OMAHA — If you’re a Nebraska football fan, or even a sports fan in general, it was a remarkable scene:
Tom Osborne and Frank Solich standing side by side in a hotel ballroom, smiling and reflecting on good times and even not-so-good times.
Solich on Wednesday night received the Tom Osborne Award for his contributions to college football. Both former Nebraska head coaches met with media before the annual Outland Trophy Dinner at the Double Tree Hotel.
Quinnen Williams of Alabama received the prestigious Outland Trophy, but Solich’s big night was largely the focus of media on hand. Solich hadn’t been involved in any Husker-related events since his dismissal as NU’s head coach following the 2003 season.
“I think it’s good for the Nebraska football program in general,” Osborne said of Solich being honored. “I think it’s good for the fans. I think a lot of the fans have felt uncomfortable with everything that happened with Frank. Maybe some of them will have some closure, and maybe Frank will have a little bit of closure.”
Osborne said for the past several years, he has spoken with Solich about once a month, and sometimes more.
“He never talks about what happened, but it had to be hurtful because there was no school that was more important to Frank than Nebraska,” said Osborne, who picked Solich to be his successor as the Nebraska head coach following the 1997 season.
Solich was 58-19 (.753) as Nebraska’s head coach and was fired following a 9-3 regular-season finish. He began his career as a full-time Husker assistant in 1979, working in that role right up to when he took over as head coach. Before his coaching career, he was an All-Big Eight fullback for the Huskers — captain of the 1965 team.
Regarding Solich’s work as Nebraska's head coach, Osborne noted the outstanding overall record and Big 12 championship team in 1999, among other accomplishments.
“I thought he did a good job,” Osborne said. “Naturally, there are always some changes, some adjustments you have to make when you change staffs and people get older.”
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Solich has spent the past 14 seasons as head coach at Ohio.
“I think what he’s accomplished there is remarkable,” Osborne said.
Barry Switzer and Bobby Bowden are among past winners of the Osborne Award.
“I think, for me, tonight is probably the most important because there are very few people who have accomplished as much in the world of football as Frank,” said Osborne, noting Solich recruited such Husker greats as Mike Rozier, Irving Fryar, Eric Crouch, Jason Peter and Christian Peter.
Rozier and Crouch won Heisman Trophies.
“He’s a great coach, and I’m just glad he consented to come back,” Osborne said. “He’s gotten to meet with so many former players and the fans. I think he certainly deserves something like this.”