When football Head Coach Randy Shannon faced the media last Wednesday to discuss his new recruiting class, one reporter asked who his “MVP” was; who was most important in capturing ESPN’s No.1 ranked class?
Michael Barrow, the rookie linebackers coach who made such an impact in Miami-Dade County? Clint Hurtt, the defensive line coach with recruiting abilities second to none? Without skipping a beat, Shannon gave his answer: Donna Shalala. Chuckles could be heard in the room.
President Shalala? The five-foot tall woman known more for her expertise in the field of health than the field of football? For Shannon, there was no doubt. For Shalala, the praise came as a shock.
“I talked to him last night and said, ‘What are you talking about?'” Shalala said in a phone interview Thursday night. “‘People are going to think I’m not doing my job!'”
Shalala’s work isn’t exactly selling the football program per se, but selling the school around it. It’s a tradition that dates back to her time at the University of Wisconsin.
“Coach [Barry] Alvarez said he wouldn’t take the job unless he had my full support,” Shalala said. “And that meant selling recruits on the school. I never heard of anyone else doing it until I got to Wisconsin.”
Shalala not only sees recruits from football, but from every sport that requests to get some of her time. Shalala says she’s had some experience in the field.
“Today I saw three different recruits, and none of them were athletes. They were all professors we’re trying to recruit,” Shalala said. “Since I’m an excellent recruiter of faculty and deans, it translates well.”
Despite not receiving the accolades, Coach Hurtt could not agree more when asked about the unorthodox pick following Coach Shannon’s press conference.
“She does an unbelievable job,” Hurtt said. “Parents say the most impressive thing is sitting down with President Shalala.”
She’s had her work cut out for her this recruiting season, as Coach Shannon put together one of the most ambitious recruiting classes seen at Miami in many years. Including all sports, she spoke to about three dozen families over the course of the past year, many of those with the football team. Despite her effort, she doesn’t accept the enormous recognition given to her by Shannon.
“I take pride, but I don’t take any credit. They worked as hard as any people I know,” Shalala said. “At the end of the day, these young men want to play for Randy Shannon, want to be at the University of Miami.”
Ultimately, by taking on this unique role in the football program, Shalala’s simply trying to fulfill her duty as president: improving UM.
“I’m a very junior member of the recruiting squad over there; whatever I can do to make us a better university I’m in favor of,” she said.
Matthew Bunch may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.