Don Soldinger began his coaching career in South Florida, not at the University of Miami.
After losing out on the head coaching position for Miami Southridge Senior high school in 1976, the current offensive coordinator at Killian Senior high school waited one year for the job opportunity to reopen and be named the head coach.
Through hard work, grit, and determination Soldinger grew the recently started Miami Southridge Senior high school football program to new heights by building a culture centered around earning everything during practice and in the weight room.
Soldinger is a firm believer in working for everything you earn.
“I think there’s something about work ethic, I think there’s something about character, loyalty, you know, hard work,” former UM assistant coach Don Soldinger said. “Those are the things that, in the long run, are gonna make you a better person.”
Southridge reached four state championships during Soldinger’s time as head coach, winning two. As Soldinger continued to see success at the high school level and produce division one athletes his work did not go unseen.
The 1983 Miami Hurricanes went on to win the National Championship defeating the number one ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers 31-30 in the Orange Bowl.
In 1984 Soldinger met the late Hurricanes head coach Howard Schnellenberger at a coaches convention in Dallas, TX. Soon after, Schnellenberger gave Soldinger a call and asked for him to come to UM to meet with him. In the meeting, Schnellenberger offered Soldinger the Hurricanes’ linebackers coaching position, a job that he would end up taking.
“I want you to coach the linebackers, you want the job,” Schnellenberger said.
After negotiating salary, Schnellenberger asked one final thing.“You got any other questions?”
“Yeah. What about retirement?” Soldinger said.
Removing the pipe from his mouth Schnellenberger says,
“I don’t want to talk to anybody thinking about retirement.”
Soon after spring football, Schnellenberger resigned as head coach and the Hurricanes brought in Jimmy Johnson. Johnson met with all of the assistant coaches and decided to keep Soldinger on his staff.
The 1984 Miami Hurricanes opened the season in East Rutherford, NJ playing the number one ranked Auburn Tigers in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium.
“The first game I coached against Bo Jackson, Tommie Agee, and Brent Fullwood, three stud backs, and we held Jackson to 78 yards and beat them.”
Jackson went on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1985, an award given out annually to the most outstanding player in NCAA football.
Miami defeated Auburn 20-18.
For some coaches, success can come easy at one level, but once they advance to the next it can be a massive failure.
This was not the case for Soldinger as he won two National Championships with the Canes in 1987 and 2001 along with playing in 14 post-season bowl games in 16 seasons on the Hurricanes staff. Soldinger reached the highest achievement at not only the high school level but also the collegiate.
Soldinger returned to the University of Miami in 1995 under head coach Butch Davis as the running backs coach.
Soldinger coached Edgerrin James during his time as a Hurricane. James was recently elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2020. James holds the Hurricanes single-game rushing record with 299 yards in a 1998 win over No. 3 UCLA. Soldinger believes James’s performance against UCLA put his skillset on the map and had scouts realize his value as a first-round pick.
“That guy is a different kind of cat, very smart, did not talk to me for almost a year, I’m real hard on the guys, as he started seeing how I coached and how I presented myself, he started coming around, he’s the guy who really set the tone for running backs here,” Soldinger said. “What he did on the football field, you know, he was unbelievable. He was a great ballplayer, probably the best overall. Every guy had a different thing you know, every one of the guys was good in certain areas, but overall he was probably the best.”
Soldinger also ended up coaching one of the most talented position groups college football has ever seen.
The 2001 Miami Hurricanes Football team has gone down in history as one of the most talented college football teams of all time. That roster alone produced 38 NFL draft picks with 17 of those being in the first round.
In 2001 the running backs room included freshman Frank Gore and Willis McGahee, sophomore Jarrett Payton the son of NFL Hall of Famer Walter Payton, junior Clinton Portis, and senior Najeh Davenport. Gore ranks third all-time in NFL rushing with 16,000 yards and McGahee holds the Hurricanes record for most rushing yards in a season with 1,753. Portis went on to win rookie of the year in 2003 with the Denver Broncos. Davenport won a Super Bowl in 2006 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With a position group filled with so much talent, you might wonder how Soldinger was able to get recruits to still come to UM? Soldinger believed in competition and when he found recruits that weren’t backing down to competing for playing time he went all in.
“If guys asked me who was in the room, I didn’t want to recruit them because they didn’t want to compete,” Soldinger said. “You know, I said, if you come to Miami, you got to be super competitive, so you want to see how good you are? Come to Miami. We got great players. If you could play here you can play on any level.”
Soldinger wasn’t messing around as he sent 10 running backs to the NFL while at UM.
“It was a real honor for me because I was a fan first and a coach second,” Soldinger said. “It was a big honor to put Miami on the map the way we put it on the map, I hit the lottery, I hit the football lottery, I didn’t make any money, but I hit the football lottery.”
The Hurricanes finished the 2005 campaign with a 40-3 loss against LSU in the Peach Bowl and a combined record of 9-3. Shortly after, everything changed for Soldinger as he and a handful of longtime coaches were let go under head coach Larry Coker.
Soldinger took some time away from football after leaving UM and ultimately decided not to go back to high school. Soldinger decided to enroll in some classes at UM and work out. Soldinger enjoyed riding his bike, until one day he got hit by a car nearby campus. After the incident, Soldinger unbelievably popped up, went home, cleaned up, and headed to class. Later that evening after class, Soldinger went to the hospital where he found out he had two herniated disks in his neck and a fracture in his back.
“I got off the bike, I got a spinning bike so I use that.” “Today I’m doing a weight workout. I do 1500 reps while I walk two miles with weights and do 100 of everything, then come back, do 600 sit-ups and then I just hang out you know,” Soldinger said.
Don Soldinger also really enjoys meeting up with his former players and coaches to grab a bite to eat and talk about all the great memories.
In 2013 Soldinger was inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame but is not done yet.
With an immense amount of experience and knowledge for the game of football, Soldinger has decided to help out at the youth level.
Former UM football player Greg Laffere is coaching at True North Classical Academy Charter school. Laffere asked Soldinger to join his staff to help the new program with kids who have little to no experience playing football.
“They knew nothing about football, I mean absolutely nothing,” Soldinger said. “It’s been fun coaching them, they’re getting good, they’re actually getting good in the weight room and they’re getting really strong.”
Soldinger and two other members of his coaching staff from Miami Southridge have decided to help out.
“We played six games and only won one, but we got better as the season went on. It’s been a lot of fun, I really kind of got attached to the kids.”
At the age of 76, Don Soldinger continues to dedicate his time to the game of football in hopes of bettering the next generation.