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On the day before his interview Solich drove into the city of 24,000 nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians. He steered his rental car along the cobblestone streets, past brick academic buildings with a hint of the Ivy League, past sweeping green lawns as well-manicured as any country club's. When he reached Peden Stadium on the banks of the Hocking River and looked at the sunlight bouncing off the stadium's redbrick facade, he was gripped by one thought: If I can just get players here to visit, I can do this.
Days later McDavis offered Solich the job. Before he said yes, Solich called three assistants who had coached with him at Nebraska—offensive coordinator Tim Albin, defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow and quarterbacks coach Gerry Gdowski—and asked them if they'd join him in Athens. In less than 45 minutes all three had signed on. Solich then told McDavis that he and his Lincoln gang were coming to Ohio. (All three assistants are with Solich today.)
"I was stunned when Frank got back to me so quickly and already had the core of his staff in place," McDavis says. "I knew then we had hired the right guy."
Solich immediately brought the Nebraska Way to Athens. He emphasized the walk-on program (which produced two of Saturday's starters), liberally redshirted (16 current Bobcats are in line for a redshirt), aggressively recruited players with high GPAs ("Smart guys get better," Solich says) and, more than anything, sought out young men in his image: tough. In a recent one-hour conversation Solich used the word tough more than a dozen times—an adjective often applied to him when, as a 153-pound fullback, he earned the nickname Flyin' Frankie.
Solich also pushed to renovate the facilities, which were among the worst in the MAC. "The meetings of the previous staff were held in the press box, and they had to put trash bags over the windows in order to see film," Solich says. "Things like that had to change immediately." And they did. The second level of Peden Stadium, which had housed a large parquet dance floor, was torn up and replaced by position meeting rooms and a team meeting room. The training facilities were expanded and the locker room refurbished to include a players' lounge. Some of the nearly $1 million cost was covered by Nebraskans who were longtime friends of Solich's. Next fall a new $12.5 million indoor practice facility will open its doors. "When we hired Frank, we got a coach who had name recognition and contacts around the country," says athletic director Jim Schaus. "Those contacts have been invaluable."
Especially in recruiting. Though the rosters at Ohio historically have been filled with in-state players, this year 54 Bobcats are from outside the Buckeye State, including a duo from Oklahoma that forms one of the top backfield combinations in the nation. How Tettleton and running back Beau Blankenship landed in Athens is instructive because it illustrates precisely how Solich—who has a 56--40 record at Ohio and recently signed a five-year contract extension through 2017—has forged a new Midwestern power.
In December 2009, Albin traveled to Norman to visit one of his former teammates at Northwestern Oklahoma State, Lance Manning, who was a high school coach at Norman North High. Albin was there to put the hard sell on Blankenship, who would eventually sign with Iowa State. But before Albin left, Manning told him, "I've got a quarterback you need to check out."
Albin met Tettleton, the son of former major league catcher Mickey Tettleton. Tyler had torn his right ACL before his junior year and missed that entire season. As a senior he threw for 1,947 yards, rushed for another 547 and accounted for 29 touchdowns, but by then most schools had already filled their recruiting needs at quarterback. His only FBS offer was from New Mexico State. "Just come and visit," Albin told Tettleton.
"It felt like home the minute I got to Athens," Tettleton recalls. "It turned out to be an easy decision."
As Tettleton settled in to life in southeastern Ohio—he redshirted his sophomore year—Blankenship was struggling in Ames. He had suffered several injuries as a freshman and, heading into his second year, was buried on the depth chart. A few days before classes started in 2010, he phoned Tettleton and told his friend from peewee football that he needed a fresh start. "Come here," Tettleton told Blankenship. "You'll love it."