Ohio University coach Frank Solich can understand the pressures facing Bill O’Brien this season.
Before he landed in the Mid- American Conference, Solich coached at Nebraska, where he replaced the legendary Tom Osborne in 1998.
To complicate matters, Osborne retired after some of his best seasons. Nebraska went 60-3 and won three national titles in Osborne’s final five seasons.
O’Brien is following Joe Paterno, who won 409 games in 46 seasons before being fired in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. The NCAA vacated 111 of Paterno’s victories last month as part of its major sanctions against Penn State.
The Nittany Lions were 8-1 before Paterno’s firing last November. Paterno guided Penn State to the 2009 Rose Bowl and 2006 Orange Bowl.
O’Brien begins his Penn State tenure Saturday against Solich’s Bobcats at Beaver Stadium.
“I think there are maybe a few similarities in what we both faced,” Solich said. “He’s got more challenges than most any football coach that I can remember. The challenge of replacing a tremendously successful coach prior to you is daunting. Tom Osborne had tremendous success, especially at the end that set the program’s expectations at the very top in the country.”
Solich served as an assistant under Osborne from 1979-1997. He went 58-19 in six seasons, a record that yielded a pink slip from athletic director Steve Pederson. Solich didn’t coach in 2004 before arriving at Ohio, where he has collected a 50-40 record and three MAC East titles through six seasons.
O’Brien has no Penn State ties or head coaching experience. His challenges have expanded because of the NCAA sanctions, which also include a four-year postseason ban, scholarship reductions and a transfer waiver that resulted in 11 players leaving the program this summer.
“I’m sure the expectations there are very much the same as they were when I took over at Nebraska,” Solich said. “There are some things that have transpired that obviously complicate things more.”
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy