It took Frank Solich essentially 20 years to arrive in Lincoln earlier this week. He spent Friday afternoon at Memorial Stadium once more. The same hallowed ground he played inside and coached from the sidelines. At long last, the old ball coach returned.
Led by former player and current athletics director Trev Alberts, Solich walked into a designated north lobby between gates 19 and 20 of Memorial Stadium. Solich will be recognized at halftime of Nebraska’s Spring Game on Saturday. It’s the first official Nebraska event he’ll be recognized at since his employment was terminated before the end of the 2003 Husker football season. Solich and his family kept a distant relationship from the university in the two decades since then. The man who led him into the room on Friday played a significant role in his return.
“I’d been invited back several times by Trev to come back and he was relentless,” Solich said. “It makes a lot of sense to be back. I spent a lot of time on that field out there. Family spent a lot of time here. We consider it our home. So it’s great to be back.”
Now is the right time to return to Lincoln, he said. He retired from coaching altogether in 2021 and Ohio named its field in Athens after him the following year. Current Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule texted Solich for insight about the job after accepting the position in November. Solich coached against Rhule when Temple played Ohio in the Mid-Atlantic Conference. Alberts’ persistence and the open communication with Rhule made him feel welcomed. Solich realized he wanted to get back into the graces of “what Nebraska is all about” once again.
Solich stayed in touch with numerous former players from Nebraska over the years, some as far back from his coaching genesis at Omaha Holy Name and Lincoln Southeast. He’s already spent an evening with his former co-captain Mike Kennedy in Omaha and picked up former teammate Rick Coleman from the airport so he could take part in this weekend’s festivities. Former Southeast players hosted him for lunch earlier this week and he planned to attend a dinner event Friday night with former Huskers. Solich appreciates they all wanted to make time for him. Most of them will likely attend Saturday’s Spring Game to see Solich honored.
Saturday’s Spring Game will be the first time Solich is recognized publicly by Nebraska since former athletic director Steve Pederson fired him in 2003. Solich only previously returned to Nebraska for his induction into the Lincoln Southeast Hall of Fame in 2012 and to receive the Tom Osborne Legacy Award during the 2019 Outland Trophy Ceremony. Solich admitted on Friday he’d keep tabs on Nebraska during his successful 16-season stint as Ohio’s head coach. He’d watch the scoreline and even sit in front of the TV for a game if he could.
“Obviously, deep down inside, was actually pulling for Nebraska,” Solich said. “So it was tough to see what had really transpired in terms of wins and losses over the years.”
Solich felt it best to stay completely away from Nebraska at first. The emotions too raw after getting fired for a job where he led the team to a 58-19 record. He stayed busy at Ohio, leading the Bobcats to 115 wins over those 16 seasons. Through conversations with his family, Alberts and himself, he looked through a different lens. He considered his old colleagues in the university and football program. He also considered the fans and how he always appreciated their support.
“I was, in some ways, only hurting myself by continuing to stay away,” Solich said. “So I’m glad to be back.”
Alberts took Solich on a tour through the new university facilities. Solich chuckled that there’s more work to be done. He thought it looked pretty good with the phase they’re working on now. Solich joked the new nine-figure football facility is a far cry from the “weight room nobody used” in the end zone during Solich’s playing days.
Solich, who now lives in Boise near his son, arrived mid-week and is staying with his daughter, who still lives in Lincoln. Pam, Frank’s longtime wife, arrived days earlier to make a birthday party. Frank lagged behind, as he attended last week’s Ohio Spring Game. He met former players and coaches at a golf outing while in Athens—not entirely dissimilar to what he’ll do while in Lincoln.
The three-time conference coach of the year and 1999 National Coach of the Year was asked about the curse. Nebraska hasn’t won a conference championship since that 1999 season. The Huskers haven’t played for a National Championship since Solich led the team against Miami in the Rose Bowl to culminate the 2001 season. That was the last time Nebraska won more than 10 games in a season. Could there be an actual curse within the cemented confines on Memorial Drive?
“There’s not a curse that’s been put on by any of my family members, that I know or else there would be a few more people in trouble,” Solich laughed. Then he shrugged it off. But, just to be safe, he threw his arms out to the side. “Let’s just say it’s gone now if there’s ever been one.”