In a rapidly changing college football landscape, Ohio has stayed consistent in its coaching staff.
Frank Solich, now in his 12th season at Ohio, is the fourth-longest tenured coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision and the longest in the Mid-American Conference.
Tim Albin and Jimmy Burrow, the respective offensive and defensive coordinators, have been with Solich in Athens since 2005 — making Ohio the only program in Football Bowl Subdivision with the same coach and coordinators for more than 10 seasons.
“We can basically finish each other’s sentences,” Albin, who doubles as the running backs coach, said earlier this season.
So if Ohio has the longest tenured coordinators, what’s the reasoning? Have the Bobcats plateaued as a program, or does the faith shown by the Athletic Department prove how successful this regime of coaches has been?
The answer is the latter.
Building a base
Solich was hired Dec. 7, 2004. His coordinators joined him Jan. 4, 2005 after coaching together at North Dakota State and Nebraska, the latter where Solich coached from 1998 to 2003. The group inherited a program at Ohio that only won 47 games in the previous 10 seasons.
“The thing that stuck out to me was when Coach called me to ask if I was interested in coming and said, ‘Let me tell you about the president,’ ” Albin said.
Roderick McDavis was named Ohio University’s president the previous July, and when he hired Solich, he promised the program would receive the resources necessary to transform the then-struggling team.
Film rooms and meeting rooms were renovated, as were facilities and more opportunities for summer scholarships for athletes — all amenities Albin said the previous Ohio coaching staffs didn’t have.
“He wanted the football program to be the front porch to the university,” he said of McDavis’ plan.
The Bobcats changed, and wins came, too.
Now approaching the sixth week of the 12th season, Ohio is 83-63 under Solich, an impressive turnaround for the program that’s now solidified as one of the best in the conference.
After going 4-7 the first season in 2005, the Bobcats went 9-5 the following season and played in the MAC championship game. The turnaround was the best in college football that season, and Solich was named the 2006 MAC Coach of the Year.
Since then, success has continued.
Ohio has won the MAC East Division three times — in 2006, 2009 and 2011 — and has appeared in three conference championship games. All three have resulted in losses.
But the trio has brought other forms of postseason success.
When Solich was named the coach in late 2004, receiving a bowl bid would have been an impressive accomplishment. Come 2016, that’s the minimum expectation for all football players in the program.
The Bobcats have had seven bowl appearances, including the first bowl win in Ohio history: a 24-23 rally over Utah State in the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
“The expectations have been greater every year, but that’s what we wanted,” Burrow, who also coaches the secondary, said.
“Our team now expects to win and that’s a big part of getting a program to the level that we hope to get at.”
Seeking changes with consistency
Now comfortable being competitive, Solich and his coordinators are uncomfortable with not achieving more success.
The simple question to ask with coaches in a position for so long is whether or not the program is actually progressing. It’s a question both Albin and Burrow think about constantly.
“We’re always looking for better ways to do things,” Solich said earlier this year. “I’m not one to think I’ve got all the answers. I’m always searching, our coordinators are always searching.”
Both the offense and defense have altered their schemes over time to stay modern with current college football techniques, in addition to molding to the roster’s strengths.
The defense uses a 4-3 base formation that Burrow learned while playing at Nebraska in the ’70s under Monte Kiffin, his defensive coordinator at the time. It’s the most used system in football today.
Offensively, Albin started with an option offense that’s still run-heavy, but has evolved into a multiple, spread scheme.
A multiple offense means there are multiple formations containing running and passing plays out of complicated sets — designed to confuse a defense.
Lately, the Bobcats have included more run, pass, option plays than ever before. When quarterback Greg Windham lines up the offense, he’s given more flexibility to pass, hand the ball or keep it than any quarterback Ohio has utilized, Solich said.
Off the gridiron
Twelve years is a long time, especially in a coaching position.
Offers have come up, even within the MAC, but both coordinators have stayed in Athens.
“It probably says quite a bit about a lot of things,” Solich said of keeping the same company. “We know each other’s personalities really well. Jimmy and Tim are two guys that I’ve known forever it seems like and we know each other’s personalities.”
Arguments have come, but they are solved quickly — which is especially important for Albin and Burrow, who are adjacent neighbors.
Both said Athens has been an integral part of their families.
Joe, Burrow’s son, started playing football in third grade and went on to be the quarterback at Athens High School at the state championship before enrolling at Ohio State.
“All those relations make it hard to leave,” Burrow said. “We were comfortable here and the quality of life here is awesome, so we made a decision at some point during the time we’re here that we were just going to be here.
His wife, Robin, is the principal of Eastern Local Elementary.
As for Albin, his daughter Brooke recently graduated from Athens High School and his son Treyce currently plays for the Bulldogs.
“Athens has been great here,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities to leave and we have not because of the community. The football stuff here, I do it for a loving, not a living. I guarantee I don’t do it for the wins. … My boyhood feelings are thriving.”
The only thing missing, though, is synonymous with all three coaches.
“We’re still trying to get that MAC championship and get it done,” Burrow said. “There’s still that drive that was there 12 years ago.”