Few football coaches at any level would blame Ohio University Coach Frank Solich for feeling somewhat exonerated after his Bobcats upset Pittsburgh last Friday night. And given the way Nebraska ripped the rug from under him nearly two years ago, few would accuse Solich of bitterness if he rooted for that same Pittsburgh team to rebound and beat the Cornhuskers on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb.
But Solich, who will lead Ohio against No. 4 Virginia Tech this Saturday in Blacksburg, says he is not concerned with any sort of transitive revenge against his former employer.
"I'm not after vindication," Solich said during a telephone interview yesterday. "I know what kind of coach I am, and I never doubted that. I don't have to prove anything to anyone. I know what I've accomplished in this profession. I didn't set out to prove anything to anyone."
After only two games at Ohio and one very long 2004 season at Nebraska, some Cornhuskers fans would probably suggest the school was wrong in firing Solich more than 21 months ago. Solich, who was 58-19 in five-plus seasons at Nebraska, was fired after the Cornhuskers finished 9-3 during the 2003 regular season. Less than two years earlier, he led Nebraska to the Bowl Championship Series title game, losing to Miami, 37-14, in the Rose Bowl.
"He didn't win all of those games by being a bad coach," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said. "Nebraska got rid of a good football coach, there's no doubt about it."
Solich, who was out of coaching last season, took over an Ohio football program that was one of the worst in the country. The Bobcats have had seven winning seasons in the last 35 years, appeared in two bowl games in 109 years of playing football and haven't won the Mid-American Conference since 1968.
"It didn't matter to me whether I took over a program that was near the top, like I did at Nebraska, or if I took over a program that needed to be rebuilt," Solich said. "I'm looking forward to rebuilding this program."
Ohio officials promised to upgrade the Bobcats' modest facilities, building a new training room, football auditorium and position meeting rooms at a cost of about $1.3 million. The investment is already paying dividends as last Friday's game against Pittsburgh in Athens, Ohio, was televised by ESPN2, the first time the Bobcats appeared on national television.
A record crowd of 24,545 watched the Bobcats upset the Panthers, 16-10 in overtime, when cornerback Dion Byrum returned an interception 85 yards for a touchdown to end the game.
"The timing of the victory was pretty good," Solich said. "If you look at the history of the program, it's generally been difficult for them to get off to a good start. Teams have struggled to win nonconference games and then they go into conference play on a downslide. You look for any way to avoid that from happening."
Ohio's upset of Pittsburgh will undoubtedly put more pressure on Bill Callahan, the former Oakland Raiders coach who replaced Solich at Nebraska. The Bobcats' victory was front-page news in last Saturday's edition of the Omaha World-Herald, the largest newspaper in Nebraska. Callahan was already being criticized after the Cornhuskers finished 5-6 last season and didn't play in a bowl game for the first time in 36 years. If Callahan's team loses to an opponent that Solich's team beat, then Cornhuskers fans might grow even more impatient.
"I don't think that's fair," Callahan told reporters during his weekly news conference in Lincoln, Neb. "I look at Ohio as playing very well against them. I wouldn't want to diminish their efforts."