By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Scott Frost and Steve Alford have built their lives around two different sports, and both have done very well for themselves.
Frost is now the head football coach for Nebraska, which is also his alma mater and in his home state, while Alford is in his first season as the head men’s basketball coach for Nevada after having coached at UCLA the previous six seasons.
Alford also was the head coach for Iowa from 1999-2007 and that’s when it became painfully clear that he had a horrible habit of blaming his players after losses.
It was almost always the players’ fault with Alford, for not executing, for not following the game plan, for not playing with passion and toughness, you name it and Alford used it to deflect blame to his players.
I still remember when he unloaded on center Jared Reiner after a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament. Reiner hadn’t played as a well as the opposing center and Alford wanted the media to know it.
Why am I bringing up the past, or beating a dead horse, you might ask?
Well, because the more I hear Frost talk after losses, the more he reminds me of Alford in how it’s never his fault.
Frost was hired to restore Nebraska’s dominance, but the climb back to elite status has yet to happen with Nebraska a combined 9-15 in his first two seasons.
And if we’re to believe Frost, it’s mostly the players’ fault, along with the previous head coach Mike Riley.
“I think this team’s confidence can sometimes be fragile and that’s the team that we inherited, and that’s one of the things that we’re trying to fix the most,” Frost said after Nebraska’s 27-24 loss to Iowa in the regular-season finale this past Friday in Lincoln., Neb.
By saying that we inherited a team weak in confidence, Frost appears to be shifting the blame on to his players, or more specifically, on to the players that were recruited by Riley.
Even if it were true, why say it publicly?
It’s just a bad look, as if you're tossing your players under the bus, and that brings back memories of Alford’s time at Iowa.
Frost also has had two full seasons to build confidence, but with little success, apparently.
To hear Frost talk also makes you appreciate the way Kirk Ferentz conducts himself because there is no head coach that is more accountable than Iowa’s 64-year old head football coach.
There were a few rocky moments after Ferentz replaced Hayden Fry as head coach in 1999, including when a former player allegedly stole a playbook and was later charged with extortion.
But other than losing a lot of games, it was mostly a smooth transition with few distractions under Ferentz, partly because of how he conducted himself.
Instead of blaming the players that were recruited by Fry’s staff, Ferentz embraced those who were bought in and willing to work hard and then helped to turn some into stars, most notably tight end Dallas Clark and offensive lineman Eric Steinbach.
There was also the 2006 season when Ferentz coined the phrase “fat cats” in reference to what appeared to be a sense of entitlement amongst some of the players.
But that is the closest I can recall Kirk Ferentz ever criticizing his players, and he never singled any players out.
The 2006 team lost six of its final seven games and Ferentz clearly was frustrated with something that happened internally.
The true test of Ferentz’s character is how he responds after tough losses.
After the 24-22 loss to Wisconsin on Nov. 9th in Madison, Wis., Ferentz talked about the pain and frustration from losing, and he stressed the importance of moving on because there still was a lot of season left.
He also praised the Wisconsin players instead of blaming his players.
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Ferentz will acknowledge when his team struggles in certain areas, but it’s always a team thing and never just a player thing.
Frost should listen to how Ferentz conducts himself during tough times and learn from it.
Part of being a leader is being accountable and supportive to those you lead.
Think back to all the stuff that Hayden Fry said during his 20 seasons as head coach and you’d be hard-pressed to come with an example of Fry ripping his players or singling any player out for blame or criticism.
Hayden Fry was a Marine and he knew how to lead by example and with what he said. His players trusted him and believed in him because they knew he always had their best interest.
Ferentz never was a Marine, but he coached under Fry and learned how to be a leader.
It’s easy for a head coach to say nice things about his or her players during good times.
But the true test of leadership is how a head coach handles the bad times.
And right now, Scott Frost is a lot more like Steve Alford than Kirk Ferentz in that regard.