No coach can fully understand what Bill O’Brien has gone through since being hired in January.
But there are a few who can shed some light on what it’s like to replace a successful coach. Solich, who will be opposing O’Brien Saturday, is one of those people.
Solich has been at Ohio since 2005, but he previously was the head coach at Nebraska, and took over in Lincoln for the legendary Tom Osborne in 1998. Osborne won three national championships in 25 years as the Cornhuskers head coach. Solich took over the Nebraska program in 1998 after spending 19 seasons as an assistant.
“I think maybe there are a few similarities in what we’ve both faced,” Solich said about him and O’Brien. “Obviously, he had more challenges than most any football coach that I can remember. The challenge of replacing a program with a tremendously successful coach prior to you is daunting.”
In six seasons at Nebraska, his alma mater, Solich went 58-19, went to two BCS bowls (though he lost both), was the 1999 and 2001 Big XII coach of the year, and coached Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch. But that wasn’t enough, and Solich was fired before Nebraska even played its bowl game in the 2003 season.
In his time at Ohio, Solich has completely turned around a Bobcat program that went 4-7 in the 2004 season. Solich has taken Ohio to three straight bowl games, and last season, the team earned a 10-4 record and the school’s first bowl win.
Solich said there are obvious differences between coaching at Ohio and Nebraska in regards to recruiting and facilities. But Solich said the Ohio administration has been very supportive of the football team.
The 67-year-old Solich has been able to get some talented players to come to Athens, Ohio and play for him. Among them is quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who threw for 3,302 yards and accounted for 38 total touchdowns last season.
Tettleton said Solich’s history and background were reasons he went to Ohio.
“His attitude and the person that he is really rubs off on this team,” Tettleton said. “That’s what we’re all about. We’re all about being physical and a tough football team, on and off the field.”
When Solich visits State College this weekend, he should feel familiar with his surroundings and not just because he has coached in Beaver Stadium before.
Solich is originally from the Johnstown area, and he said as a kid, he would go on fishing trips with his father in Paradise, a small town near Bellefonte.
Though Solich was a football fan and grew up near State College, he wasn’t a diehard Penn State fan. Solich moved to Cleveland in sixth grade and then started following Ohio State.
“I had a hard time following anything up until the sixth grade,” Solich said. “So, I knew about Penn State, followed it some, but that was the extent of it.”
During his time as Nebraska’s head coach, Solich did coach on the road against Penn State once. It was a game Solich may not want to remember.
In front of 110,753 fans in the bleachers — a Beaver Stadium record — Penn State outscored the Cornhuskers 40-7 on Sept. 14, 2002 . It was a crazy atmosphere that night, and Solich is anticipating it being loud again on Saturday.
“Their stadium can verberate sound to where it even makes it a little bit louder,” Solich told reporters at his weekly press conference. “But we’ve been practicing on that and we’ve been making sure that the real key in our mind is just how we handle everything.”