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Children of the Corn

May 4, 2009 - Michael Palmer
Last week I attended an Ohio University Athletic Caravan stop in St. Clairsville and had the opportunity to talk with the Bobcats head football coach Frank Solich. I first met the coach in the summer of 2001 while he was head coach of Nebraska's football team. Our coach was a huge Nebraska football fan and had a tattoo of Herbie Husker, so off we went. I drove a van with my son and 6 other high school football players 16 hours out to Lincoln for the colleges football school and coach's clinic.

The 2001 Huskers featured the nation's top college player and that season's eventual Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch. He ran onto the field during orientation following a highlight reel of his 2000 season highlights through a tunnel of smoke with music rocking the empty stadium seats. He moved through the 400 plus high school players like a streak of red followed by the coaches and players who would be running the camp.

It was an awesome experience, but Geez why all the hype? Well, Nebraska did not have any professional sports teams and there is only one Division I college football program.... you guessed it, THE Corn Huskers. That said, in Nebraska coach Solich was revered by the state's football fans as more than a celebrity. The fans (abbreviation of fanatic) are called affectionately by visiting teams, Children of the Corn, and to outsiders most likely appear to be a sports cult. Yet, coach Solich was incredibly down-to-earth and treated all of us like we were VIP guests. There was no reason for being nice, by that I mean we had no legitimate division III prospects at the camp. let alone a division I player worthy of a second look from a team with 5 national titles in their trophy case.

Almost incredibly, after meeting us and taking time to chat, he invited us to stop by his office during camp. He even posed with us beside the trophy case which housed the national championship hardware. In 2001, Solich led the Huskers to an 11-2 record, a co-Big 12 North Division title and met Miami in the BCS title game in the Rose Bowl that season.

Following Crouch's graduation, the Huskers went 7-7 in 2002, but still made an appearance in the post-season. In 2003, Solich coached Nebraska to a 9-3 regular-season record, but did not coach NU in the Alamo Bowl, as he was FIRED after the Colorado game!

Yep that's right! Solich was a record setting fullback for the Huskers in college and had been part of the NU coaching staff for 25 years. In six seasons, Solich led the Huskers to a 58-19 record (.753 winning percentage), including the 1999 Big 12 Conference championship. The Huskers finished No. 3 in the AP Poll in 1999 after beating Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl and rolling to a 22-6 win over Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game in San Antonio.

Frank Solich was named the successor to legendary NU football coach Tom Osborne on Dec. 10, 1997, but sat and watched while defensive coordinator Bo Pelini served as interim head coach during the Alamo Bowl. In Solich's 19 years as an assistant, the Huskers captured three national championships, all with Solich as assistant head coach. Nebraska also won 11 league championships, earned 19 postseason bowl bids and had 15 teams finish the season ranked in the nation's top 10.

The problem may have been that, even though he had spent a quarter of a century as a Husker, he came to Nebraska from Cleveland, Ohio, as a member of Bob Devaney's first recruiting class in 1962. He was not a native, not born into the Corn Clan, not Born Red, enough said.

In addition to a trip down memory lane, I guess this is also a tale of job security.

My great grandpa used to tell me there was no man that could not be replaced in this world. To illustrate that point he would tell me to take my hand and swirl it in a bucket of water, "No matter how hard or how fast you move that water around, when you take out your hand it will return to just the way it was before you got there."

If Solich could be fired after a 9-3 season with a trip to a major bowl game, none of us should feel very secure at our posts. If they canned Frank for a winning overall record during which his worst performance was a .500 effort, which of us feels all cozy and safe in our work place?

Despite the rude send off, Frank does not seem bitter, in his words he has "some good and some bad memories" from Nebraska. He is well liked by the players and fans at OU. It was a little weird to see him dressed in green, but he was again very cordial and attentive.

Thanks to Frank for making me feel welcome, as did all the Bobcat coaches, alumni and fans. Perhaps this fall I can make the trip to Athens for a game.


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