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Road to UB-Ohio U. game detours through Nebraska

They've known each other for 27 years, since Frank Solich, the freshman coach at Nebraska, helped Turner Gill learn all about Tom Osborne's offense. Since then they have been together as coach-player and coach-assistant for 16 of those years.

Gill left for a career in the Canadian Football League and baseball, before returning to Nebraska as an assistant, first under Osborne and then Solich.

Then Solich was fired at Nebraska, just two years removed from an appearance in the Bowl Championship Series title game. Gill spent one more season at Nebraska before moving on to the Green Bay Packers.

They meet again this Saturday, both watching over programs that have fallen into disarray and need reconstruction.

Solich has done that well. So well, that in just his second season at Ohio University he has victories over Pittsburgh and Illinois. Gill, his former pupil, stands in the way as the University at Buffalo and Ohio are scheduled to play Saturday at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio.

Their association goes back to 1980 when Gill signed with Nebraska out of high school. Back then all Nebraska freshmen were redshirted and placed on the 100-man freshman roster. Before you played for coach Osborne, you played a year under coach Solich.

"He was my first coach," said Gill, who was recruited to Nebraska by Lance Van Zandt. "He's a hard worker, a guy who is very intense and has a lot of energy about him. He taught me how to be a hard worker and be diligent in what you want to get done."

Said Solich: "I appreciate what Turner is all about. . . . He's a great person. Our friendship is built on a very strong base so it will certainly continue long after this game and long after our time coaching here in the MAC [Mid-Atlantic Conference.]"

The two have similar personalities, resolutely reserved although Gill isn't nearly as stoic as Solich. They sound the same when they talk about the game. They'd rather play someone else, they'd rather have to focus on the players than the coaches.

"Once you come in on Saturday afternoon, you're so focused on what you want to get done, all those things are put behind you" Gill said. "You're so focused on what you need to get done that all those things are put behind you."

Nebraska ties don't end with Gill and Solich. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Williams (UB) and Jimmy Burrow (Ohio) run similar schemes learned during their time at Nebraska. Ohio quarterbacks coach Gerry Gdowski is a former Cornhuskers quarterback, and offensive line coach Keven Lightner earned All-Big Eight honors at tackle. Offensive coordinator Tim Albin also served under Osborne.

Williams and his brother, Toby, the Bulls' defensive line coach, were All-American linebackers at Nebraska. UB offensive line coach Angus McClure served under Bill Callahan and linebackers coach Brian Mohnsen spent 12 years as the Nebraska video coordinator. Tight ends/special teams coach Aaron Stamn spent the last two seasons as a defensive assistant at Nebraska.

"There's been a special relationship between a number of people over the course of years," said Solich, who is credited for the recruitment of Mike Rozier and Irving Fryar to Nebraska.

"That all kind of takes a back seat to wanting to get things going well for your program and getting your kids ready to play their best game. It doesn't seem any different to me than preparation for any other game."

Perhaps, but the situation is unique nonetheless.

"I was closer to Coach Osborne, but I've learned a lot from Frank Solich," Gill said. "He's a good man."

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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