Note: This story appears in the Sunday, July 28 newspaper on Page B1.
DETROIT — For a full decade, Frank Solich has been more than the head coach of the Ohio University football team.
He’s also been the example to follow for every other struggling program in the Mid-American Conference.
Don’t take my word for it. MAC Commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher said as much just this week. Steinbrecher, as the leader for the conference since 2009, said most new coaches in the MAC he’s talked to over the last 10 years has brought up Solich and Ohio as the model.
“Almost to a person (they) would talk about the person they tried to model themselves after was what Frank was doing at Ohio,” said Steinbrecher on Tuesday during MAC Media Day.
“(Solich) has been just a rock of stability,” the commissioner continued. “He is one of the great things in college football.”
Steinbrecher, who got his Master’s from Ohio in 1984, is familiar with Ohio’s football history. The program had just two winning seasons in the 22 years before Solich’s hire.
“He completely transformed it. He transformed Ohio Football.”
Set to enter his 15th season with the Bobcats — Ohio players report for the start of fall camp on Thursday, Aug. 1 — Solich will soon become more than the model. He’ll also become the conference leader in coaching victories.
Solich is 106-75 in 14 years with Ohio. He needs two wins to tie Ohio legend Bill Hess (108 wins, 1957-77) for second in MAC history. With five wins in 2019, Solich will pass Central Michigan’s Herb Deromedi (110-55-10, 1978-1993) for the top spot in conference history.
Ohio’s Don Peden owns the program’s all-time wins mark with 121, set from 1924 to 1946.
Ohio University thought it made a home run hire back in 2004 when it brought Solich to Athens. The ensuing years have only strengthened that first impression.
Solich has the program on its best footing in the modern era. Despite being the oldest head coach in all of FBS — Solich will turn 75 early in the 2019 season — the Bobcats have become one of the MAC’s best programs year after year.
“He’s the Mount Rushmore of coaching,” said Toledo head coach Jason Candle. “He’s obviously still very passionate about what he does, he’s doing it for the right reasons, he’s doing the right way.
“It’s been impressive. I’m not doing it that long, let’s put it that way.”
Solich’s 15 years with Ohio is tied for the fourth-longest current tenure with one program in the country. Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy is set to enter year No. 15, while Utah’s Kyle Whittingham (16th year), TCU’s Gary Patterson (20) and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (21) have been in their current positions slightly longer.
When you add in Solich’s six years as the head coach at Nebraska, the numbers are no less impressive. With 21 years as an FBS head coach, Solich is tied with Ferentz and trails only North Carolina’s Mack Brown (30 years) and Alabama’s Nick Saban as head coaches with the most years of experience.
Solich’s overall record of 164-94 as a head coach leaves him fourth among all active FBS head coaches in career wins. Patterson (167), Saban (237) and Brown (238) leave Ohio’s head coach in select company.
Ohio, the unanimous pick to win the MAC East in 2019, should better the five-win mark this season. It will nudge Solich ahead of Deromedi possibly in late October.
Solich said he wasn’t aware of the record until about a month ago. He posed for some pictures with Deromedi at Media Day, and he downplayed the potential achievement.
“First of all, if you’re somewhere a fair amount of time you’re going to win some games,” Solich said. “I’ve been in the MAC going on a 15th year, I should have some wins piled up.”
Deromedi coached at CMU for 16 seasons, and his overall winning percentage of .629 is still higher than Solich’s (.586). Deromedi worked with primarily 11-game seasons — Solich has had 12-game regular seasons the bulk of his time at Ohio — and Deromedi had nine conference games each year compared to the current eight-game MAC setup.
That leaves Deromedi with 90 MAC victories compared to Solich’s 70. Hess, meanwhile, finished with 80 MAC wins.
Getting the record has trickled down to at least some of the players on the roster. They’re aware how close their head coach is to becoming the MAC’s all-time wins leader.
“It’s going to be really awesome to be a part of the team to help him break that,” said senior quarterback Nathan Rourke.
Rourke added that it’s easy to gear up to try to get the record for Solich, who has been as no-nonsense with his players as his reputation led him to believe.
“He’s such a genuine person. You appreciate that in today’s age when people are kind of just dressing things up, trying to sell you on things,” Rourke said. “He’s not about that.
“He’s just about what’s best for this team, what’s best for this program, what’s best for this community. That’s easy to appreciate.”
It’s not inconceivable that Solich continues to coach at Ohio long enough to catch both Hess and Deromedi in MAC victories, and pass up the legendary Peden for the program record. He needs 21 MAC wins to own the conference record for conference-only wins, and just 16 overall wins to pass Peden.
And while the records are nice, Solich is motivated by more than a note. He still feels the Bobcats have more to prove, more to do.
Sure, he’ll be pumped when win No. 111 happens. But there’s bigger goals out there.
“We’ve had success, something we’re proud of,” Solich said.
“But we want to go beyond that now. We want to take another step or two. We want to win MAC Championships, we want to get into the Top 25,” he continued.
“Those are still goals there for us. We’re going to try to take a step with this football team in getting some of that accomplished this year.”