Coach Sol Breaks It Down: Part 5

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 have talked about the increased entrance requirements for football players to get admitted into UM. You see guys like Ali Highsmith signing here and then a year later starting at LSU. How much has that changed since when Butch was here and how much of an impact do you think it's had, if any?

Don Soldinger: "That's hurt us. You lose a Bobby Washington, you lose an Ali Highsmith. We lost guys like that. Antonio Reynolds, we signed him but then he's at (Tennessee). That hurts. I recall when Jimmy was there, the requirements were tough. They (admissions) don't wanna bend. They want us bringing in the best student athletes they can get. A prime example is Geno Hayes, who was considered the best linebacker in the state that year. I wanted to recruit him and was told no. I had to cancel his visit and his dad was livid. Geno Hayes wanted to come here. He's gonna be fine academically. He could have been a borderline kid but then he goes out and has 10 tackles against Miami (in the season opener). Instead of really going after these kids, you're told to slow play them. You can't slow play them now. You slow play great players and you'll lose them."

MB: What types of things can be done to help in this area?

DS: "Jimmy decided to talk to the provost. I'm not saying you gotta have leeway with 25 kids but three or four kids that may be marginal, you've gotta get them in if you want to compete. They're against you instead. Highsmith played against us in the Peach Bowl and kicked our (butts). You can't do that. Most of our kids are successful students. They go to study hall. They do what they need to do. We take care of our kids. Another thing is every kid should have the test done by the start of his senior year. If I was there (coaching at the prep level), every kid would have the test done by the spring of his junior year. That would help a lot, too."

MB: Noel Devine's gotten a lot of hype. What do you think of him?

DS: "If you look at athletic ability, he's the best there is. The guy is unbelievable. The guy is phenomenal. He has a rap and supposedly has some issues but I don't know all about that. I know that athletically, he's as good as you'll find."

MB: How about Antwain Easterling?

DS: "I love him. I saw him play against Killian. He just needs to work on ball security. He reminds me of Willis at that age. It's his cousin. He's very physical, very fast, big, and just needs to hang on. He's going to be a good one."

MB: Another local back that is being heavily recruited is HML's Armando Allen but he says UM never offered him. What are your thoughts on him?

DS: "I talked to him the other night. The night he got hurt, (HML head coach) Jerry Hughes, who used to be my defensive coordinator at Southridge, called to get John Uribe's number. He wanted to make sure Armando was seen by the best. John has a reputation as one of the best there is. We set him up and Uribe did the setting. He's a real special kid. I'm gonna go over to Miami Lakes and see him. He runs away from people and he's a great student."

MB: In closing, what comments can you make towards UM fans that give them hope that things will get turned around in Coral Gables?

DS: "I'm hopeful. I watch them as a fan now too but I'm watching as more than a fan since I recruited and coached a lot of those kids. I love being around kids, being competitive. And watching them, I can't root against them. I've been following UM since I was a kid and I want to see them do good. They say these coaches are real good ones. The guys they brought in, I don't have any problems. I hope they get it together. The kids are good athletes. They can compete with anyone. They've gotta get focused. I think the kids have to put it on each other – kinda draw the line in the sand and say this is not acceptable. Say, ‘we're gonna play hard, keep swinging, and make a commitment to each other'. It's not easy on the kids at first when you make mass changes. We won 53 games together in five years. We were tight. The kids knew it. We won 53 games because we were well prepared and we played hard. The LSU game, we didn't play hard. We won because we overcame injuries. You lose Gore and Payton comes in and runs for nearly 1,000 yards. You lose those guys early to the NFL. Losing Moss last year and having Charlie come in, it was hard. I just think if you're gonna be critical, you can always find something. I think the kids there have to say to each other that this isn't happening anymore. If they collectively all come together, they'll be pretty darn good. The cupboard isn't bare. It's gonna happen and I'd be real disappointed if it didn't. I know those kids. I love those kids and I know they work hard."

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