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Who, what is the right candidate for Nebraska

Proven coaches, upstarts such as Deion Sanders could factor in Cornhuskers' search

At the time, it was the perfect play-call.

Nebraska felt it was treading water, endeavored to reassert itself as a national program and had just watched a favored son cap a most-improbable undefeated season that included his athletics director’s mythical national championship and Disney World parade.

Among the hires of the 2017-18 cycle, Scott Frost to Nebraska was supposed to be the most assured move of success.

And yet here is college football, for the third-straight year no less, confronting an significant coaching change a scant two weeks into the season; after Southern Miss moved on Labor Day weekend 2020, Southern Cal dispatched Clay Helton Week 2 a year ago, and Helton just unseated Frost when Helton’s first-year Georgia Southern squad toppled the host Cornhuskers late Saturday night.

Frost became Nebraska's Wile E. Coyote; so close to catching the Roadrunner in close game after close game, only to plunge time and again off the cliff. 

So he's now part of the sport's new trend. Once improbable, early-season coaching moves have become inevitable.

Credit – or blame -- the NCAA Transfer Portal; Name, Image & Likeness; conference commissioners playing ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ to plunder other leagues; ever-growing broadcast revenues; unyielding pressures for football programs to fund Title IX, non-revenue sports.

Now, in the all-new world of college athletics, specifically football, where seismic shifts the past 15 months have become as standard as A-gap on fourth-and-1, Nebraska has no margin for error; the Huskers absolutely must nail this decision.

Do they go the proven program-builder route of a veteran skipper such as either Iowa State’s Matt Campbell or Kentucky’s Mark Stoops?

Despite a significant rebuilding task this season, Campbell’s Cyclones just notched their first-ever win against rival Iowa and developed multiple players into NFL Draft picks in this past year’s draft.

In Lexington, Kentucky, where Stoops has just ascended atop Paul “Bear” Bryant as that program’s all-time winningest head coach, he likewise has dealt with unexpected friendly fire from Wildcats basketball coach John Calipari, who strayed way outside his own lane to adamantly proclaim Kentucky as a basketball school.

Might Stoops take his Big Blue record-wins total and gallop back into the land of one of his all-time rivals, Nebraska, after a playing career at Iowa?

Could Luke Fickell decide the time is now for a change of scenery from the Queen City and his no-longer-Cinderella Cincinnati program which has soared to unprecedented heights?

Or could Nebraska go wildly unconventional with someone such as Deion Sanders. Don’t snicker. Sanders interviewed for a Power 5 job this past cycle, from his hospital bed no less, and has ushered in unprecedented attention on Football Championship Subdivision, Historically Black College & University program Jackson State.

Moreover, Sanders has attracted both high-profile prep recruits and raked through the Transfer Portal to supplement Jackson State’s roster – all with a 64-man scholarship limit.

There also is, of course, Mickey Joseph -- the former Alcorn State wide receivers coaches who has generated a compelling career. Unproven as a head coach, Joseph has proved a remarkable recruiter and brilliantly fostered meaningful relationships in the state of Nebraska, people tell FootballScoop. Don’t discount that element for Joseph, who takes over in the interim.

Does Lance Leipold continue his thus far remarkable resurrection of Kansas football to the point that Nebraska cannot ignore the Jayhawks’ second-year man?

“You’re going to hear about a lot of names,” Nebraska athletics director Trev Alberts, also a former football star, said at a Sunday afternoon press conference, “and that’s good. That means we’re going to talk to a lot of people.

“We’re also not going to try to win the press conference. At the end of the day, we need to hire the right leader and the right fit.”

When it hired Frost, Nebraska thought it had accomplished both of those elements.

Now, the pressure never has been greater on the Cornhuskers.