When Pitt faces the Ohio Bobcats on Saturday, it will mark a return to western Pennsylvania for Ohio head coach and Johnstown native Frank Solich.
Solich currently has the fourth most wins (165) among active FBS coaches. Following Ohio’s win over Rhode Island last week, Solich returns to western Pennsylvania just four wins shy of becoming the winningest coach in the history of the Mid-American Conference.
Prior to Solich’s tenure, the Bobcats had never won a bowl game. Since his hiring in 2005, they’ve won four. He was MAC Coach of the Year in 2006.
The son of a coal miner, Solich spent much of his childhood in Robindale, which was destroyed by the 1977 Johnstown flood. His family moved to Cleveland when Solich was in the seventh grade, and he became at star tailback at Holy Name high school before landing at the University of Nebraska.
Following college, Solich coached high school football for 13 years before returning to Nebraska, where he spent the next 19 years as an assistant. When legendary Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne retired following the 1997 season, he named Solich as his successor. Solich was fired after the 2003 season, despite the Cornhuskers finishing with a 9-3 record.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi has great respect for Solich – and he’s still in disbelief that Nebraska fired the long-time coach.
“Frank Solich is a legend. He's a legend, from his years back at Nebraska. The guy has had a great football team – even when he got let go at Nebraska,” Narduzzi said at his weekly press conference on Monday.
“Probably one of the biggest mistakes in Nebraska history is letting Frank Solich go. I'm still pissed about it. He was a legend there. I don't know if it was eight or nine wins when they let him go that one year. I don't know if they expected to win 12.”
The man who fired Solich at Nebraska has ties to Pitt as well. Former Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson held the same position at Nebraska in 2003 when he terminated Solich, despite the coach amassing 58 wins in his first six seasons as head coach of the Cornhuskers – three more wins than Hall of Fame coach Osborne had in his first six seasons. Solich was Big 12 Coach of the Year in 1999 and 2001.
After a season away from college football, Solich was hired as the head coach at Ohio in 2005. Solich’s first win at Ohio came against Pitt, when the Bobcats stunned the Panthers when Dion Byrum returned a Tyler Palko interception 80 yards for a touchdown to give Ohio a 16-10 overtime victory in Athens.
“That’s so long ago it’s not even in my mind, to be very honest with you,” Solich said in his Monday conference call with the media. “But obviously, it was huge for us at Ohio to try to establish our program some and get off to a great start. The tradition that Pittsburgh has, and the type of teams they’ve had over the years, there’s great respect for the program there across the country.
“At the moment, it was big for us.”
Another big moment in Solich’s tenure at Ohio came in 2012, when the Bobcats upset Penn State 24-14 at Beaver Stadium.
Now Solich will try to get another big win over a Power Five team when the Bobcats visit Heinz Field on Saturday.
“We know we got more than our hands full in trying to get something done against these guys and so we’ll do the best we can,” Solich said.
“Obviously, we’re looking forward to the game as I know they are and we’ll see what transpires.”