Honoring Mediocrity

27 Jan

Recently, the Lincoln Journal-Star’s Steven M. Sipple sat down with Nebraska Athletics Director Tom Osborne and asked a bunch of questions, including one that many people have asked over the years:

Will Nebraska ever formally recognize and honor former head coach Frank Solich?

It appears likely.

And I think that is a bad decision.

Look, I get it.  There is a lot of love in this state for Frank Solich.  He was a beloved player for Bob Devaney, practically inventing the role of the undersized, yet scrappy fullback who could pop off a big run.  He was the first Husker to rush for 200 yards in a game, and was an All-Conference pick.  He was a respected high school coach at Lincoln Southeast before moving up to Nebraska.  As Running Backs coach under Osborne, Solich played a key part in Nebraska having a dominant offense and being one of the best rushing teams in the nation.  When Osborne retired, Solich was his hand-picked successor (and the obvious choice for the job).  As head coach, he compiled a 58-19 record with a conference championship and an appearance in the 2001 National Championship game.

The 2002 season was a down year – NU ended up 7-7, losing in the lowly Independence Bowl.  After several of Solich’s assistants (who had been on the staff for years) “retired”, Solich hired several new coaches (including current head coach Bo Pelini).  The 2003 season was better – NU went 9-3 (with those three losses coming by an average of 23 points) – but new Athletic Director Steve Pedersen fired Solich before the bowl game.

Yeah, I get it – everybody loves Frank.  Even me – I greatly appreciate his positive achievements.  The 2001 game against Oklahoma was one of the greatest I’ve seen (and I’ve witnessed a bunch) and Solich gets full credit for the iconic trick play that helped to decide that game.

But I’m not on board with Frank Solich Day at Memorial Stadium.  Why?  Well, under Frank:

  • The 9-win season streak (dating back to 1969) was snapped.
  • Recruiting lapsed and the quality of talent declined.
  • He allowed the “old guard” coaches to get complacent.
  • He had several ugly, lopsided losses.

But yet, to many Husker fans, Solich deserves his day in the sun.  Or at least that’s what they’ll tell you.

Personally, I think a large part of the Honor Frank movement doesn’t have as much to do with who Frank is, as it does with who he isn’t – namely, Frank Solich is not Steve Pedersen nor is he Bill Callahan.

Steve Pedersen was, by almost all accounts, a complete train wreck during his Nebraska tenure alienating coaches, staff, and fans.  His decision to fire Solich was widely questioned, and the ensuing coaching search – covering 40 days and rejections from multiple coaches (like Houston Nutt) – was an embarrassing fiasco.  Worst of all was his decision to hire Bill Callahan.

Callahan was a failed NFL coach who had zero respect for Nebraska’s cherished traditions, legendary coaches, and most of all, Nebraska’s loyal and passionate fans.  Callahan, with Pedersen’s enabling, did more to tarnish and destroy the hallowed legacy of Nebraska Football than anything Frank Solich ever did – even Solich’s 62-36 loss to hated Colorado.

Under Solich, the proud Husker program fell into decline – like a beautiful old house that is showing wear and tear because the owner can’t keep up with the necessary maintenance.  Under Callahan, that old house was knocked to the ground for five-star, West Coast luxury condos.

So we should honor Solich for allowing the neglect to happen in the first place?

Let’s be honest – in a perfect world, Pedersen and Callahan would come back for a game and we could spend the entire halftime booing and publicly shaming them before the #1 ranked Huskers resume their domination of another Top 10 team.  But since that is never going to happen, we want the next best thing – a five minute standing ovation for a guy who was a good (but not great) player, a top (and loyal) assistant coach, and a head coach better suited for the MAC than the Big XII.

I’m not saying that Frank Solich is not worthy of recognition, honor, and ovation from the Husker faithful, I’m really not.  What I am saying is that there are other coaches who have similar (or better) cases.

Here is a fun guessing game.  Name the former Nebraska coach who:

  • Was a loyal, longtime assistant coach
  • Took over for the most successful coach in the program’s history.
  • Early on, maintained the program’s level of success.
  • Had his best season coaching one the program’s all time great players
  • Suffered some high-profile losses in big games
  • Was not able to consistently recruit the caliber of athletes his predecessor did
  • After a bad season, reconfigured his coaching staff, but only got one year with that staff.
  • Was let go by the A.D., who cited higher expectations for the program as one of the reasons.
  • Is generally regarded as a good person.

Can you guess who it is?  Even though it sounds almost identical to our boy Frankie, it’s not.

That’s right:  it is former Nebraska baseball head coach Mike Anderson.

While I do not own a crystal ball, I feel pretty safe in predicting that 10 years from there will not be a “Mike Anderson Appreciation Day” at Haymarket Park despite his contributions to Dave Van Horn’s success, and coaching one of Nebraska’s best teams ever.

Maybe I should hold out for the “We Love You, Danny Nee” day at the Devaney Center.  I could easily make a case that Nee meant more to Husker basketball than Solich did to Husker football.  Probably not going to happen either.

One final question:  For the sake of argument, let’s say that Pedersen and Callahan’s plan worked:  Nebraska becomes a midwestern USC, with 5 star talent at every position.  The West Coast Offense is an unstoppable juggernaut with Heisman candidate QBs leading a run of conference championships and BCS appearances to rival Tom Osborne’s best years.

Would you still want Frank Solich to be honored at halftime?

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