Looking for a Turnaround in Year 4

Last week, Dirk Chatelain wrote an article highlighting some of the numbers behind Nebraska’s drought of top 10 finishes. One part of that really caught my eye regarding a coach’s first three years at a school. Dirk’s article inspired me to dig into these numbers a little more myself and get a better understanding of how Frost’s first three years in Lincoln stack up historically.

The coaching data used for this analysis is through 2019. For any coach other than Scott Frost I will be referring to his pre-2020 records. However, I will be comparing these coaches to Frost’s win percentage (37.5%) including 2020. This still allows us to see what coaches who started slow but were able to turn things around in years four and later.

In college football history 2346 people have coached at schools. Just over half, 1233 coaches, have completed more than three seasons at a school. Of those, 288 started with a worse win percentage than Frost’s 37.5%. After that start only 86 were able to win over half of their remaining games as a head coach at that school. The classic Nebraska standard of 9-3 is even more rare for a coach with a slow start.

Coaching record after slow starts

Only four coaches would go on to win 75% of the reaming games at their school. Paul Dietzel won the 1958 National Championship in year four at LSU. After leaving Lincoln, Dana X. Bible won fewer than 30% of his games in three years in Austin before leading the Longhorns to three Southwest Conference titles. Bobby Ross started the comeback going 7-4 in year three at Georgia Tech. He also would break out for a championship with the Yellow Jackets in 1990. The final coach, Larry Smith, was able to leverage one good season of 9-3 at Tulane into a job at Arizona.

Normally, my writing tries to focus on the positives of Husker athletics, but Dirk is right: there is not much precedent for a coach in this position turning things around. Maybe Nebraska is not a football school anymore. But neither was Georgia Tech in 1990. Georgia Tech was 24 seasons removed from Hall of Fame coach Bobby Dodd’s retirement. Five head coaches later, Bobby Ross was able to take Georgia Tech to the pinnacle of college football in year four. Twenty-four years have passed, and five head coaches have led the Huskers since the Hall of Famer Dr. Tom Osborne called it a career. The offseason is a time for hope, even if its just in the arbitrary.

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