Solich returns home as OU#039;s football coach

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 17, 2004

ATHENS (AP) - Former Nebraska coach Frank Solich was introduced on Thursday as Ohio's new football coach, returning to the state where he grew up and promising to rebuild a program that went just 11-35 in the past four years.

''It's great to be back in the game, and it's great to be back in the game at Ohio University,'' said Solich, who has been out of football since being fired at Nebraska a year ago despite going 58-19 over six seasons.

Solich, 60, signed a multiyear deal. His annual base salary is $240,000.

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Solich had replaced Tom Osborne, who retired from Nebraska in 1997 after winning three national championships in four seasons.

Solich, an assistant under Osborne from 1979-97, led the Cornhuskers to the national championship game in the 2002 Rose Bowl, where they lost 37-14 to Miami.

At the time Solich was fired, Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson believed the program was slipping in stature compared with its Big 12 rivals. The Cornhuskers were 16-12 after starting the 2001 season 11-0 under Solich.

Nebraska was only 7-7 the next year, the school's first non-winning season since 1961. Solich was dismissed the next season despite going 9-3.

Solich's name has been mentioned for openings at more well-known schools, but he cited the enthusiasm by university officials, his familiarity with Ohio and the success of the Mid-American Conference as reasons why he accepted the job.

''It's obvious to me … that the MAC conference produces some great football teams and great football players,'' he said.

Solich takes over a program that went 4-7 this year under coach Brian Knorr, who was fired Nov. 18. The Bobcats have had only two winning seasons since 1982.

Ohio has a .492 all-time winning percentage, compared with .753 for Solich, and hasn't played in the postseason since a 49-42 loss to Richmond in the 1968 Tangerine Bowl.

Still, ''there is a rich tradition here,'' he said.

Athletic director Thomas Boeh said Solich's integrity, leadership, commitment to academics and his coaching success ''makes him the dream choice of Ohio.''

Solich's hiring ''marks the very beginning of a new era in the Ohio football program,'' Boeh said.

Osborne said it was perplexing to him that while coaches such as Tyrone Willingham and Ron Zook went directly from getting fired to getting new jobs, Solich attracted little interest.

Osborne said Willingham and Zook are good coaches, ''but if you look at the resumes and what they've accomplished, it seems to me Frank would come out quite a ways ahead.''

Solich has ties to Ohio, despite being a part of the Nebraska program since the 1960s when he played for the Cornhuskers.

Ohio and Pennsylvania were in Solich's primary recruiting areas when he was at Nebraska and he played high school football in Cleveland.

''He's pretty well known among high school coaches back there, and that will be an advantage for him,'' when it comes to recruiting, Osborne said.

Osborne said he spoke with Ohio athletic officials this week and gave Solich a strong recommendation. Osborne said he also put in a word for former Nebraska assistant Tony Samuel, who was interested in the Ohio job after getting fired at New Mexico State.

Solich said he has spent the past year visiting several college and NFL programs, including the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Oklahoma, to see what makes those programs successful.

He also said he wants the Bobcats, who have emphasized the run the past several years, to develop a strong running and passing game.

''I want to be a balanced football team,'' he said.