'Willis would take Super Bowl over Pro Bowl'

Don Soldinger, the University of Miami running backs coach, said that he expects Willis McGahee to be a team player, despite the hefty contract he's expected to sign. Soldinger doesn't think money will change McGahee. Soldinger also discusses with Mike Doser his system of alternating talented tailbacks during games and how Miami manages to sit superior players who are the nation's definitive pro running back prospects.

Mike Doser: I think it's going to be tough for the Bills to have two starting-level tailbacks splitting time. Something happens when players start making money. They want to be the focal point. That might be difficult to do.

Soldinger: I know why that's difficult to do, because their contracts are all incentives. A lot of contracts are. Whether it's difficult to do, it's the best thing to do for the two players. It's the best thing to do for the team: Keep a fresh stud in there, instead of a tired stud. You want to win football games

I think what happens on the pro level is that teams got away from the concept of what (football) is all about: It's about winning, and whatever the best way of getting that done is, that's what (they should be) trying to get done.

That's how I talk to the guys here. You know Edgerrin James told me, "I hated it when we did it because I didn't want to alternate." Nobody that's good wants to alternate. But you know what? He flew me to the Pro Bowl and sitting at breakfast with him he said, "You know Coach? I didn't like it, but now I appreciated it because when my body came into this league, I was able to play and play well early."

That didn't happen to Ricky Williams. Ricky Williams caught a beating at Texas. It's just a matter of what's best for the individual. If they're concerned about money, give them their contracts, give them good money. But then when that's done, "Let's do what you got to do. Let's do it right. Let's get after it. Let's lengthen that career so you can keep making that money and let's keep winning games because that's the way we're going to do it."

Doser: That makes perfect philosophy, but I think players want to be Pro Bowl players and they know they can't be Pro Bowl players if they're not full-time players.

Soldinger: Maybe. That might be right. But if you asked the kids I coach, they'd much rather win a national championship than be an All-American. I think if you really came down to it, and if a guy is worth his salt, I think Willis would tell you that he'd much rather win a Super Bowl than be a Pro Bowl player. Sure, he'd probably want to be both, but if he had his druthers, he'd take winning the national championship over winning the Heisman. I don't think there's even a question about that.

A coach has to drill that into his players' heads. [If the player doesn't like it,] go to another place then. See how long your career is going to last carrying the ball 250-300 times a season. If you can do it, fine. But you know what I think? I think guys are used on the next level too much. They're used up, thrown away, and now give me another guy.

I make sure the kids know that I'm calling the shots. They got their scholarship, they're getting $33,000 a year to go to Miami. But I'm calling the shots. They ain't calling the shots. That's the way we're going to do it: "Work hard. Make sure you don't waste your reps. Make sure your productive." That's the way we do it. They don't like it at first, but that's alright. I didn't ask them to like it. I just asked them to perform and be consistent and win. That's what they've done. They understand it. When I explain it that way to people, they either accept that, or go to another team.

Doser: Speaking of going to another team, before last year, I read where Willis was considering going to another team from Miami, if Portis had been back and had he been behind Frank on the depth chart.

Soldinger: He never said anything to me about it and I don't his mom would have let him.

Doser: Because he's from Miami …

Soldinger: Not only that … you know, I don't expect him to be happy about certain things. Nothing is going to be 100 percent your way in anything at whatever you do. I don't expect (players) to be happy about certain things. But I expect (them) to be competitive at everything they're doing. Because if they're not competitive, they're not going to win. They ain't going to do what they need to do for you. Being happy is one thing. I'd like [them] to be competitive and happy. That's your ideal situation, your utopia. But it just ain't going to happen that way all the time. I want them to understand that. I don't think Willis would ever walk away from a challenge. I don't think so.

(That McGahee might be the backup to Gore) was never coming from me. To me, Willis was the guy. He always was. Everybody said Frank Gore. Frank Gore was good, but Willis, to me, was better.

Doser: But Don, wasn't Frank ahead of Willis on the spring depth chart last year before his knee injury?

Soldinger: Well, you know what happened, Willis got hurt. He sat out three to four games [in 2001]. And Frank was able to play, but it was kind of a little bit mop-up duty [behind Portis]. And yeah, Frank did well. Frank's a real talented kid. But Willis brings to the table so many more things that other kids don't, even Frank.

I tell Frank right now, "Get yourself ready like Willis got ready. You've got to be super-strong. You've got to pad yourself up and you've got to be ready to take it. You've got to think you're gonna get the ball 20 times a game. If you're not, you're not gonna make it. Not on this level or on the next level. If you don't work your butt off, you can kiss it goodbye."

But that's what everybody said [about Frank over Willis]. (But) they both would have played a lot. Even with Portis there [had he stayed at Miami in 2002], I would have played all three of those guys. That's why I wanted (Willis) to play fullback. I wanted him to play fullback and tailback. That makes you a better player.

Doser: Are you talking a blocking fullback? What do you ask your fullback to do there?

Soldinger: Knock somebody's jock off. Smash the football. And run once in a while. You know what? (When you play some fullback), you really appreciate as a tailback the guy who is standing in front of you, because the guy who is standing in front of you is going to make you tick. I got a fullback right who's playing at 212 pounds, Quadtrine Hill. Willis was 227 pounds. This guy's 212. But he's just a tough tailback. (Playing some fullback) makes you better as a player. It makes you a lot better. He played almost every snap at fullback. He's a tough guy. [So when he lines up at tailback,] he won't give the guy in front of him a lot of grief, because fullback is not an easy position. In fact, it might be one of the toughest positions to play, as far as collisions are concerned.

Coming Friday: Soldinger discusses why he was so sure McGahee was making the right decision to come out for the draft, plus what he believes Buffalo's future holds with him in the backfield. Also, Soldinger talks about the mistake Miami made by not signing Travis Henry coming out of high school.

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