ORLANDO — Football is no longer a dead subject at the University of Central Florida.
The Knights' program completed a remarkable resurrection from 0-12 to 12-0 in just two seasons, capping it off with a 62-55, double-overtime win over Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship game Saturday.
But the celebration for the announced crowd of 41,433 (5,696 under capacity) was muted by the acceptance among Knights’ fans that head coach Scott Frost was leaving.
“Winning is exciting and Scott Frost made things exciting,” said Knights fan Dave Baltar as he walked out of the stadium. “He brought in a really fun style, got us some really good recruits and made it fun to be at games again. I wish him well. I don’t have anything bad to say about the guy.”
Neither did anyone who worked with or played for Frost, who inherits a similar rebuilding situation at Nebraska, though obviously not as drastic as reviving an 0-12 program.
“When he got here, our team suffered from a lot of self-doubt, maybe not believing in their ability to win,” UCF President John Hitt said as he listened to Frost’s postgame news conference. “What Scott Frost did was infuse our athletes with a high degree of confidence that if they hang in there, stay with what we’re trying to do, they can win.
“That really played out today when things got a little risky for us in the second half and our kids hung in there and came out champions.”
“Obviously Scott deserves a ton of credit for what happened here,” said UCF athletic director Danny White, who hired Frost. “He assembled a really good staff and they really connected with these kids. We’ve got a lot of young kids contributing early in their career, and that’s a tribute to Scott and his staff."
Frost will take a scheme with him that produced the highest-scoring offense in the nation this season. Saturday was a perfect example as the Knights ran and passed at will against Memphis. UCF’s first 10 possessions ended with six touchdowns, two field goals and two passes intercepted with the Knights already in the red zone. The Knights didn’t punt until midway through the fourth quarter.
Knights sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton, recruited out of Hawaii by Frost, completed his first 15 passes against Memphis for 266 yards and three touchdowns.
And the game barely was in the second quarter.
“Coach Frost and his staff, they just made everything so fun for us this season,” said Milton, who finished the game with 494 yards passing and five touchdowns, and also ran for 68 yards and a touchdown against Memphis. “We’ve played for 12 straight weeks now and that can be a grind, but I don’t think there was one day we went out there not having fun.”
Though UCF’s defense (not coached by Frost) didn’t offer much resistance until Tre Neal’s interception in the second overtime ended the game, the feeling among players was that both sides get credit for winning the school’s third AAC championship.
“It’s crazy how much hate there was on the team when we were 0-12,” Neal said. “When Coach Frost came, the first thing we worked on was loving each other, doing whatever we can for each other, and that is what got us over the top.”
“There was a lot of animosity on the 0-12 team,” added linebacker Shaquem Griffin. “We forgot how to be a team and Coach Frost brought that back. He told us to stay with somebody, take them under your wing, hang out with them and learn something about them. It’s about supporting each other as a family.”
So now the Knights join a large number of colleges looking for a head coach. Baltar wanted to be optimistic about it, but couldn’t.
“Scott Frost made us winners, he brought in a lot of talented players and hopefully the next coach will keep it going,” Baltar said. “But I don’t think that’s going to happen.
“We’re not going to get another Scott Frost, not anytime soon.”