Tuioti Always Fond of Frost, Huskers
Tony Tuioti was a sophomore at the University of Hawaii, the year was 1997 and among the popular video games was PlayStation NCAA Football. Tuito and his roommates played the game religiously. They kept names and scores and plastered them on their dorm room walls.
“I had the longest win streak on campus,” Tuioti said, “and everyone knew that.”
They knew, he said, because Tuioti did something others didn’t. He ran the option.
His quarterback? Scott Frost.
“I never thought,” Tuioti said, “I would have the chance to meet him.”
How about work for him?
No, in case you’re wondering, Tuioti did not bring up this story when interviewing for an assistant coaching job with Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback now beginning his second season as the Huskers’ head coach.
“I thought that might be a little too weird,” Tuioti said.
Brownie points weren’t necessary, anyway. Frost hired Tuioti as defensive line coach because he’s among the top young assistants in the country. And Tuioti left his previous job, defensive line coach at California, because he saw something special brewing in Lincoln.
“The energy is right and the culture is pointing in the right direction,” Tuioti said. “Just talking with Coach, they’ve already done it, at UCF, as far as changing the program around, so they know the formula. It takes time.”
Tuioti says he paid attention to Nebraska last season. He saw the progress made and how the Huskers fought through adversity, overcoming an 0-6 start to win four of their final six games.
“They took their bumps and bruises early on, but then during the second half of the season, to go 4-2 and lose those two games very, very close, that’s very impressive,” Tuioti said. “Because I’ve been there before, even in pro football. Once they know they’re mathematically out of a playoff, everybody shuts down. (The fact) that these kids did not shut down the second half of the season says a lot about the coaching staff, to keep these kids positive.”
Tuioti emphasizes that was a major reason he wanted to come to Nebraska. He didn’t know Frost was looking to replace Mike Dawson, who left after one season in Lincoln to become an assistant coach in the NFL, until he received a call from Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, who learned of Tuito through Jerry Azzinaro.
“In this profession, everybody has friends,” Tuioti said. “It’s a brotherhood."
Azzinaro coached defensive line at California in 2017, when Tuioti first joined the staff as outside linebackers coach. When Azzinaro left to become defensive coordinator at UCLA in 2018, Tuioti took his spot as defensive line coach.
But before they connected at California, Azzinaro had coached at Oregon when Chinander was an intern and graduate assistant with the Ducks. Azzinaro and Chinander also coached together a season with the Philadelphia Eagles, in 2013.
“They have a really good relationship, and we ran a similar style defense, so it’s a good fit,” Tuioti said. “(Chinander) made the call, and that’s where all the conversation really started.”
The common denominator is the 3-4 defense, and Tuioti expects much of the same terminology and fundamental technique (with possibly some different verbiage), which should help ease any coaching transition for the linemen.
Tuioti had a chance to meet with his group last week, a few days before Monday’s start of spring practice.
“I told the guys we’re not going to be who we want to be in 15 practices, but we can be close,” Tuioti said. “We can close the gap. How we prepare and how we practice. We’re going to try to build a brand here that everybody can be proud of, but it’s going to take one day at a time, one practice at a time, one rep at a time.”
Tuioti intends to meet each of his players on-one-one once he gets settled.
“I want to get to know them as people first. That’s important,” he said. “When I see them, I don’t look at them as football players. I look at them as people. Once we build a trust factor and they know I’m here for them, we can really start running through a wall for each other.”
Tuioti takes the same philosophy with recruiting. He’ll primarily recruit on the West Coast, as well as Hawaii, Las Vegas and Utah.
“It’s all about people,” he said. “You build great relations and be very transparent with a recruit and with parents. They can see how genuine you are as a person and as a coach. I think that speaks volumes to them.”
“The great thing about it, the University of Nebraska has a great brand. It’s a national brand. If you play defense, most of the kids probably know the word ‘Blackshirts.’ I know what it is. That’s an advantage to help conversations and be able to talk to them. From that point on, it’s working to get them here on campus.”
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