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No Two Ways About It
Ivan Maisel
December 22, 1997
Woodson runs off with the Heisman, Nebraska's smooth transition, Northern Colorado has a blast
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December 22, 1997

No Two Ways About It

Woodson runs off with the Heisman, Nebraska's smooth transition, Northern Colorado has a blast

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In the South, where the citizenry embraces fallen heroes, Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning assured his place in the region's sports pantheon when he broke his left arm in the seventh game of his senior year, ending his chance to win the 1970 Heisman Trophy. Injury didn't befall Archie's middle son, Tennessee quarterback Peyton, but his failure last Saturday to get the '97 Heisman assures his ascendance to a station alongside his dad.

At Michigan, in contrast, they're celebrating a remarkable Heisman triumph. No primarily defensive player had won the award before, but cornerback Charles Woodson finished comfortably ahead of Manning in the voting, 1,815 points to 1,543. Woodson won thanks to his dominant performance in the Wolverines' 20-14 victory over Ohio State on Nov. 22. In the week before the game Manning had about 32% of the points to Woodson's 23% from the roughly 100 ballots that had been turned in. But though Manning threw for 523 yards and five touchdowns against Kentucky in a 59-31 victory that Saturday, against the Buckeyes Woodson surged ahead on the strength of an interception in the end zone, a 37-yard reception to set up Michigan's first touchdown and a 78-yard punt return for a score that broke the game open.

Woodson's victory is a legacy of the 85-scholarship limit put into effect five years ago. The restriction forced coaches to consider using their best defensive players on offense, and that has given college football an unexpected shot of adrenaline. "The standard has been set for defensive players," said Wolverines junior safety Marcus Ray, Woodson's teammate and best friend, last Saturday night. He then added, half joking, "I'm telling you right now—as of the spring, I'm playing running back. I'm going to jump into their drills."

Big Red Coaching Machine

The promotion of an assistant to the top job often results in turmoil and turnover among the remaining staff. But when Nebraska named assistant head coach Frank Solich to replace the retiring Tom Osborne last week, none of the other eight Cornhuskers assistants got mad, and no one had to update his r�sum�.

Six Nebraska assistants have been in Lincoln for more than 10 years, three for more than 20. A few years ago, when then Huskers linebackers coach Kevin Steele was considering the top defensive job at another school, Nebraska's defensive coordinator, Charlie McBride, told him, "Let's go see Tom, and you can have my title. Let's keep doing what we're doing." Steele, who turned down that job offer, later became the linebackers coach with the Carolina Panthers. He remains impressed by the fellowship he experienced on the Huskers' staff. "You think of little cliques [on other teams] of guys riding back from bowl practice: these two coaches, those three," he says. "On our Orange Bowl trips, when you went down to the lobby, you never knew who was driving and who was riding with whom."

The camaraderie on the staff comes from one man. "Tom spends as much time working on the chemistry of the team as he does X's and O's," Solich says. "On a daily basis he talks about unselfishness, togetherness, unity. He does it day after day. Coaches are in those meetings also. We're like the players. The same thing happens to the staff." Solich, 53, had been Osborne's heir apparent for several years. He came to Nebraska as a fullback in 1962, the same year Osborne arrived in Lincoln as a graduate assistant. After graduating in '66, Solich coached high school football in Nebraska for 14 seasons. Osborne hired him in '79.

The Osborne influence will be felt in the daily coaches' meetings, which Solich will continue to hold at 7 a.m. "Everybody has to coach through his own personality," Solich says. "I hope in a lot of ways that I can emulate the kind of person Tom is."

The first change Solich may make is in recruiting. Without Osborne as a drawing card, Solich believes he'll need to identify potential recruits more quickly. So he may hire a coach to act as recruiting coordinator, something Nebraska doesn't currently have.

Bears Without Leashes

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