Frank Solich inherited a program that didn’t have a true weight room, meeting rooms or even offices for its coaches. That was 2005.
In 2018, Solich leads the Mid-American Conference favorites. He’s turned Ohio into the most consistent team in the division, and on Saturday night, Solich won his 100th game as an Ohio Bobcat.
He’s turned the program around drastically in the past 14 years with MAC Championship Game and bowl game appearances, both of which were afterthoughts for most of Ohio’s football history.
So on Saturday at Kent State, after he celebrated the 27-26 victory and was given the game ball, it didn’t take much for him to muster a smile at Dix Stadium’s south end zone.
“(I) feel good that the program has accomplished what it’s accomplished in the last 14 years,” he said. “The thing that bothers me the most that I think we could’ve gotten to 100 sooner. We made it, and we got there.”
Back in Athens on Monday, Solich was asked a flurry of questions about the response from family, friends, peers and former players. It’s all well-deserved and he appreciates it, but Solich said he’s been most humbled by the response from coaches around the NCAA.
It’s those who understand how miraculous the 100-win mark is; he joins a club of two Bobcats who have also won 100 games — Don Peden and Bill Hess. Ohio’s stadium bears Peden’s namesake, while Hess is the last coach to bring home a MAC championship in 1968.
Neither reached 100 wins faster than Frank Solich.
It all started fast, too. In the first nationally televised game at Peden Stadium on Sept. 9, 2005, Solich led the Bobcats to a 16-10 win over then-No. 23 Pittsburgh under the lights.
Fans stormed the field, Ohio was in the spotlight and the Solich era officially began.
Since then, the program has taken off, and Solich is now a living legend. He’s turned a backwater football program into one of the most consistent teams in the country. He’s turned Ohio University into a football school.
“I thought we’d win and win right away,” Solich said. “I had confidence in getting that done. Being here as long as I’ve been here, the years have just gone by. I’ve always been the kind of guy that if I like where I’m at, then hey, I love it.”
It seems that all his former players refer to Solich as “coach.” He’s “coach” because he’s the one players can rely on for everything — a kick in the butt to improve on the field, in the classroom or in life. He always watches out for his players. There’s a reason why he almost never talks about himself in public. It’s because he usually finds ways to talk about everyone else.
One of his biggest beliefs is that Ohio is constantly improving. He said multiple times last season that his program hadn’t truly found its groove across the board — on the field, recruiting and in the classroom — until the past few years.
The main reasons the Bobcats have resurged in the past few seasons is because of the success from 2010 to 2013. Solich had the best quarterback in program history — Tyler Tettleton — who led the Bobcats to achievements, such as their first bowl win, a monumental win at Penn State in 2012, a top-25 ranking and the closest Solich’s ever gotten to a MAC title — a 23-20 loss in the 2011 MAC Championship Game.
But through all those memories, it’s not the wins that Tettleton remembers the most.
“I just remember his smile all the time,” Tettleton said to The Post last year. “He was one of those guys that, while he provides a lot of energy and demanded a lot from everybody, at the same time he was able to balance that with a personality of being happy. Just thankful for being in the position that he was in. You could always just tell that he loved what he was doing, even at the age that he was at.”
Now in 2018, a lot has changed.
On Monday, the Bobcats practiced in Walter Fieldhouse after their Saturday win. The fieldhouse was constructed in 2014 and would’ve been an afterthought if not for Solich.
He currently leads a team that was picked to win the MAC East and the conference as a whole. It’s been 50 years since that last championship, and it’s the last thing missing from Solich’s checklist. But he’s done so much that championship or not, his legacy won’t be diminished.
When former Ohio President Roderick McDavis hired Solich, he handed the keys to Ohio’s football program to a man who had recently coached a Heisman Trophy winner and led a college football power to the cusp of a national championship.
McDavis wanted Solich to make the football program the billboard of the university. He wanted Solich to reinvent football at Ohio, something students and alumni could be proud of. Something everyone could see to welcome them to Ohio.
McDavis retired two years ago. He only had to hire one coach during his 13 years in Athens, and he picked one who forever changed the trajectory of Ohio football.
But 100 wins won’t cut it for Solich. He’s gunning to win 101, and he’s hunting for the championship that’s somehow eluded him for 13 seasons.