Coach Sol Breaks It Down: Part 3

Thanks to longtime UM coach Don Soldinger, it's time to break things down. Blessed with an opportunity to sit down and talk lots of football with him last week, I quickly realized what makes him such a quality man and a tremendous football coach. A hugely important part of this program's success over the years, Soldinger talked with me about a lot of things that will be quite interesting to read.

Mike Bakas: A lot of people say that the University of Miami recruits for itself in a lot of ways, pointing to 5 national championships with 4 different coaches. What are your thoughts on that?

Don Soldinger: "Oh, no question about it. Growing up as a Canes fan and a local high school coach, I can go back to when defensive line coach Harold Allen was the head coach at Key West (High) and Palmetto (High). Joe Brodsky was a high school coach. Myself. They've always had some kind of local tie to the South Florida area with the coaching staff. Then you had fixtures like Art (Kehoe). The thing about Miami that's different than everywhere else is there's a solid line of tradition right through that program – from the coaching staff right on down. They have unbelievable tradition at that school. Guys come back and hang out. I had guys coming back, sitting in my office – the Alonzo Highsmiths, the Melvin Brattons, the Tolbert Bains. There's a strong tie to it. New coaching turnovers can be tough sometimes. These guys don't know the coaches now. There's still Randy (Shannon) now, a little bit with Mario (Cristobal), who's a new era guy. I thought Miami was a really special place – a place with a real solid line of tradition. When they talked about the UM family, it really was. I think that was different than other places and it allowed you to recruit guys looking for a family atmosphere like that within the program. Guys come back to Miami because they feel comfortable there. They knew the coaches, knew people. It's just a real solid tradition."

MB: If you look at Coach Coker's first full class, many of those players never did much at UM. From a recruiting standpoint, how much did UM's approach change from when Butch left to when Larry took over?

DS: "You look at a kid like John Wood. He wasn't a mistake on athletic ability. He was the Defensive Player of the Year coming out. He had some other issues going on and he left. We made some mistakes that year but there are some pretty good kids from that year. We probably didn't do as well as we should have."

MB: College coaches commonly make the mistakes you mentioned when it comes to recruiting. How can they be avoided?

DS: "Sometimes you are misled by (high school) coaches. There are rules on these things. You don't get to evaluate kids as much as you want. If you're not following a kid from his freshman to senior year, you're not getting enough. You've gotta pinpoint them early. We made some mistakes. Sometimes, what is 80-percent (success rate) might be a lot of luck. If someone says you have the best recruiting class, I'll tell you whether that's true or not after three years of having them in the program. You can have as much information as you can on them but you don't really know until you start them in the weight room, start putting the pressure on them. You have to see how they'll respond when asked to think under pressure. From the early 80s, it started turning back then. Think about the span of draft choices from the early 80s until now. Come on. That was an unprecedented run. It's amazing to have it last that long. And they're still not down the tubes. (Jon) Beason, shoot. He can play. I'm watching Georgia Tech here tonight (against Virginia). I wanted to recruit Kenny Scott. He's playing at Georgia Tech and he's doing pretty damn good there. But I wasn't totally sure (on his evaluation) so I didn't push it. He's been starting there for three years. Would he be starting at Miami? I don't know. I love those kids there (at UM)."

MB: Do you think UM currently puts enough emphasis on recruiting players from South Florida?

DS: "I'll tell you as a fan, as a high school coach, and as a college coach here, when you're able to get the cream of the crop in South Florida, it makes it a lot easier. Howard drew that line from Orlando down. When you keep those kids at home, I think you have a heck of a shot at being successful. Sometimes there are down years. There have been some decent kids come out over the years. Kenny Phillips is as good as you can have. Meriweather, those guys are good football players. I think we missed on Buster Davis, Pat Watkins, guys like that. It's like a game. After the play is called, you can say, ‘oh shoot, I should have done this'. You can always be a Monday morning quarterback. If the talent is there (in South Florida), those guys will go after it. Randy does a good job. But you have Florida State in there, Florida's down here recruiting a lot, LSU, Tennessee. The biggest thing, though, is you shouldn't make mistakes locally when it comes down to it. If you're making mistakes, it should be more on the out of state kids who you haven't been following as long. If they're local, you should see them. You should know them."

MB: Are the nights leading up to signing day really as stressful on college coaches as many people think?

DS: "When we used to go out and sign kids, you'd have to camp out in front of the house. I'm talking to Antone Smith at 10 and he says, ‘I'll be signing with you at 12,' and the next thing you know, he signs with FSU. It's stressful but what are you gonna do? Everything's through the fax now. You don't go to the kid's house these days. When I was (coaching) high school, I had guys with three scholarships in front of them. You just never know what they might do at the last minute. I want kids who wanna be there anyway. I don't wanna twist your arm. I want kids who come to me and say, ‘let's go to work,' and we've had plenty of those."

MB: Every year for as long as I can remember UM has struggled in a big way in recruiting offensive linemen. It seems like every year there are 2 or 3 kids from the Midwest or Texas that UM wants and brings in for a visit but just can't seem to close on. What do you think the reason for that is?

DS: "I said something in a meeting one time and it came from Jimmy. A lot of his offensive linemen were defensive linemen in high school. At my high school, the worst defensive linemen became offensive guys. All the great linemen went to defense and I think it's like that at most places. Think about recruiting defensive linemen and switching them. Look at some of the top teams this year and those big offensive linemen are athletes. Look at Jason Fox. People didn't go after those offensive linemen years ago. He was playing tight end and he's doing a decent job for them as a true freshman. Sometimes it's funny how you look at things. When Art was working those Down & Dirty Camps, all the kids talked about was Art and what a great coach he was. We'd recruit them and end up losing them. I have no idea what it happens but as you said, it has. I really don't have an answer for that. To lose a Max Jean Gilles, I don't know why. We felt we were going to get some we didn't. If you looked at Texas's run on recruiting. They called (Mack Brown) Mr. February until he won a national championship with Vince Young. He has the best recruiting class on paper every year and only won it one time. I thought when a kid came on a visit here, we gave a visit that were as good as anywhere else. They'll tell you that. I guess the biggest thing is getting on them early. I love Mike Brewster (a junior offensive lineman from Orlando Edgewater). That's how you gotta find them. You have to start watching them in ninth grade and I think your evaluations will be a little better by the time those linemen are seniors. I saw that kid as a freshman and loved him and he's going to end up a kid that everyone recruits. Sometimes you don't know why certain kids change their minds."

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