It has been almost twenty years since Frank Solich was dismissed from the Cornhusker program as its head coach. And with his departure, the Nebraska football team lost a lot of the success it built up during his tenure. But it seems that this narrative is about to change. On April 22nd, the former head coach will be welcomed back into Lincoln with his family for the spring game. But why did he get fired in the first place?
Honoring a Husker legend.
— Nebraska Football (@HuskerFootball) March 29, 2023
Solich’s Playing Days With The Cornhuskers
As a 5-8 fullback out of Pennsylvania, you wouldn’t think that Frank Solich would have any impact on a football field. But don’t let his size fool you. In 1964, he rushed for 444 total yards as a junior. In his last season with the team in 1965, he would cement himself as an All-Big Eight selection for the Cornhuskers when he would rush for 580 yards. Because of this effort, NU would complete the regular season with a 10-1 record along with a bid for the national championship. However, the Huskers were not able to stop Alabama. Bear Bryant and the Crimson Tide would pull out a victory over the Huskers in the Orange Bowl, 39-28.
Getting His Start With NU’s Running Backs
In the aftermath of his playing career, Solich found immediate success with the Cornhuskers coaching freshman under Tom Osborne. It was an era when junior varsity teams competed at the college level. Nebraska’s roster was made entirely of freshmen. In 1979, Solich led the Cornhuskers to a 4-1 record, with his only loss coming against Missouri. However, he truly wouldn’t break out until he started coaching NU’s running backs. In nine of Solich’s 15 seasons with the Big Red, they led the nation in rushing by finishing in the top four yearly.
He also had tremendous success in developing the talent that he had on the roster. Nebraska would go 12-1 in 1983. However, the Cornhuskers weren’t done yet that season. In only twelve games, he helped senior running back Mike Rozier rush for 2,148 yards and 29 touchdowns. This effort not only won Rozier the Heisman Trophy, but he also surpassed ex-Husker Johnny Rodgers’ previous rushing mark of 2,011 yards in 1972.
Ken Clark’s Record-Breaking Season In The Big Eight
The Husker program in the 1980s was filled with stars at the running back position. Not only did Rozier win the Heisman, but there were several other legendary backs who came through the Cornhusker program under Solich’s guidance. This started with Ken Clark and his rushing performance of 1,497 yards in the 1988 season. His achievement garnered him the fifth-best single-season rushing total in Nebraska football history. But he didn’t stop there. In fact, Clark finished his career with a total of 3,100 yards. This effort vaulted him into Husker history as sixth place all-time in Nebraska’s illustrious rushing history.
The Team To Beat in The 1990’s
At the close of the previous decade, Solich proved himself a leading figure on the gridiron as a member of Tom Osborne’s staff. His offense would go on to reach greater heights under Lawrence Phillips. In his sophomore season for the Cornhuskers in 1994, Phillips would rush for 1,700 yards and lead NU to its first national championship. He went through numerous off-the-field issues in 1995. But he was back in 1996. In the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, he was part of an offense that rushed for 584 yards. At the same time Solich was coaching Phillips, he would mentor another back in Ahman Green. Green became a factor on the 1997 team. En route to Nebraska’s third championship, Green would rush for 1,877 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Eric Crouch’s Achievements
Fresh off of three national championship wins in a decade, the Cornhuskers were a force to be reckoned with in the 1990s. But changes came first. Tom Osborne saw fit to retire as head coach after the 1997 season. He handpicked Solich to take over the program. The decision would result in an offense that repeatedly ranked in the top 10 nationally in the Solich era. He would also help kickstart quarterback Eric Crouch’s career. In 2001 he became the career record holder for total offense in a season with 7,915 yards along with nabbing a Big 12 record for quarterback rushing yards with 3,434. He became a magnet for awards. This was demonstrated when he won the Heisman Trophy along with the Davey O’Brien quarterback award.
Breaking The Curse
When Solich was dismissed from the program in 2003, he finished with a career record of 58-19 and a 9-win season. But then-athletic director Steve Pederson didn’t buy it. In fact, he was convinced that this record meant that Nebraska had lost its momentum in the national landscape. But since that firing, Nebraska has been through four head coaches in the last 20 years, before finally landing on Matt Rhule starting this season. Only Bo Pellini, (2008 -2014), came close to Solich’s success. The last 20 years became known as The Curse for what Nebraska fans had to endure, post-Solich.
When he is honored at the Spring scrimmage, it will be the first time he has been back on campus since his firing 20 years ago. The event is being seen as an effort to heal a fractured program. It came at the behest of Rhule. Time will tell if the old wounds can be healed and the football program can move forward.
Read more about Matt Rhule here: https://lastwordonsports.com/collegefootball/2023/02/14/nebraska-spring-update-matt-rhules-first-two-months/
Main Image courtesy United Press International