Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts Hopes Frank Solich’s Return Brings Unity

April 03, 2023

Frank Solich called Trev Alberts relentless. He’s persuasive, determined and persistent to accomplish his goals. And, for years, he wanted the old coach back.

Solich never felt comfortable coming back to Nebraska after what happened. It never really sat well with him and, after a decision not his two decades prior, he lived out a successful career. Alberts continuously floated the possibility. Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule, who crossed paths with Solich from their MAC days, lent his two cents. Former players shared their support. Alberts even mentioned the fans and their desire to see Solich again. Finally, the Hall of Fame coach that followed Tom Osborne agreed. Alberts announced on his monthly radio appearance last week that Nebraska will honor Solich and his family at the Red-White Game this month. That will be the first time Solich is recognized by the university and football program at a public event since he was fired in 2003.

“Really looking forward to Husker Nation honoring Frank and everything he’s done, as a player, as a coach,” Alberts said. “And also what he did after he left here. Frank is a College Football Hall of Famer in terms of what he accomplished as a coach. An incredible person. So yes, after a lot of work, we’re going to be very excited to honor Frank Solich at the Spring Game.”

Former Nebraska Athletic Director Steve Pederson fired Solich on November 30, 2003. It was the Sunday after beating Colorado, 31-22. Solich went 58-19 in his six seasons at Nebraska and those 58 wins were more than either Bob Devaney or Tom Osborne accomplished in their first six seasons at Nebraska. The Huskers played for one national championship in Solich’s time as head coach. But a 7-7 2002 season brought concern. Solich lost eight of nine games against ranked teams in his final two seasons at Nebraska. Three important losses—41-24 to Missouri, 31-7 to Texas and 38-9 to Kansas State (the worst home defeat in 45 years)—in 2003 sealed Solich’s fate. Famously, a group of angry players interrupted Pederson’s press conference hours after clinching an Alamo Bowl berth.

The former Nebraska fullback who coached running backs for Osborne from 1983 until he became head coach in 1998 sat out the 2004 college football season. Ohio hired him to take over its football program the following year. Ohio went 115-82 during Solich’s run there before retiring prior to the 2021 season. He was once MAC Coach of the Year and Ohio played for the MAC Championship four times. Nebraska is 133-106 in the 20 years since Solich’s firing. Despite his ties and history, he never came back to Lincoln in those two decades.

“It was a situation that it didn’t seem like it made sense for me to come back,” Solich told Lincoln radio last week. “To be honest with you, I didn’t feel comfortable.

“Trev has been relentless in inviting me back.”

Alberts thought Solich’s return would bring unity. He spoke on radio about watching the Husker fan base fracture into different camps and how, at least in part, Matt Rhule was hired for his ability to unite. Rhule’s happily welcomed former players to practices and the athletic offices since his hire. He was also aware of Alberts’ attempts to bring Solich back for the Spring Game. Rhule, who was the offensive coordinator at Temple while Solich coached Ohio, told Solich how much that would mean to him. The head coach already reached out to Solich, along with Osborne and Bo Pelini, to learn how to be a successful coach at Nebraska. Solich, knowing Rhule’s affinity for the fullback, texted Rhule when Michigan ran a fullback dive against TCU in the College Football Playoff.

“So I think it’s awesome he’s coming back,” Rhule said on Saturday. “That’s what this time is about for Nebraska. It’s not about the eras that we played in, it’s just about Nebraska.”

Solich’s return becomes the latest step toward a unified Nebraska. Large swaths of the fan base have rallied around Rhule and his staff. He’s trying to build a family atmosphere among the football program by bringing people together. Alberts took wisdom he learned from Osborne to rally Nebraska beyond the program.

“If there’s anything Coach Osborne was so good at communicating and made such an impact on me was the power of unity. And unity of purpose,” Alberts said. “We’d talk about how we may not be the most talented team but if we’re the most unified team. Its why team work is one of our core values. We don’t allow anyone to put their own personal self-interest ahead of the interest of the team.

“I’ve watched incredibly gifted teams accomplish very little. I’ve also watched marginally talented teams change the world because they were unified. And so I’ve just been really focused. We’re a small-population state. The only chance we have is if we have unity.”

Rhule’s met with many of Solich’s former players already, largely in the way of uniting former Huskers. Rhule wasn’t sure how many of them plan to attend the Spring Game but he anticipates many will. Nebraska’s new uniter told Solich he would love it if the former National Coach of the Year returned, but deferred any credit to Alberts. He respects Solich for his ability to adapt offense and morph it to fit the evolving landscape of college football. But that doesn’t mean as much as his character.

“Coach Solich and Coach Osborne, their impact and their legacy has nothing to do with the amount of wins and the national championships,” Rhule said. “It’s the way they coach their players. They proved you can win championships and develop really good men.”

Fans purchased around 45,000 tickets for the Spring Game before Alberts announced Solich’s return. Alberts teased another honor for Solich at the Spring Game. Although everything else is falling into place, Solich isn’t sure what to expect from the upcoming experience.

“I feel really good and comfortable about coming back,” he said. “Who knows how everyone will react? We’ll come and see.”

Meanwhile, that relentless athletic director is pushing that reaction a certain way.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make that weekend extraordinarily special for Frank and the entire family,” Alberts said. “Let’s get it sold out.”

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