Longtime University of Miami football coach Don Soldinger never had a retirement party.
But what he will have Thursday night, he figures, will be the party of his life.
Soldinger, 68 and going strong, will be one of seven Hurricanes greats inducted into the UM Sports Hall of Fame at Jungle Island.
They told me, Youve got three minutes to give your speech, the famed assistant running backs coach said. I said, Bro, how am I supposed to do that in three minutes? I was at UM for 16 years and have lived in this town my whole life. Im taking eight to 10 minutes.
Heaven help the person who pulls him off stage prematurely.
I was planning on working forever, said Soldinger, who coached and mentored running back greats such as Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Frank Gore and Willis McGahee not to mention tight ends Alfredo Roberts and Rob Chudzinski and linebackers Micheal Barrow and Winston Moss earlier in his career. I never wanted to be anywhere else. I never used this as a stepping stone to get a better job or leave this town. I love this town and I love this university.
Being honored with Soldinger on Thursday: quarterback Ken Dorsey and his center, Brett Romberg; two-time diving champion Bryan Gillooly; All-American pitcher Jay Tessmer; golf coach Norm Parsons; and power hitter Ed Contreras.
I couldnt believe it when I heard I was voted in, Dorsey said while driving Wednesday from Charlotte, N.C., where he is the new quarterbacks coach of the Carolina Panthers, to his home in Tampa. From there, he was to pick up his wife, former UM soccer player Jordan Sims, before heading to Miami. Ive been a Heisman Trophy finalist two times, won the Maxwell Award and played in the NFL. But this is by far the biggest thrill Ive ever had.
While Dorsey was winning a national championship in 2001, compiling a 38-2 record as a starter and setting UM and Big East records for touchdown passes (86) and passing yards (9,565), the gruff, but big-hearted Soldinger was mentoring the players that to this day revere him. They stay in touch, send him plane tickets to watch them and speak to students or camps if he asks.
In two separate stints, Soldinger coached for one spring under Howard Schnellenberger, who hired him, then under Jimmy Johnson for five years. He returned to UM in 1995 under Butch Davis and then Larry Coker. Coker fired him along with current offensive line coach Art Kehoe and two other assistants three days after UMs 40-3 loss to Louisiana State in the 2005 Peach Bowl.
It still stings.
When youre 64-10 during your last six seasons, and have two national titles and a career record of 157-37, you dont think youre going to get fired, he said. Worst we were was 9-3. Probably one of the best runs in college football history.
Born in Miami Beach, Soldinger graduated in 1962 from Southwest High, where he was a tight end, defensive end and tackle, and played basketball and ran track. He went on to coach Southridge High to two state football titles and had a 104-35-1 record there in 12 seasons as head coach.
Today, the 6-3, 230-pound Soldinger, married 44 years to Phyllis, lifts regularly and cycles more than 100 miles a week. He is the godfather to the son of current offensive line coach Kehoe, whom he used to meet in the office at 6:45 a.m. daily to walk 3.1 miles around the campus perimeter before they had their daily football meetings.
Donnie is one of my best friends and one of the best people Ive ever seen coach in my life, fellow UM Sports Hall of Famer Kehoe said. Loyal, hard-working, great friend, great Hurricane. He was a big part of all the winning we did at this place.
Phyllis Soldinger, who met Don when the two were taking a summer course at Miami Dade College (he graduated from Memphis State and she from Florida State), said her husband was sitting at his computer when he got the call about being voted into the Hall.
He said, Youre not going to believe this, she said. And of course, I totally did. It makes all the sense in the world.