BOWLING GREEN – Frank Solich emerged from the locker room underneath the bleachers at Doyt L. Perry Stadium smiling, shivering and wet.
The 75-year-old coach had Gatorade stains on his hat, sweatshirt and khakis after he was doused by players in the final seconds of Ohio’s 66-24 win Tuesday night over Bowling Green. The win made Solich, who owns an 111-81 record with Ohio, the winningest coach in the history of the Mid-American Conference.
Solich never wanted to speak heavily about the personal achievement in the three weeks it took him to finally reach the record, previously held by former Central Michigan coach Herb Deromedi.
To Solich, who’s the oldest coach in NCAA Division I football, the record was merely an example of how far his coaches and players have taken the program in his 15-year tenure.
As he fought through emotions — and the below-freezing temperatures — Solich’s body shook and lips quivered as he echoed his thankfulness again.
“There have been a lot of great players over the years that have come through Ohio that have set the tradition to where we were able to recruit well and win football games,” he said. “The coaches have been tremendous. If you have that combination, you’re going to win a few football games.”
Ohio’s offensive fireworks Tuesday night allowed Solich to take his headset off and soak in the accomplishment well before the fourth quarter concluded.
His offense, led by arguably the best quarterback the program has ever had in senior Nathan Rourke, achieved the Bobcats’ highest scoring output since 1976. It bludgeoned the Falcons for 609 total offensive yards and ensured that Solich — who had been hanging on his 110th win for the previous two games — would finally break the record.
As time expired, Solich was drenched in blue Gatorade from Austen Pleasants, D.L. Knock and Cole Baker. He didn’t flinch. Instead, he smiled and slowly turned his head to the three seniors, all in hysterics.
After Solich received congratulations from Bowling Green coach Scot Loeffler, he was met by MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, who followed Solich into the locker room to deliver a speech and a ceremonial football.
Players erupted around him as Solich placed his hands on the ball and smiled.
“We’re so proud to be a part of what he’s accomplished,” Rourke said. “It was a very happy, jubilant locker room, and it was cool to be a part of.”
Of Solich’s 111 wins, none of them have came in the MAC Championship Game. That’s perhaps the biggest missing piece of the puzzle Solich has constructed, but never completed in his time at Ohio.
The Bobcats won’t solve that this season. They were officially eliminated from winning the MAC East Division and booking a trip to Detroit after suffering consecutive losses to Miami and Western Michigan.
Now, Ohio’s best possible hope is a 6-6 finish and a bowl game selection that won’t be guaranteed even if it defeats Akron on Nov. 26 in the regular season finale.
It could also be the last game for Solich, whose contract expires on Jan. 3, but he mentioned last week that he was “feeling good” about contract discussions.
Those talks will only intensify as the season nears a finish that will rank below the expectations Solich and Ohio had before the season.
But for now, the uncertainty can be put on a temporary hold. The Bobcats have the winningest coach in conference history in its program, and they may not want to lose him.
Solich has molded the Bobcats into one of the most consistent teams in the nation. Ohio has won four bowl games in 10 postseason appearances under Solich and has enjoyed its most successful period in program history. He’s had eight players selected in the NFL draft, and the Bobcats have become a frequent school for NFL teams seeking undrafted talent.
Maybe that history will be enough to bring him back.
“He’s had a lot of wins around here,” running back O’Shaan Allison said. “Everyone around the country will remember who he is.”
After his postgame interview ended, Solich was embraced by Julie Cromer, the new athletic director who will make the decision soon about Solich’s future.
On Tuesday, the gravity of what lies ahead didn’t matter.
The night was about Solich, who wouldn’t have wanted to build his storied career anywhere else.
“Certainly, this kind of…” Solich said before he paused, looked down and sniffled. “Fans ought to be patted on the back. The administration has been great to me. There’s been a lot of people involved in winning football games, and I appreciate everything people have done during my time at Ohio.
“It’s been as good as I could ever hope for.”