LINCOLN, Neb. — As Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos stood in front of the media on Nov. 25, he was clear: This would be the last time the media would hear from him until the Huskers’ next football coach was hired.
Moos had fired former coach Mike Riley earlier that Saturday morning, and the two met with the media to discuss the past, present and future. Moos had also spent the previous few weeks meeting with any and every media outlet that requested time. If someone wanted to talk to Moos, he would make it happen.
That all changed Nov. 25. It wasn’t because Moos suddenly disliked the media; he just knew what was ahead.
“I’ll be very busy,” Moos said the day after the regular season ended. “This is an amazing media core, which is why I wanted to answer as many questions as I could today. The next time I’ll be available is when I introduce our next coach.”
Sure enough, Moos was available one week later — on Sunday, Dec. 3. He was set to introduce new Nebraska coach Scott Frost.
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Moos has a blueprint for hiring coaches. He’ll talk about it if you ask, which he did with Land of 10 in early November. To start, he’s a big believer in “the right fit.” Trying to understand how Moos goes about finding that fit for any school, his best example is the hiring of Mike Leach at Washington State.
“Every place doesn’t have the same right fit,” Moos told Land of 10. “It doesn’t take long to get a feel for the culture upon my arrival at all of my stops, and sorting out in my mind what would be a good fit, and that leads to who I’m looking at and so forth if you’re going to have turnover in the head-coaching position.
“With Mike Leach, he was such a national personality, a proven track record in regard to his body of work, a national coach of the year, and he runs the air-raid offense that he really helped design. I thought at Washington State that while we were struggling terribly, we could entertain the fans while we were building the program. That was a right fit there.”
Getting Leach to Washington State could have been a challenge for Moos. Leach was expected to be a hot candidate for quite a few programs six years ago, so Moos didn’t waste any time. He bypassed search firms and paid his own way to a meeting in Key West, Fla., in November 2011.
Moos is all about the work behind the scenes. He told Land of 10 about working closely with a network of people he trusts to make a hire happen. As that network starts vetting candidates, he works alongside them.
At the surface, things may seem quiet, but it’s an entirely different story below it.
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Moos’ blueprint followed him to Nebraska. Much like he did with Leach at Washington State, he found a network at Nebraska and put things in motion behind the scenes. A key component of that network was Matt Davison, Nebraska’s new associate athletic director for football.
The connection began with former Nebraska coach and athletic director Tom Osborne. Moos was a sponge, absorbing Osborne’s wisdom and advice. He was also looking for Osborne’s thoughts on the coaching situation. That’s when Frost’s name came up.
As the Lincoln Journal Star reported, Osborne could have told Moos about Frost himself. Instead, he directed Moos to Davison, who was a close friend of Frost. Fifteen minutes later, Davison was in Moos’ office and the network had been created.
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There was speculation Moos had made a quick trip to Philadelphia the weekend Nebraska played Penn State. Moos was noticeably absent from the university’s charter plane to State College, but he offered a reason.
“I was trying to buy a condo with my wife,” Moos said. “That consumed most of my day, so I did not travel with the team, and I got there later.”
That seemed fishy, so he was pushed on whether he was really in Philadelphia. Moos opted to compliment the city’s sandwiches before pivoting quickly away from the topic.
Once Frost was hired, the truth became known: Moos met with Frost in Philadelphia on Nov. 17.
Just like Moos had done six years prior with Leach, he privately made his way to meet a potential new coach. He and his wife, Kendra, chartered a flight from Lincoln, while Davison joined them by train from New York (he had been in Queens for Nebraska men’s basketball matchup with St. John’s).
The meeting went well, and Moos knew Frost was “the right fit.” Frost still had a decision to make, but Moos was confident he was the guy for Nebraska.
After the meeting, Moos made his way to Penn State and watched the Huskers give up 56 points to the Nittany Lions. Frost’s UCF team, meanwhile, defeated Temple 45-19.
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Moos has long said he doesn’t fire coaches midseason. He stayed true to his word in how he handled Nebraska’s situation. Riley was not fired until Nov. 25, the day after the Huskers’ 56-14 loss to Iowa.
Within 48 hours, though, everything was taking shape. Frost signed a memorandum of understanding with Nebraska, and his UCF team defeated Memphis 62-55 in double-overtime to claim the AAC Championship. Frost later broke the news to his UCF team before getting on a flight from Orlando with several of his assistants. The group landed in Lincoln about midnight.
Twelve hours later, Moos had kept his promise to the media and the blueprint was intact. He was ready to talk once again, this time with Frost at his side.
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