was one of spoils for UCF fans. O’Leary took over a club in its third year in the MAC, playing in the Citrus Bowl, and left it, flaming wreck o a final season aside, right where it wants to be given its scenario: A relatively consistent power in a competitive (albeit not Power) conference with infrastructure to compete at any level.
But the greatest spoil of all was O’Leary’s decade on the job. Currently, there are only three head coaches in FBS who are still at their jobs from before O’Leary came to Orlando: Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, and Gary Patterson at TCU. That’s impressive.
It’s also the exception to the rule.
The War of Attrition
26 coaches will be making their debuts with new schools in 2016. 17 date their debuts all the way back to 2015, 16 in 2014, and 28 in 2013. This means that 68% of FBS schools – 87 of 128 – have senior classes taking the field in 2016 for at least their second head coach.
Given this astonishing record of attrition, I posit the following: If UCF fans want their team to achieve the level of on-field success they hope for, they should get used to the idea of turning over head coaches that frequently.
Scott Frost’s and UCF’s interests are perfectly aligned. If UCF does well, so will he, and he’ll be a hot commodity for other schools with larger budgets. If he doesn’t, we should be on the lookout for the next guy. That’s the nature of the college football coaching business in 2016.
The ink wasn’t even dry on Frost’s contract with UCF when speculation about him going to his alma mater, Nebraska, reached third gear:
Believe Scott Frost will eventually get to Nebraska, but it will cost school at least 2 seasons & millions more.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) December 1, 2015
Nebraska fans are already restless with Mike Riley. Winning your bowl game to get to 6-7 will do that. Frost, who earned the admiration of Husker fans as their quarterback, and later cemented it by being indoctrinated in the Oregon offense, is the natural fit, or so they say. UCF is his warm-up, Husker fans hope, to get himself ready for the big time in Lincoln.
If this happens, UCF fans will douse themselves in righteous indignation and self0immolate on the message boards. That kind of cold, hard football business hasn’t happened here before.
(The closest we came was when Syracuse sniffed around George O’Leary in 2007, himself a former SU assistant, and O’Leary instead recommended a former player of his, Doug Marrone)
Instead of that righteous indignation, we should not only accept UCF’s position as a stop on the journey and not a permanent destination, but embrace it. After all, Houston has already done this.
The Houston Experiment
Consider the similarities between UCF and Houston: Large state universities in major metropolitan areas who built on-campus facilities and became major players in the mid-major game. And Houston, like UCF, is in the conversation for admission into the Power Five, thanks to its budding alumni base and large media market. But they’ve embraced the coaching cradle label, and done so to good effect on the field.
In 2003, after a disastrous three-year run under Dana Dimel that included one 0-11 season, Houston hired Art Briles, then an assistant under Mike Leach at Texas Tech, and a disciple of the vaunted Air Raid offense.
The result: Four bowl games, two C-USA division titles, one conference title, and a reputation as a scoreboard-torching offensive machine.
Then Briles left for Baylor, and in stepped Kevin Sumlin – proprietor of another high-flying offense as an assistant at Oklahoma.
The result: Three bowls, two conference titles, two 10-win seasons, and one upset loss in the C-USA Championship from a BCS bowl berth.
Sumlin then leaves for Texas A&M, and in steps Tony Levine. But after a 21-17 clip in three seasons, UH pulled the plug on Levine and installed Tom Hermann from Ohio State.
So far, the results have been pretty good: 13-1, a conference title, a New Year’s Bowl win over Florida State, and a five-year contract extension worth $2.8 million a year, with a hefty bonus if Houston gets into a Power Five league during his tenure.
Zoom out a bit, and you’ll see that, since 2003, Houston has done the following:
- 10 Bowl appearances (with one New Year’s Bowl win)
- Five division titles
- Two conference titles
- Eight 8+ win seasons
- Four 10-win seasons (including two 13-win seasons)
So it’s a cycle: Hire a new forward-thinking coach, the program peaks, he moves on, you hire the next guy, rinse, repeat.
In college football, there are peaks and there are valleys. Summiting those peaks makes the valleys all the more worth it, because the peaks can be so incredibly high. Danny White knows this, and that’s why he’s rolled the dice with a young, exciting head coach: Because his success is UCF’s success, and the kind of success that Scott Frost might have makes the program all the more attractive to the next guy.
Frost may very well leave after one spectacular season in the next two or three. And if he does, instead of lamenting the end of longevity, we should celebrate his successes and and embrace his successors.
That’s why UCF should also embrace being an incubator for the next generation of great coaches. The legacy Scott Frost will one day leave behind will reflect more brightly than what O’Leary left behind: That UCF Football is bigger than just one man.