LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos estimates it will take two or three years to return the football program to a level of competitiveness more in line with its traditional place as one of the college game’s blue bloods. He has a list of a half-dozen names of coaches he thinks could get the job done.
Mike Riley was fired Saturday after a 4-8 season ended with losses in six of the last seven games, including a 56-14 defeat to Iowa on Friday. Riley was 19-19 with losing records in two of his three seasons.
Except to say he’s considering UCF coach Scott Frost, Moos offered no hints about other possible successors to Riley.
Frost, whose unbeaten team will host Memphis this week in the American Athletic Conference championship game, is the overwhelming choice of fans. The Nebraska-born Frost quarterbacked the Cornhuskers’ 1997 team that split the national championship with Michigan.
“I’ve never said I was going after Scott Frost. A lot of other people have,” Moos said. “I’ll let you read my email sometime, that I should be going after Scott Frost. You know what? That’s a tribute to Nebraskans. He’s one of ours, played for us and has gone on and paid his dues. He’s got a good job that I believe he really likes. He’s got a lot of interest.”
Moos acknowledged that he did have a third party speak to Chip Kelly on his behalf before Kelly took the UCLA job on Saturday.
Among names bandied for the Nebraska job, in addition to Frost, are Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente and recently fired Arkansas (and Wisconsin) coach Bret Bielema.
Moos hopes to make a hire well before the letter-of-intent signing period that begins Dec. 20.
Nebraska won five national championships under Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne from 1970-97. The Huskers rank in the top five for all-time wins in the Bowl Subdivision.
But the next coach will take over a program that has not won a conference championship since Frank Solich’s 1999 team won the Big 12.
Moos said Nebraska has a lot to offer, starting with football facilities that are as good as any in the country.
“We’ve got a unique fan base that has filled Memorial Stadium since 1962,” he said. “We’re the only show in the state. There’s so many things that are appealing to Nebraska. What we need to do is get the brand back out there … and dust it off and get it back to being a source of pride.
“And that’s a matter of making good decisions, and this is certainly a big decision that I have every reason to believe will be a good one.”
The Huskers struggled on both sides of the ball this season. They averaged only 107 yards rushing behind a struggling offensive line, and though quarterback Tanner Lee showed flashes of excellence, he threw 16 interceptions. The defense was among the worst in the nation.
Moos said he has no preconceived ideas about what style of football would work best at Nebraska.
“People say (you) can’t throw the ball in the Big Ten, but I don’t agree with that,” he said. “I for one like a balanced attack, but I’m not the coach. I think you do need to run the ball.”
Defense is a greater concern, he said.
“Nebraska has been known for defense, and we need to get the defense back,” he said. “I know this is an old cliche that offenses fill the stadium and defenses win championships. You might be fortunate enough to have both, and Nebraska has had both many times.”
How long it takes to make Nebraska a consistent winner again will depend on how the returning players fit the new coach’s offensive and defensive schemes. Moos’ best guess is two or three years.
“The Big Ten is the Big Ten and there are 14 tough programs,” he said. “Sometimes it’s cyclical, but you look at the ones who are traditionally on the top. You’ve heard them: Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State — and Nebraska needs to be in that same conversation. We want Nebraska to get back to being Nebraska, and when it is, we will catch right back on.”