Frank Solich seemed uncomfortable when asked how he would feel about his name adorning some part of Peden Stadium in the future.
Peden Stadium, home of the Ohio University football team, is named after legendary coach Don Peden. He won 121 games coaching the Bobcats from 1924 through 1946.
How does Solich Field at Peden Stadium sound?
“I’ve never been much, I don’t know, for recognition I guess,” Solich said. “I never really need it, recognition. I’m pretty comfortable knowing that I’m a good coach. So don’t really have to have reminders of that displayed around. So my first instinct is kind of back away from that type of thing.”
Solich might not get his way on this one. Whether a decision is made to name the field at Peden Stadium after him, or to rename a street outside of Peden in his honor, surely a major accolade is coming his way.
Solich announced his retirement from coaching on Wednesday, after 55 seasons. He spend the last 16 seasons with the Bobcats, going 115-82. Health reasons were the cause, as Solich said he has a rare cardiovascular situation he is dealing with.
Solich seemed destined to pass Don Peden and become the program’s all-time wins leader had it not been for the COVID shortened 2020 season, and now health issues forcing Solich to step aside.
What Solich accomplished at Ohio is nothing short of remarkable. The program only had two winning seasons between 1983 and 2004 when Solich was brought in for the 2005 season.
The Bobcats had struggled for so long, it was hard at first to wrap your head around Solich coming to Athens. He coached at Nebraska as an assistant for years, eventually replacing Tom Osborne in 1998.
Solich coached Nebraska in the BCS National Championship game in 2001. He was a nationally-known coach who was taking a big chance coming to Ohio.
The marriage between Solich and Athens will be a hard one to top. After going 4-7 in his first season, Solich led Ohio to a bowl game and a Mid-American Conference East Division title in 2006.
Ohio hasn’t had a losing season since 2008, and has played in 11 bowl games — winning four — under Solich.
It’s a run of success that would have been hard to envision for those around the program before Solich. The Bobcats went 11-35 in four seasons with Brian Knorr as the head coach as the program tried to evolve from the triple-option days of the 1990s.
Solich said on Wednesday that the rebuilding project was what attracted him to Athens. And it wasn’t just with the players on the field, it was with the facilities surrounding Peden Stadium.
The Walter Fieldhouse allowed Ohio to finally have an indoor facility to practice in, while the Sook Academic Center was another boost to the athletic program.
“A lot of other projects like the weight room, we’ve got a great weight room right now,” Solich said. “It wasn’t all that great when we showed up. There was a lot of work to do. To be very honest with you, I had some support from people outside of Ohio. People with Nebraska connections that followed me here and really helped with some donations and helping get things done like the training room fixed up.”
There is no question the program is in better shape today than in 2005, not only in reputation and wins and losses, but in the facilities that incoming recruits get to see first hand.
“We’re not in a facilities race with people, but we want to make sure that when a recruit does step on campus that he’s impressed by what we have here,” Solich said.
The Ohio football twitter account buzzed on Wednesday with highlights of some of Solich’s biggest wins. Perhaps the most dramatic was the 16-10, overtime win over Pitt in Solich’s home debut.
Dion Byrum returned an interception for a game-winning, OT score, and a sold out Friday night crowd at Peden Stadium stormed the field. As a senior that fall, I can recall the buzz and excitement for the football team on Court Street afterward was something I had never experienced on campus.
There were wins over rivals Marshall and Miami, as well as a win at Penn State to open the 2012 season.
The first bowl win in program history came after the 2011 season, with three more bowl wins to follow.
The only achievement missing was a MAC championship, as the program still searches for its first conference title since 1968.
Ohio was close under Solich, playing in the MAC title game in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2016.
Perhaps no defeat was more difficult than the loss to Northern Illinois in 2011, a game in which Ohio led most of the way before losing at the end.
“It’s very difficult to win MAC championships regardless of what sport you’re in,” Solich said. “We let a few of those slip away. I think we were in the MAC championship game four times and at least two of those were games that haunt me a little bit in not getting it done.”
Even without the elusive MAC title in hand, Solich’s tenure with the Bobcats exceeded any expectations fans could have had when he came to Athens nearly 17 years ago.
Prior to 2005, Bobcat fans could only dream of competing for MAC titles and appearances in bowl games. A .500 season would be cause for celebration.
The bar has been raised at Ohio. Winning seasons and bowl game appearances are expected and regular occurrences thanks to Solich and his staff.
As Solich talked about not wanting or needing recognition, he appeared to hint that something was in the works as he looked at Ohio Director of Athletics Julie Cromer.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Solich said. “We’re going to try and raise some money I’m sure. Julie’s talked to me a little about that, but we’re still arm wrestling on that one.”
Sorry coach, but that is one battle you might not win.
Solich Field? Frank Solich Way running alongside Peden Stadium?
It’s been 75 years since Don Peden coached the Bobcats, but every student, coach and player who comes through Athens knows the name attached to Ohio’s home stadium.
The same needs to be done for Frank Solich, so future generations of Bobcats know his contributions to Ohio University.
Kevin Wiseman is the sports editor at The Athens Messenger. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.