I remember a game I was watching between Florida State and a team I can't recall. The only reason I remember this particular instance was because that during this game, as Florida State was on defense, there was Bobby Bowden, giving an interview on the sidelines.
Nothing major, just an interview during the game about the game itself. There are a few ways to define the term "figurehead", but if there is a better illustration than this, I would like to see it.
Only putting on the earphones when it's fourth and whatever, Bowden relegates himself to roaming the sidelines, doing whatever it is he does. Through delegation does Bowden's team achieve the results they do, all the while the image and reputation of coach Bowden seemingly the catalyst in bringing it all together.
While I would put a large amount of money on not seeing Frank Solich saying "dad gummit" on the sidelines during a home game to some overly busy reporter, I would bet that Solich himself is hoping that his newfound involvement in the entire team will equal similar results as to what the Chief Bowden has done down in Tallahassee.
Figurehead, though? Bring that word up in front of Solich and I can see the veins tensing in his neck. Nope, no figurehead here. Instead, he would probably prefer to call it, being a head coach.
He doesn't call the game, he doesn't send in the plays, he's not a position coach and he doesn't involve himself in game-time substitutions. So, what is it that he will do?
Idealistically, if a head coach is indeed that, he's as involved with the mentality of the team as he is with it's overall structure. He's as much a motivator as he is a decision maker when the game isn't being played. He's involved with both sides of the ball, being a coach, a psychologist and an academic counselor, just to name a few.
In some ways, he's everything, but in most of the ways the media and fans will see, he's seemingly nothing at all.
By his own actions, Frank Solich has taken the burden of Xs and Os off of his shoulders and put them onto an offensive coordinator. The game-planning, the orchestration come game-time and the play-to-play involvement, all that once was his, now belongs primarily to another.
And, with the naming of an assistant head coach in Turner Gill, you could assume that he has vacated some of his other duties as well.
What then does a man who's role was so much do now that he has intentionally made his role not so apparently significant?
I doubt that Solich has been spending this time since all the new hires, sitting at his desk counting ceiling tiles. Men like Solich simply aren't built that way. All that energy, drive, ambition and intensity, it has to find a direction or implosion (or in some cases, explosion) is imminent.
Recruiting is a good place to start. Already, we have heard the name Solich as one that has been hopping around the country during May Evaluation, state to state, city to city and house to house, visiting, schmoozing and of course, selling the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Though the cameras don't often show it, Frank Solich is considered to be quite the personable sort. Very friendly and a great sense of humor, recruits seem to automatically warm to his persona. If that's the case, Solich's newfound time is well-spent in recruiting efforts as it has been recruiting that has suffered for NU the last few years.
While NU has managed to get a few contributors here and there over the last two to three years, they haven't gotten that solid up and down class. And, for NU, that's the best in-state talent, a few marquee names and the rest, just solid players. It's been a mish-mosh of two, but never the full package as NU's recruiting has gone dangerously into the cellar.
This last recruiting season might eventually be considered the first year of the comeback in that area as for once, NU was on the plus-side of the de-commits, getting three from other schools, one from their most storied rival, the Oklahoma Sooners. They did get the best in-state talent, a decent, but not great degree of marquee names, but undoubtedly got some players considered to be solid if not ready contributors.
If this is where Solich's strength truly is, his changes probably should have come sooner, but as they say, better late than never.
Recruiting then, but is that it? Hardly. Solich also has a reputation for being very good in game preparation. While his prowess during the game was under much scrutiny and criticism, it seemed that he was always ready in getting his teams prepared for whatever contest loomed on the horizon.
That's good, because whether you call the plays come game time or not, any head coach needs to be as intimate with what's going on as the person calling the plays while the action is taking place.
Not to make light of the role Solich will play, but think of the person operating the curtains during a play. As you look at the actual role, it appears insignificant, but that person has to know that script up and down, being familiar with "cues", yanking that curtain shut and pulling it open, just when the time is right. Doesn't seem like much, but if the curtain closes during a scene or opens during a set-up to a scene, the entire act or even the play itself can lose any or all of it's significance.
You could look at the role Solich is to play this year in similar terms as he could be handling the curtain, drawing open the new era of Husker football, if you will. He could be considered the casting director as with his choices, have the principles been put into place for this next act in NU history. Or and more accurately, he could be considered the play-write as a coach appropriately should be perceived as he may not direct, he may not choreograph, but he has certainly written the script by which all shall perform this much-anticipated up-coming feature, the season of 2003-04.
Any way you want to look at it though, interviews and mug shots on the camera not withstanding, Solich will be the man behind the curtain, flipping switches, turning knobs, all in the effort to tune a machine he has molded in the last five years into finally or hopefully, what he initially envisioned. Granted, it will likely be in a slightly different form than previously thought, but to mutate an old cliche', even the best laid or in this case, the first-laid plans aren't the plans that end up succeeding in the end.
It was my belief after all the changes were made by Solich that he in turn made himself the most expendable person on the staff. While that may be true even now, his efforts might have made him also the most valuable at the same time. The thing is, all this that Solich has "evolved" into by his very hand will be things mostly unnoticed by the public at large. Maybe that's irony that he would succeed in silence, where he apparently failed underneath the heat of the spotlight, but Husker fans will take whatever they can get, as long as it's better than last year.
Solich's role in making just that happen hasn't changed so much rather the way he will be perceived. Yes, he will still get the blame for the losses and much of the credit for the wins, but if this analogy helps your perception, look at Frank Solich like you would any umpire for a baseball game. If nobody talks about them after the game, that usually means they did a good job. Much could be said for Solich this year. It will be what everyone is not saying that could end up being the biggest compliment of all.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619