Hidden blessing amid the Frost failure at Nebraska is the return of Mickey Joseph

It’s the end of an(other) error.

The Scott Frost coaching chapter at Nebraska officially closes on Friday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. How will it be remembered?

I won’t look back on it as a total disaster. Not a total bust.

There was a blessing that came out of the whole mess.

Nebraska was re-introduced to Mickey Joseph.

Joseph’s second act in Lincoln has been memorable. He’s been a treasure. A hidden gem.

Joseph came to NU in 1988 as a national prize, the Gatorade Player of the Year. He ended up starting nine games at quarterback in his four-year career. A freakish leg injury limited his senior year.

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As I recall from that 1991 season, my first year in Nebraska, Joseph was a popular player among fans and media. He was replaced by Keithen McCant in the opener and rarely played.

I didn’t get to know MJ until last spring, when he arrived on the scene as a key hire to rescue Scott Frost.

Joseph returned as a celebrity assistant, a home run hire after his successful run at LSU. An ace recruiter. Mentor to young men. Tough love motivator. Difference-maker.

As I spent a lot of time around him in the spring, and saw him around players, I could see why he was a great recruiter. There’s a genuine quality to Joseph. He’s relatable to everyone.

While Joseph isn’t a dynamic personality, he has an understated confidence and aura. He puts you at ease. People want to be around him.

In that way, he reminds me of Barry Switzer.

Joseph came here as a sort of savior to Frost, whether recruiting transfers to NU or giving off a leadership vibe. And fans hoped his penchant for holding players accountable rubbed off on the whole team.

We never heard from Mickey, because assistants weren’t allowed to speak. Until the assistant became the interim head coach.

Then Joseph stepped in front of the mic twice a week. And I think a lot of Husker fans fell in love.

They liked his swagger as he got off the bus first at Purdue in a black suit, black shirt and red tie. They were partial to his no-excuses, take-responsibility messages every week.

And they saw him as the underdog, and everyone loves an underdog. Especially when he played for the scarlet and cream.

But after a first-game debacle against Oklahoma, NU played hard and appeared more focused under Joseph. The defense played better. After four years of playing tag, they tackled, for goodness sake.

Throw in victories over Indiana and Rutgers and you had a debate between those who wanted an established head coach and those on Team Mickey.

Five straight losses have taken the air out of the campaign. So have some game management choices, the selection of quarterbacks, etc.

Joseph isn’t expected to get the job, but that doesn’t take away his impact on the team and program in 2022.

He was the right man at the right time for NU.

This season could have gotten ugly, could have ripped apart at the seams. It didn’t.

Joseph got the team’s attention. They played for their coach. That may be how it’s supposed to work. And maybe Joseph got credit because he acted more like a head coach than Frost ever did.

The Joseph Factor was, even with an undermanned team, they always competed and there were some games where you thought, well, maybe…

In his way, Joseph not only gave Nebraska football a hug, he reminded some folks of what they used to like about Husker football.

It was never going to work. As a job candidate, Joseph was an interim coach of a team with too many flaws to count. He was set up to fail against that schedule.

And I still insist Joseph would have had a better shot at the job had he not been interim coach. And instead became a high profile assistant coach with a reputation for recruiting talent and a national title ring.

You can’t require a new head coach to keep certain assistant coaches. Every head coach has his guys, the ones he trusts to do what he wants.

Especially when an assistant coach is already popular with the fans and players.

But I think keeping Joseph on the next staff would be the right thing to do, the smart play.

He’s a savvy guy who attracts recruits, including those of the transfer variety, and then connects. He’s a bridge to the locker room. And a bridge to the community, the fans, the high school coaches.

If he sounds like a head coaching candidate, I say not quite yet. Joseph could use some seasoning, some lessons on how to run a big-time program.

Joseph as an able, effective assistant who could learn and possibly take over the program some day? Absolutely.

The one thing that the 2022 season taught us is that Joseph is a good guy to have around the program.

I won’t remember a lot about this season. There weren’t any memorable games, unless one is coming on Friday.

I’ll remember thoughtful conversations with Casey Thompson, the pride and fight of Garrett Nelson and Travis Vokolek. And the spirit of this overmatched group that became a better team after they lost their coach.

That happened because of Joseph. He came back and was a difference-maker. He’ll have his pick of landing spots. Hope he hangs around.

Tom’s Pick: Iowa 21, Nebraska 10.


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