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A Legacy Homecoming

By Brian Rosenthal

Omaha – Had only the late Bob Devaney been able to stand with his Husker coaching brethren here, you’d have seen a Mount Rushmore of Nebraska football coaching legends.

Sure, Scott Frost has etched his name in Big Red history with what he’s done as a player, not yet a coach, but still, something seemed just right to see the first-year coach alongside two of his Nebraska coaching predecessors on a special night.

Countless snapshots from a reception before Wednesday night’s Outland Trophy ceremony captured a smiling Frost with former coaches Tom Osborne and Frank Solich. Some in attendance simply called the pictures “epic.”

To be sure, it’s a portrait nobody’s been able to take in these parts in some 15 years, which is how long Solich had been away from the Nebraska football program. His long awaited and overdue homecoming came on a night Solich received the Tom Osborne Legacy Award.

“Anything associated with Coach Osborne is special,” Solich said before the ceremony. “I certainly feel that way, and I know a lot of people feel special about Tom.”

Former players, coaches, fans and other spectators filled a ballroom at the Double Tree Hotel in downtown Omaha and gave Solich not one, not two, but three standing ovations, a heartwarming salute to a former Husker player and coach who contributed mightily to the success of the Nebraska program.

Coaching legends Barry Switzer from Oklahoma and Bobby Bowden from Florida State won the previous two coaching legacy awards named for Osborne, who went 255-49-3 and won 13 conference titles and three national titles in 25 seasons coaching Nebraska.

For Osborne, though, this year's award recipient was the most important.

“I think there are very few people who have accomplished as much in the world of football as Frank,” Osborne said. “A lot of people don’t realize that, but he was a great football player at Nebraska, and a great assistant.”

As a longtime assistant, Solich recruited Heisman Trophy winners Eric Crouch and Mike Rozier, along with Irving Fryer and brothers Jason and Christian Peter, members of the national championship teams under Osborne.

In part because Solich, who’d played fullback at Nebraska and spent 19 years as an assistant to Osborne, understood what made Nebraska special and what it took to sustain the program’s success, Osborne tabbed him as his successor. He felt comfortable with his decision, and still does to this day.

Sure enough, Solich went 58-19 in six seasons coaching the Huskers. His winning percentage at one school bettered that of Joe Paterno and Bowden at their respective schools. Solich won a Big 12 championship, in 1999, and three Big 12 North Division titles. He led Nebraska to the national championship game following the 2001 season.

His firing after a nine-win regular season in 2003 set off a firestorm of controversy and naturally stunned Solich, who's still not returned to Memorial Stadium. Yet Solich today doesn’t openly express any ill will. An Ohio native, he’s found a perfect niche coaching Group of Five school Ohio, where he’s compiled a 106-75 record while leading the Bobcats to 10 bowl games in 14 years.

“What he’s done there,” Osborne said, “is remarkable.”

At age 74, Solich is now the oldest active coach in FBS football with the retirement of Kansas State legend Bill Snyder. Next year, Solich will serve as president of the American Football Coaches Association.

In fact, Solich flew into Omaha after attending an AFCA convention, where he said Osborne is still revered as a coaching legend.

Osborne believes Solich is deserving of similar talk.

“He certainly deserves something like this (award),” Osborne said.

Solich said he’s been happy to reconnect with so many familiar faces – more than he expected to encounter, if he’s being honest.

“It’s been amazing to me,” Solich said. “I expected to see some people I hadn’t seen in quite some time, but there’s been quite a few. It means an awful lot to me to be able to visit with friends from the past, players from the past.”

Receiving an award named for Osborne is just as meaningful.

“I spent 19 years underneath Tom and got attached to what he was all about and how he treated people,” Solich said, noting he and Osborne have stayed in close contact throughout the years.

“When it comes to visiting with Tom, sometimes it’s about football, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s about other things. I continue to have a great relationship with him.”

Three coaches have led the Huskers between Solich and Frost, who just finished his first year as Nebraska’s head coach. Despite a 4-8 record, the Huskers are carrying heavy momentum into the offseason.

Solich has kept tabs, and said he’s convinced Frost is the right man to lead Nebraska back among the nation’s elite.

“I think Scott is a bright coach,” Solich said. “He’s got a very good staff. He’ll be able to recruit the kind of players Nebraska will need to battle for championships. He’ll get that done at a good pace. He’ll be very successful here.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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