Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2020 season and beyond.
Who: Matt Lubick, Nebraska
Title: Offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach
Previous stop: Out of coaching (2019), Washington co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach (2017-18)
Why he’s important: Matt Lubick is on the shortlist of the most respected wide receivers coaches in college football. The son of longtime Colorado State head coach Sonny Lubick, the younger Lubick got his start working for his father before going out on his own, where the likes of David Cutcliffe, Mark Helfrich, Matt Rhule and Chris Petersen enlisted him to coach their wideouts.
And then, in January of last year, he left it all behind. Days after coaching in the Rose Bowl as Washington’s co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, Lubick left coaching after a lifetime in the business to become the director of university relations for Canvas Credit Union in Fort Collins, Colo.
“I’ve always wondered about doing something different because the balance and just having a little more time to foster relationships,” he said at the time. “I’ve always thought about it and of all the places I’ve lived, this has been, by far, my favorite place. No. 1, it’s a great place, but my family is here and friends are here and then this opportunity with Canvas kind of presented itself and that definitely kind of tugged on my heart and seemed like an awesome opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
Certainly everyone in the profession can understand the desire to get off the 24/7 treadmill that the life of a college football assistant coach demands. Especially when, in Lubick’s case, the opportunity presents itself to return to his hometown in a cushy job.
And then, a year later, Lubick decided he’d had enough of the civilian world and wanted back in. Which just so happen to coincide with an opening on his old colleague Scott Frost’s staff at Nebraska. The pair worked together for three seasons at Oregon, when Frost was the Ducks’ offensive coordinator and Lubick the wide receivers coach; Lubick replaced Frost as OC when the latter became UCF’s head coach in 2016.
“Matt has an innovative offensive mind, provides a veteran presence on our staff and brings a proven track record of success at the Power Five level,” Frost said upon Lubick’s hiring in January. “Matt and I developed a great relationship working together previously, and I look forward to adding his expertise to our offensive staff.”
And what a job to step into. Nebraska is 9-15 in the Frost era two years in, and nursing the program’s longest streak of consecutive losing seasons (three) in six decades. After beginning 2019 at 4-2, the Huskers dropped five of their last six games, including:
— the program’s worst loss to Minnesota since World War II
— the program’s first loss to Indiana since 1959
— the program’s second straight loss to Purdue
— the program’s fifth straight loss to Iowa, extending a school record
The offense finished last season ranked an identical 72nd in scoring (28 a game) and yards per play (5.76). Not coincidentally, quarterback Adrian Martinez placed 73rd in passing efficiency, hitting 59.4 percent of his throws for 7.8 yards per attempt with 10 touchdowns against nine picks.
So it seems the Huskers can use some help on that side of the ball. And when an opening presented itself, Frost decided Nebraska could use someone who studied offense at the School of Frost. “I have always wanted to work with Matt again since our days at Oregon together,” Frost said earlier this year.
“I don’t know if Frost would say it, but most of what Lubick has learned and teaches in the blocking game, from the receivers’ perspective, is actually stuff he learned from Frost,” Nate Costa, who played and GA’d at Oregon under Frost and Lubick, told Hail Varsity in March. “When Frost came to Oregon as a receivers coach to work for Chip, that’s when we saw the escalation of our wide receivers’ ability to block. That’s because Frost brought a certain personality of toughness to that room, and then he incorporated it with a blocking technique he actually picked up in the NFL. And that’s something we’ve used ever since. Lubick kind of took it over.”
“I thought there were some things the receivers did better today than I’ve seen since I’ve been at Nebraska,” Frost said in March.
In his coordinator duties, Lubick should be able to help Martinez by scheming wide receivers open.
“Probably his most admirable trait is he coached defensive backs for a number of years at Arizona State and a couple of other places since that’s the position he played, so he really understands the rules of coverage that certain defensive backs are in,” Costa said.
“So, when it comes time to play-design, passing routes specifically, he’s really good at putting defenders into conflict, to where he’s not just beating them based on the coverage but he’s beating them based on the rules. (He’s) designing concepts where the defensive backs really can’t be right, and when it comes down to being successful in this game from a play-calling and play designing standpoint, that’s probably the best attribute that you can have. Being able to actually beat someone’s rules and not just their specific coverage.”
Nebraska had just four scholarship receivers healthy and available for spring ball — at least, the spring practices Nebraska managed to get in.
The above sentence — the lack of available wideouts, the short spring session — are obstacles, yes, but they’ll be instantly forgotten once toe meets leather come Sept. 5. No one’s suggesting Frost will get fired if Nebraska misses a bowl game again in 2020, but a proof of life has to arrive at some point. Doesn’t it?
Simply put, the Frost era at Nebraska has to work, or else the program will sail into waters uncharted by anyone alive. If Nebraska isn’t able to turn the ship around with the program’s favorite son around, it will lead to an identity crisis unlike anything the program has ever seen.
Frost has to succeed, he needs that success to arrive quickly, and so he needs his bet pulling Lubick off the metaphorical sidelines back to the actual sidelines needs to work.