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New Beginning for Solich

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  • New Beginning for Solich

    Aug. 1, 2005

    By Kevin Armstrong

    Special to

    Left for dead in the cornfields of Lincoln, Nebraska, Frank Solich did not turn to the booth of broadcasting or the greens of golf links.

    No, not Solich. He wasn't built for those relaxed atmospheres. The corporate coats wouldn't look right on him, the golf club wasn't his support system. But without a whistle around his neck or an office overlooking a gridiron, Solich knew that he had to keep busy. The fire still burned inside, even as his career had flamed out in Nebraska. He picked up the phone, calling coaches he knew, others that friends knew, touring the phonebook for a lead.

    He found his next year on the other side of the telephone lines. He was going rise from the coaching dead and travel. He was going to learn by taking a three-step drop, then explode from there.

    He had meetings to attend and clinics to observe. Looking for meetings the way streetballers seek pick-up games, Solich packed up his days at the alma mater and set out for higher education. His Huskin' days were over. No flock of Nebraskans stood behind him as he walked away. No, the time was different for Solich, a lifelong Cornhusker.

    "I still had the desire inside, and I knew that I could not just sit around for a full year, let alone a season," Solich said. "So I went out to professional teams and a few Division I-A programs. I learned so much."

    The experience was new. Never before had he networked the coaching carousel. Having been a Tom Osborne assistant and follower his entire career, Solich's sole purpose in life was Husker football. He graduated in 1966 with a Bachelor's of Science and went on to earn his master's degree in education in 1972. Then, he coached a few high school stops before becoming Nebraska's freshman coach in 1979. From there, he served as a Husker assistant until the day that he became Tom Osborne's successor, and even with a 58-19 record (.753 winning percentage) from 1998-2003, Solich wasn't enough to match Osborne. So when the axe came down in 2003, things had to change.

    "I never networked. I just did my job," Solich said about his days on the Huskers' sidelines.

    And so it was that the network-less coach set out to learn about other places. He wanted to know more angles and more ways to success. Not that he did not appreciate the Nebraska way, he just thought he could benefit from knowing what else was out there.

    "What I saw was a lot like what we did at Nebraska. I saw coaches who were not real screamers getting their points across. It was a great opportunity for me to grow as a coach," Solich said.

    Stops included Oklahoma, Texas, Wisconsin, Miami and Southern California. While there, Solich was not around to schmooze and glad hand. Rather, he was around to take notes and store techniques. Wearing the hats of other positions, Solich saw new perspectives and grew in time. So, when Ohio University came calling last winter, Solich knew what he wanted from a potential employer.

    "At this stage in my career, I just wanted to be with good people. The president and director of athletics here both showed that they were committed to moving the program forward, and I felt right about that," Solich said.

    There was plenty of advice from the football mentor who became the Congressman from Nebraska, the Honorable Tom Osborne.

    "Tom is a great human being," Solich said. "He was great through the whole process. He is not one to interject, but he was always there if I needed help with anything."

    So the itinerant Solich found his home in Athens, Ohio after a year of living from a suitcase in hotel rooms across the Midwest, West coast and South. Ohio's "school president must have come by to see us at least three or four times when I came to visit for the job," Solich said. "I could see that there was a strong desire to get things done."

    This wasn't a Larry Brown need-for-love kind of feeling. This was a good people feeling. Noticing the commitment on Ohio's part, Solich decided to move in, and things did get done. A contract was reached, and the Solich name became the answer to many of the questions that Bobcats fans had about advancing their football program.

    Fundraising needed to be improved, facilities were lagging, and opportunities needed to be seized. So he set out to raise money and up the Ohio name. Scheduling games became key for paydays as the school lined up an opener against Northwestern, then Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech as three out-of-conference contests.

    "We have to schedule aggressively and get money for the program," Solich said. You would "never see Nebraska do that. They'll play one or two non-conference challenges. Never three."

    Funds are coming in and the attitude is getting to where Solich wants it: a "we can win now" mentality.

    At Ohio, "we didn't even have the funds for the kids to go to summer school," Solich said. "That was one thing that we needed, and the name from Nebraska helps people know that we are here to win and move forward. There have been a considerable amount of people donating, but we still need even more."

    Gracing the billboards and mailings about the new program, an intense face shows the new Solich approach, holding out a football in one hand with a whistle back around his neck. Things are getting back to normal. Away from Nebraska and the hot seat, the lifelong Husker is warming up to his new surroundings, in the state of Ohio where he spent time as a kid.

    "You know, we have people from Nebraska who have never even seen the campus or this state, and they are donating to this program already" Solich said.

    Nearly forty years after graduating from Lincoln, Solich has set up shop elsewhere, still connected to Nebraska, but out on his own.