Don Soldinger spent 17 years over two stints at the University of Miami, guiding the fortunes of the program's talented running backs. The year he retired, 2005, four of his former players led their teams in rushing.
"Everyone always asks, 'Who's the best?'," Soldinger said this week from his home in Miami. "The most gifted physically is probably Willis [McGahee]. The most confident without a doubt is [Clinton] Portis. E.J. [Edgerrin James] by far is the best athlete."
After James, Soldinger recruited Portis and Najeh Davenport, then Jarrett Payton, the son of the legendary Walter Payton, McGahee and finally Frank Gore. Getting them to Miami wasn't as difficult as keeping them there, and keeping them happy.
"They don't want to hear from it when you first start to tell them, 'You're going to wind up splitting this thing,'" Soldinger said. "E.J. said it after he got into the pros that he was fresh. He hated it, but they all hated it. They all wanted the ball."
Soldinger recalled a time when McGahee, a redshirt freshman, wanted to transfer because he was chafing while playing behind Portis, then a senior.
"They thought he was going to take the job from Portis, because he had a great spring that year," Soldinger said.
Currently, four former Hurricanes are featured backs for their teams: McGahee with the Ravens, James with the Arizona Cardinals, Portis with the Washington Redskins and Gore with the San Francisco 49ers. Davenport backs up Willie Parker with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
McGahee credits his time at Miami with developing him into a pro.
"That's where it all began," McGahee said.