It’s an infamous tale in Nebraska lore. The year was 2003. No. 18 Nebraska had just lost at home to Kansas State 38-9. Nebraska fans were up in arms. Head coach Frank Solich was under fire.
Cornhusker fans complained that Solich couldn’t recruit. He was being out-coached in big games. He was losing at least one game a year he shouldn’t. Nebraska wasn’t good against ranked teams on the road. The Huskers were being blown out by the upper echelon of college football. He couldn’t coach up talent.
New athletic director Steve Pedersen fired Solich before the end of the season. Solich had been given a chance to turn things around with an overhaul of his coaching staff. Nearly all the assistants were in their positions for the first time. 7-7 became 10-3, but that didn’t matter for the man with a grand vision for NU. Pedersen didn’t want the team to gravitate toward mediocrity, instead he plunged mediocrity deep into the heart of Nebraska.
Three of those assistants became head coaches at some point. Nebraska won its bowl game and finished No. 22 in the AP Poll. That K-State team went on to win the Big 12 under the leadership of little, known running back Darren Sproles. Oh, and their defensive coordinator was Bret Bielema. More than a few of the Nebraska players went on to play in the NFL, if only for a short time.
Most Nebraska fans look back on Solich’s firing as a travesty. A man was fired from a ranked team after going 9-3. A man who took the Huskers to six straight bowls, including a national title game. A man not given a chance to prove his coaching changes would work in the long term.
Solich bummed around for a year after his firing before accepting the head coaching position at Ohio. Ohio wasn’t exactly an ideal place to go and win. His impact on the culture of Ohio was immediate, not just on the field. Upgrading facilities, raising money and making national television appearances took precedence.
The Bobcats made their first bowl game since 1968 in 2006, and won their first bowl game since 1968 in 2011. Solich has led them to three straight bowls and has a record of a 33-14 over that time, including 6-0 this season. Solich has turned the entire program of a perennial loser around.
Ohio hasn’t blown anyone out of the water this season, but the Bobcats appear set for another bowl this year. The Bobcats do have a win over Penn State. They even have a schedule that sets up pretty well for them to go undefeated. The best competition in Kent State and the MAC Championship isn’t until the end of the season.
Now Nebraska has a similar story unfolding. Coach Bo Pelini is under fire for the same things Solich was. There is a new AD at Nebraska. The Huskers have just suffered a humiliating loss. Fans are grumbling and finding excuses to fire Pelini. This fast food generation wants coaches to win and win now. But for every Urban Meyer and Nick Saban there are several Dan Hawkinses out there.
Learn from the past. Don’t let quality people go too hastily. Tom Osborne didn’t win championships right away. Nebraska may currently be stuck in a predictable scenario, but allow Pelini to try to make the necessary changes for success before rashly burning any bridges. Otherwise, he might end up having success elsewhere while Husker fans wonder what could have been with Nebraska’s resources.
By Steve Siedlik