History has been good to Frank Solich. Now it’s Nebraska’s turn to show the love.
That will happen Wednesday night, when Solich is honored at the Outland Trophy Award Dinner in Omaha. Solich, the forever Husker, will be saluted by Tom Osborne, Scott Frost and a huge crowd at the Doubletree Hotel. Group hug.
This will be the first time Solich has attended a public gathering in Nebraska since he was fired as coach 15 years ago.
The evening will be one of goodwill, perspective and perhaps forgiveness on Solich’s part.
It will bring back some memories, including one I wish I could forget.
The night of the Flip-Flop.
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It was a night like no other in Nebraska, a night when you remember where you were when you heard the news.
This was Saturday, Nov. 29, 2003. I had just had dinner in the Old Market and was heading home. I turned on the radio. And there it was.
“There are reports out of Lincoln that Nebraska football coach Frank Solich has been fired ...”
This was really happening.
There had been rumors for a month. There was a published report that said it would happen. And after Solich won his final game 31-22 at Colorado, Athletic Director Steve Pederson was nowhere to be found. That’s a sign.
And yet, the way Nebraska rallied amid all the speculation and played well to give Solich a ninth win, you wondered if that might be enough to save Solich. There had been three bad games that year, but maybe Solich’s revamped staff deserved that chance.
After an emotional win, that’s exactly what I wrote in the Folsom Field press box.
By the next afternoon, there was no news. Perhaps Solich was safe.
Then it happened. What a surreal night. By midnight, Nebraska assistant coaches were still giving live interviews on local radio, emotional and confused.
I could show them confused.
On the same trusty laptop I had used in Boulder, I wrote that this was probably the best outcome for Nebraska football.
For years, I couldn’t explain it. I got too caught up in the emotions at Colorado, I said. I took more than my share of guff for being the “flip-flop guy.” I earned it. I owned it. I wore it.
But now, 15 years later, things make a lot more sense to me.
Those back-to-back columns represented the Solich decision. It was extremely tough. And complicated.
Maybe you disagree. Maybe you were a Solich supporter who said back then that this would haunt Nebraska, that 58-19 with a Big 12 championship and an annual bowl game was up to par and that his new staff needed time.
Maybe you were in the camp that said six years were enough, that there was another level to attain, that recruiting needed a boost and that it was time for a new approach.
The truth is, both camps existed. But the only opinion that mattered belonged to Pederson, who was going to follow his flawed vision.
There was no way to know that this would lead to a bumbling search, reportedly starting with former NFL assistant Al Saunders and ending with former NFL head coach Bill Callahan. No way to guess the years of upside-down history that lay ahead.
Wouldn’t the national titles keep running off the assembly line? Wouldn’t assistant coaches go forever? Wouldn’t every great coach in the country want this job?
I was certainly as naive as anyone. And maybe you had it all figured out. But there was no way to really know any of that until you went through it. Nebraska was a version of Camelot, where coaches came in succession and great players and winning came with a sense of entitlement.
Solich knew how all this worked. What he didn’t know was how to be a head coach, organize his staff and take a big-picture look at the program.
He did the job the way he had played and served as an assistant coach in Lincoln, with toughness and a set jaw. But he had a staff that was getting long in the tooth, the Big 12 North was getting better and balanced, and the league had changed the way you could recruit and, more importantly, how Nebraska could recruit.
All this was going on while Solich was following a legend. And here’s what time has taught us: Osborne couldn’t be replaced because he was that good. This is something Kansas State must wrestle with now and Alabama must face when Nick Saban eventually walks away.
Osborne said he never insisted that Solich keep the staff together, but all that winning implied that it wasn’t a bad idea. Solich could have hired younger recruiters earlier, brought in a Bo Pelini for the defense sooner.
But the man still won 58 games and a Big 12 title in six years and played for a national championship. I’ll always wonder if that BCS computer did Solich wrong, that if he had gone to play Illinois in the Sugar Bowl or Washington in the Holiday Bowl, the image of the program would have been different than suffering back-to-back blowouts to Colorado and Miami.
Or, if he had just gotten one more year with that staff.
We’ll never know. What’s important to know is that Solich took a job that in many ways was thankless. And now it’s time to thank him for it.
He handled everything with so much class, which was typical of him. Not once did he lash out or express bitterness. Solich could always take a hit and keep running. That’s just what he did.
What a wonderful career he’s had at Ohio University: 106 wins and 10 bowl games in 14 seasons. He did more than bounce back. Solich became a legend in Athens, Ohio, and did it with grace and determination.
His place in Nebraska football history is secure, too. Not just as Bob Devaney’s fullback or Osborne’s right-hand man, but as his own man. Solich led a smooth transition after Osborne. It wasn’t great, but it was good. Really good.
Certainly, a lot of Husker fans would have taken some of those records over the last 15 years.
There’s some symmetry in Solich getting the Osborne Award, partially at Osborne’s request. The timing is right. The good vibes are going with Frost, and there’s been a return to how Nebraska used to do things.
You know, back when Solich was in charge.
History reminded us that there is a Nebraska Way, and it does work. Recruiting matters, but so do development, walk-ons and recruiting to fit. Physical play. All that.
These are things that you don’t appreciate until they’re gone. And that goes for the coach, too. There’s a sad irony there.
Not this week. It’s a celebration. Welcome home, Frank. It’s time to honor and recognize what he meant. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
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Chris Kelsay, DE, 1999-02
"He knows how special this place is. Previous coaches were not aware of how special and important Nebraska football is to the state. Having grown up here and played here and seeing what he's done down in Florida in just a couple years, it's pretty exciting the opportunity that awaits him here. Anybody that grew up in Nebraska and played in Nebraska, it means a little bit more to those guys."
Dan Alexander, IB, 1997-2000
"I think it's awesome. He's probably the smartest quarterback I've ever worked with. He definitely knows how to run a team. From a leadership standpoint, from somebody who got in a huddle and made a team around him better, I think he's the best quarterback I worked with. I just know what kind of guy he is, what he can do with a team, what he could bring in as a coach."
Danny Noonan, MG, 1984-86
"I don't see how you couldn't hire Scott to come back. After all the things that have happened the last 20 years ... I don't see how you can't hire Scott. And Nebraska is going to give Scott more rope than anybody else, OK? Obviously we're going to pay him, what he wants for however long he wants. He's a hot commodity now, a huge commodity now, and I think he'll be an outstanding hire."
"Hiring Scott Frost is actually what this program needs. We have lost our identity, toughness, and more importantly our culture. Scott will understand what this place is all about and how hard you have to work to be successful on Saturdays. We were all so fortunate to play for Coach Osborne and his staff. Scott will be a reflection of that and bring his leadership and direction to the program. This is much-needed. Good luck Scott Frost and welcome home!!"
Erik Wiegert, OT, 1989-91
"Scott is six years younger than me so I don't know him personally, but he obviously has a great understanding of the Cornhusker traditions and culture that were so successful for so many years. He seems to have a rare natural ability to motivate and teach young men. I think he'll be very successful. The ex-players I know were all thrilled that he might be coming to Nebraska."
"If he can approach his mentor's level of performance, we'll be great (laughs). It's hard for me to speak for the guys in the '90s who knew him, but I hope they're real excited. I was pretty much a Riley guy until probably the Minnesota game, and then I gave up, but I don't think they realize how bad of shape Bo left us in, both psychologically and otherwise. I'm also of the opinion it will take five, six, seven years if you really want to turn it around. But I'm like everyone else, I hope he's the right guy."
"Obviously it's important to get a former player in here that understands the program, understands what the culture needs to be and understands how special a place Lincoln is and Nebraska is. It's huge. I'm excited again about this football program with him coming in here. I think the energy and the boost of swagger or confidence that he brings is what this program needs. The program is kind of dry right now, not a lot of enthusiasm. It's dead right now and it needs a boost of energy, and I think that's what Scott will bring."
Mickey Joseph, QB, 1988-91
"I think that you're getting somebody who understands the culture, and you got to understand the culture there because it's different than around the nation. It's a great fan base that's really going to support you. The football hasn't been what it's needed to be the last few years, but the fans are still there, and Scott's gonna understand that culture. I can't speak for him, but I'm sure he's got a plan to get it done up there."
"I love seeing Scott Frost be our next head coach for the University of Nebraska. We can get back to our winning ways and tradition. It will be a great opportunity for him and his family."
"If Scott understands that Nebraska is arguably the toughest recruiting sell in college football, if he understands that he's not going to get many four- to five-star athletes — it gets cold here and those fancy-schmancy warm-weather kids struggle when they have to play in temperatures below 40 degrees — and if he understands that he needs to develop two- and three-star athletes into four- and five-star players, things will go well for him."
"Scott Frost represents the University of Nebraska's best hope toward returning its football program to its former greatness. For 40 years, Nebraska was the most consistently successful college football program in the country, and it didn't attain that status by accident. It did several things distinctively: It cultivated a deep walk-on program, it embraced a physical style of play, it maintained high ethical standards and it prized a culture of hard work ... everyday. While there may be others who qualify as top-notch college coaches, Scott Frost has shown that he not only qualifies as a coach, he has shown that he actually embodies the unique qualities that are requisite to success at Nebraska."
Willie Harper, DE, 1970-72
"From coaches that I know who have coached with him, they — and I myself — have nothing but great things to say about him. He's one of the smartest coaches that they've been around. I spoke with him some years ago and I was totally sold and confident with him. He knows both sides of the ball inside and out. He relates to the players, and they all love him as a person. He is a great teacher in the classroom and can demonstrate what he is coaching on the field. This is time for Nebraska to start raising up its own, who know, understand and can breathe Husker culture."
"Scott coming home is awesome. Finally someone that has Nebraska DNA, that obviously knows what we as alumni and Nebraskans need to succeed — work ethic and the right mix of young men. We have to have patience, though, because he has to change the culture back to what we all know and love."
Jerry Murtaugh, LB, 1968-70
"What I think it might mean, not that he can do it, but he's proven himself, he has the record, he knows Nebraska, he's been through all this. So when he does come back, you surround him with great people — meaning a coaching staff — you pay him, you give him a minimum of five years without firing him, and let him do his job. And then we'll go from there."
Jamel Williams, LB, 1994-96
"It's going to help bring back the roots of Nebraska. Even though you can be a great coach, people come in here and don't know the magnitude of how different it is — the hype, what it's all about, how crazy it is — until they leave. When you come in you just think you can handle it or think you may know, but you don't until you're out the door and on the outside looking in. I think somebody coming in here, who knows what's going on, is huge for the program and the state."
"Welcome home, Scott. Congratulations on a great season. All us ex-Huskers are extremely excited. Husker tradition needs a Husker to lead us back to the glory days. Walk-ons, Blackshirts and the greatest fan base in America will help you and your staff get us back to national prominence once again."
"Scott's an ex-ballplayer so people know who he is and maybe he can do something recent coaches haven't been able to do. We're Nebraska, we're used to winning, and right now we're not winning."
Adam Carriker, DE, 2003-06
"Husker Nation, we got our guy. He’s a successful coach, who is also a Nebraska guy that understands what Nebraska is all about. He has what it takes to get the Huskers back on top. It will take time to build this back up the right way and we need to support Scott and his staff along the way. We all have the same goal: To win football games, championships and represent Nebraska as not only a great football program, but as the the great state that it truly is."
Dave Rimington, C, 1979-82
“Very happy about Scott coming home. The future is bright and I’m confident that given time he can take us to places our program hasn’t seen in a long time.”