Osborne 'hurting' after successor fired

Updated: December 9, 2003, 3:14 AM ET
Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. -- Nebraska coaching great Tom Osborne ended his silence on Frank Solich's firing, saying he was sad to see his longtime friend dismissed.

Osborne refused to second-guess athletic director Steve Pederson's decision.

"Steve's the AD, and it's his program," Osborne, the state's 3rd District congressman, said Monday during a conference call with reporters.

Osborne, who won 255 games and three national championships during his run as head coach from 1973 to 1997, said he was caught off-guard by the decision to fire Solich.

"I've been hurting a little bit the last week because of personal sorrow," he said.

Solich was fired Nov. 29, the day after the Cornhuskers finished a 9-3 regular season.

Osborne was out of the country on personal travel until Monday and had not commented publicly on the firing of Solich, who was his hand-picked successor.

Osborne said Solich's problems stemmed from the team's 7-7 season in 2002 -- the program's worst year since 1961.

Osborne said Nebraska's run of nine-win seasons from 1969 through 2001 made a .500 record intolerable to fans and, in turn, increased pressure on Solich.

In firing Solich, Pederson had said he expected the Huskers to be in contention for the national championship every year.

"Maybe 7-7 came off as a stark contrast," Osborne said. "If you look at football around the country, to get by 41 years without a losing season and one 7-7 season is really pretty remarkable. We maybe have painted ourselves into a little bit of a corner where expectations are awfully high."

Osborne said Pederson never consulted with him before firing Solich. He said he spoke briefly on the phone with Pederson on Sunday.

"I would have liked to have talked to him face-to-face, but we had a good conversation, and I'm absolutely convinced that whatever Steve does, he does with the best possible intentions in mind," Osborne said.

He said the firing would not strain his relationship with Pederson, whom Osborne hired as Nebraska's recruiting coordinator in 1982.

"I'm very supportive of Nebraska football, whoever is involved in it," Osborne said. "I don't get involved in personal animosity toward anyone. Nobody knows better than I how difficult it is, whether in an administrative role or coaching role."

Osborne said he still will allow Pederson to name the proposed $40 million athletic building the Tom and Nancy Osborne Athletic Complex.

"It was something Steve wanted to do, and I appreciated his kindness in thinking of us," Osborne said.

Osborne said he did not suggest to Pederson a replacement for Solich.

"I don't think that's really my role," Osborne said. "I'm, I guess, what you call a has-been. I'm not in the game. I'm very much arm-length at this point."

But Osborne said it's important for a new coach to be named quickly so harm isn't done to recruiting.

He said he was not interested in returning to coaching.

"I've got my hands full right here," said Osborne, 66. "It's one of those things where you never go back. I'm probably at an age where they need someone who can go in there and spend 15, 20 years. I hope they get somebody good, somebody who survives and does well."

Solich was an assistant to Osborne for 19 years before becoming head coach. Osborne said Solich was a good recruiter and administrator and a man of high integrity.

Osborne said he has spoken with Solich twice since the firing. He told Solich that he wishes him well.

After the 2002 season, Solich replaced six assistants, all of whom had coached under Osborne as well.

"I'm sure a year ago Frank didn't want to let coaches go, and I'm sure this year Steve Pederson didn't want to let Frank go, but in both cases they probably felt they were doing what needed to be done," Osborne said. "I'm sorry this is the way the thing has played out."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press