|As time winded down during Ohio’s 35-17 victory over Temple Friday afternoon, some players snuck back to the Gatorade coolers to engage in the all-too familiar football tradition. They grabbed the bucket and waited for just the right moment.
Everybody knew what was coming.
They crept through the mass of players on the sideline and found their head coach roaming the sidelines. The team crowded in toward Frank Solich and celebrated as the water dumped on his head.
The embrace of their coach was impossible to miss.
Seniors hugged Solich and rejoiced as they had solidified their spot as one of the most successful groups to ever play for Ohio.
Defeating Temple gave Ohio its second Mid-American Conference East-Division title in four years, and the Bobcats will advance to the MAC Championship game in Detroit Friday night and also receive another bowl bid.
That kind of success is foreign to the football program, which had gone 38 years between bowl games before Solich arrived. This time, Ohio had to wait just two years between going bowling.
In his fifth season as Ohio’s coach, Solich lived up to his reputation. This was his system. His recruits. His game plans. Now, this group of seniors — all Solich’s recruits — will leave Ohio with the most wins since the class of 1963.
“I’m as proud of these guys as I’ve ever been of any team that I’ve been associated with,” Solich said after Friday’s win.
That is no small praise from someone who has coached on national championship teams.
This year’s class of seniors is certainly a special group. Players like Theo Scott, Patrick Tafua, Lee Renfro and Taylor Price have all helped Ohio go from the cellar of the MAC to a championship contender. The win over Temple showed how far the football program has come in the last four years, and also proved the Bobcats have quietly become a program on the rise.
All of that starts at the top.
This season was key for Solich, who had enjoyed only moderate success in his first four years at the helm of the football program. Prior to this season, his tenure had not been an outright disappointment, but just inconsistent.
This year, with all the pieces in place, Solich delivered.
At times, Solich is an easy target. His $400,000 salary, which ranks second at the university only to President Roderick McDavis, and his drunken-driving arrest in 2005, gave people reason to criticize. Then last year’s disappointing 4-8 record had some questioning whether Solich had lived up to his resume.
So much for all that talk.
Five years into the job, Solich has proved his worth. The Bobcats’ success shows that the 2006 MAC-East title was no fluke. Maybe last year’s season was the fluke.
Of course people will still find reasons to criticize. The cost of sending the football team to two extra games will be tremendous, and Solich will receive a handsome bonus for winning the MAC-East title and making a bowl game. At a time when the university is facing a big deficit and planning further budget cuts, no extra costs are welcomed with open arms.
In many ways, Solich has become the figurehead of athletics during the current debate among students, faculty and administrators about spending on sports.
But that is the nature of college football. If Ohio wants to have a football program and compete in the MAC, then that spending is necessary. Solich gets paid the kind of money a coach with his reputation deserves, and during his time in the MAC, he has been one of the most successful coaches in the league.
That is exactly what the university wanted when it brought Solich to Athens. Success. Prestige. Championships.
The victories that seemed few and far between for the Bobcats have become expected, and Solich has changed the losing culture of Ohio football.
With another division title and birth to a bowl game, Solich has proved after all, that he really is as good as advertised.