MAC Title Matchup

Published 5:00 am Friday, December 4, 2009

DETROIT — Frank Solich has revived his career, giving Ohio a legitimate football team.

Central Michigan coach Butch Jones is just getting started, winning so many games in three years that his boss is afraid of losing him.

Solich and his Ohio Bobcats (9-3, 7-1 MAC) will face the Jones-led Central Michigan Chippewas (10-2, 8-0) on Friday night in the Mid-American Conference championship game.

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Solich was fired by Nebraska after going 9-3 in 2003 and 58-19 overall in six seasons at his alma mater. Ohio hired him two years later and he has given the school a chance to win its first MAC title since 1968.

“I’m very proud of what our team has been able to accomplish,” Solich said. “We’ve gotten better as the season has gone on, and we’re playing our best football right now.”

The Bobcats won their last four games to clinch the MAC’s East Division, getting stronger toward the end of the season with a physical brand of football that Solich says stemmed from successful signings.

“You recruit it,” said Solich, who also recruited some of the top running backs at Nebraska. “That’s not really something you can teach at that level. Players either have that innate capability or they don’t. You can give them technique, but they have to be physical before you get them.”

Senior receiver Taylor Price said it was an easy decision to become a Bobcat when he was recruited by Solich.

“I knew I’d be getting coached by one of the best in the country,” Price said. “This was a coach who had been in big games, with big-time programs and great players.”

Jones was assisting Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia when Central Michigan made him a head coach for the first time after Brian Kelly left to lead Cincinnati.

It has turned out to be a fantastic hire.

Jones is 21-3 against the MAC and 26-13 overall, winning a game at Michigan State this season.

He is the only coach in school history to coach in consecutive bowl games and he’ll extend the feat to three straight this year.

“Our players have had a a target on their back since I got here and they’ve responded very well in every way,” Jones said. “We’ve created a foundation that has built a championship culture that pushes all of us to be winners on and off the field.”

Regardless of the outcome of Friday night’s game at Ford Field, Central Michigan athletic director David Heeke won’t be surprised if he gets a phone call from another school asking for permission to interview Jones.

He was a candidate to replace Rodriguez at West Virginia two years ago after winning a MAC title — Central Michigan responded by giving him a two-year extension — and there might be openings this offseason that Jones would consider.

“We have put together another, five-year contract for Butch that would increase his salary and give him an opportunity to earn more bonuses,” Heeke said. “It’s our hope that will help him choose to stay here. The reality is, I might start getting calls about him after the game. I take it as a compliment when people want to talk to your coach.

“It’s been well documented that if you can have success in this league — as Butch has — you’re a good football coach because you have to do a lot with a little.”