If such a thing as a "Nebraska Man" exists, look no further than Frank Solich. The Cleveland native was a three-year letter winner for the Cornhuskers where he went on to set a plethora of team records, some of which still stand today. Solich's exceptional work ethic and leadership helped him to be named a captain his senior year on his way to becoming an All-Big 8 fullback. After earning both bachelor's and master's degrees from Nebraska, he spent the next few decades working to make Nebraska a better place both on and off-the-field.
After helping guide his alma mater to three national titles as an assistant coach, Solich finally got his chance at the top job when Tom Osburne retired following the 1997 season. He responded by winning more than 75 percent of his games over six seasons, being awarded two Big 12 Coach of the Year honors, and an appearance in the 2001 BCS Title Game. But Solich was shown the door after committing the cardinal sin of only winning nine games in 2003 regular season.
This was only the beginning of what is very likely the most mystifying coaching change in college football. Nebraska brought in former Oakland Raiders Head Coach Bill Callahan to restore the program back to its former elite status where it was a national title contender practically every season. With Callahan came the West Coast Offense, which completely bucked the option attack that had helped Nebraska reach such lofty heights for decades. The new system meant Callahan would ditch all of the fertile recruiting grounds in the Great Plains that operated as feeder programs and start from scratch.
As expected, the Callahan era was a complete disaster. instead of expecting national titles, fans soon became hopeful that the Big Red would just become bowl eligible. Callahan went 27-22 in four season before being dismissed, including a 15-18 conference record and 3-10 record against ranked opponents. Every one of his teams finished the season unranked, with the except of the 2005 squad that squeaked in at 24 in the final AP poll. After spending $1.8 million to rid themselves of Solich, the school ponied up an additional $3.1 million to buyout his successor.
Most programs should be ecstatic to have a guy like Solich manning the program. He is a high-character individual who is also capable of turning a team into a contender. But Nebraska certainly wasn't satisfied with his results after six years. They wanted national titles, and Solich didn't deliver. They decided it was better to look elsewhere even if that meant having the program take a major step back. After ten years, Nebraska is still trying to surpass the single-season win totaled that got Solich fired.
Solich took a year off following his dismissal and landed at Ohio University. A far cry from the success and tradition in Lincoln, Solich has found a home in the small town of Athens, Ohio doing what he loves - helping college students succeed as players and as members of society.
While he was under-appreciated in Nebraska, the Bobcat community certainly have to be pleased with the way things worked out. Ohio had spent years finishing at the bottom of one of the weakest conferences in the nation and had gone 37 years without making a bowl game. After putting his stamp on the program, OU has come so far that Sports Illustrated recently predicted the program to go undefeated in 2012. After one of the longest bowl droughts in the nation, Solich has led his team to bowl games in four of the last five years, including the first bowl victory in school history to end the 2011 campaign. He has built a culture where his team believe they can win every time they step on the field, and won't back down from anyone.
If the Bobcats play the role of BCS buster in 2012, Solich's name will be on a short list for any of the major coaches seeking to make a change at the end of the season. Solich may be wise enough to politely decline. Instead of going somewhere where he will be cast to the wolves shall he ever lose a couple games by fielding the inevitable inexperienced and injury-ridden team, Solich can continue to build a program in a place where he is appreciated as both a winner and molder of men. He can do his job in an atmosphere that will tolerate the ebb and flow that naturally occurs within all programs.
If things were different, Nebraska may have been a regular in the BCS chase these past years. Penn State would be enjoying a MACrifice on Saturday instead of hoping the avoid the very real notion of an upset. But this is a new era of college football, where nothing can be taken for granted. Who knows what will happen should Solich get serious attention from a BCS school again. Maybe even Nebraska will come calling if they decide to part ways with Bo Pellini after a disappointing 9-3 season...
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