Bruce doesn#039;t understand firing of Solich

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 3, 2003

OMAHA, Neb. - Like Frank Solich, Earle Bruce was a running back at his alma mater.

Like Solich, Bruce followed a coaching legend.

And like Solich, Bruce got fired after posting an impressive career win-loss record.

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Bruce, who lost his job at Ohio State in 1987 after averaging nine wins over nine seasons, said Monday that Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson may have created more problems than he solved by firing Solich after a 9-3 season.

''Someone obviously has the power to fire someone with a 9-3 record, and that's sad,'' Bruce, his voice rising, said from his home in Florida.

''Who are they going to get to replace him that's better than he was? Who are they going to get? I don't understand that. He's as good a coach as there probably is around for Nebraska to pick up.''

Bruce, 72, now the coach and general manager of the Arena Football League's Columbus Destroyers, said he understands that standards are high at Nebraska.

But he said Pederson may have done the program a disservice by firing Solich and announcing that the Cornhuskers must be in the running for a national championship every year.

Quality candidates might be afraid to apply for the job, Bruce said.

''You've put a star up there that says, 'Whoa, I've got to be aware of this: 9-3 isn't good enough for Solich, it probably isn't good enough for me,' '' Bruce said. ''You're going to have to pay a lot of money to get a guy who is in a good position to come there.''

Bruce and Solich had similar careers at their alma maters.

Bruce succeeded coaching icon Woody Hayes, who won three national titles in 28 seasons at OSU. Solich followed Tom Osborne, who won three national championships in 25 seasons at NU.

Bruce was 81-26-1, a .755 winning percentage. Solich was 58-19 for a .753 mark.

Bruce's first team was on the verge of winning the national championship but lost 17-16 to Southern California in the Rose Bowl after the 1979 season.

Solich's fourth team played for the national title, losing to Miami in the Rose Bowl after the 2001 season.

Bruce, whose firing was imminent heading into his final game, finished by beating archrival Michigan 23-20 in Ann Arbor. His players wore headbands with ''Earle'' written on them for that last game.

Solich, rumored to be on the way out heading into last week's game at Colorado, beat the rival Buffaloes 31-22 in Boulder. In a show of support, his players gave him a Gatorade bath afterward and publicly said they believed they had saved his job.

Bruce, whose last team was 6-4-1, said his firing was largely political and that he never stood a chance to keep his job because of a falling out with the school administration. The Buckeyes were 4-6-1 the year after Bruce's firing, under John Cooper, and didn't win nine games against until 1993.

Pederson acknowledged Sunday that he had thought about firing Solich since the time he took over as athletic director last December.

''I'm always sorry to see a coach fired,'' Bruce said. ''I coached at Iowa State, and I know the tradition and expectations of the Nebraska program, and they've always been pretty high.''

Bruce said he remembers how the public skewered Solich's predecessor, Tom Osborne, until Nebraska beat Oklahoma in 1978. Osborne also was put on the hot seat for losing to Bruce's Iowa State teams in 1976 and '77.

Bruce said the onus was on Solich after he replaced six assistants after last year's 7-7 campaign.

''It first starts by firing all the assistant coaches, and then it's you,'' he said.

Bruce said Nebraska should have given Solich's new assistants more time to recruit their own players.

''It's bad when a 9-3 coach gets fired,'' Bruce said. ''That's a good record. It might not be one that wins the national title, but it most certainly is representative.''