Intense Approach Works For Sollazzo
By David Snyder
Up until Maryland’s Sept. 29 game against Rutgers, it had been a pretty long time since defensive line coach Dave Sollazzo had the chance to tackle anyone. But after junior defensive lineman Jeremy Navarre’s fourth-quarter and game-solidifying sack, the 51-year-old Sollazzo got the opportunity to revisit his college years as a defensive lineman for The Citadel. Navarre jogged to the sideline, unaware that he was about to be wrapped up and brought to the ground by his ecstatic coach.
Maryland defensive line coach Dave Sollazzo's animated personality makes him popular with the players.
Sollazzo’s intense style, wacky antics and raspy voice have become staples of his coaching method -- one that is highly respected by his players. His constant in-your-face approach may seem harsh to people outside the game, but his players understand that his intentions are positive.
If it weren’t for the polo shirt and the headset, fans watching Sollazzo on the sideline would probably confuse him with one of the players. When the defense makes a stop on third down, he can be found running onto the field, high-fiving and jumping on his players, showering them with encouragement.
“When you coach the defensive line, it’s a very intense, emotional position,” Sollazzo said. “Just like anything else, it starts at the top. I want my guys to be fired up. I want my guys to play full speed. I want them to play hard and I want them to play with a lot of emotion and intensity. I try and display that myself.”
For Sollazzo, the need to display intensity is not relegated only to games. In a recent practice, the defense blocked a field goal, and the coach reacted by jumping on and congratulating his players. Senior defensive tackle Carlos Feliciano said this is a frequent occurrence.
In fact, Feliciano remembers Sollazzo carrying himself with equal intensity when the coach first recruited him out of New Jersey. In the five years since, he has noticed a common trend in his coach.
“He’s the same way on the field as he is off the field,” Feliciano said. “In practice, even walking around, he’s positive with people. He’ll get on you and make you feel like you’re nothing, but it’s only to make you tougher.”
After volunteering at Maryland for a few years in the 1980s, Sollazzo came back to the Terps as a full-time coach in 2001. It was then Sollazzo reunited with the person who brought about the passion that molded him into the coach he is today. That person was head coach Ralph Friedgen, who coached the defensive line at The Citadel during Sollazzo’s time as a player.
“He always said that I was very consistent when I played,” Sollazzo said. “I don’t know if I had quite the same intensity. I think I have more intensity as a coach than I did as a player. I was younger back then, and he instilled a lot of intensity in me. That was key right there, as you get older everything becomes more important to you.”
Sollazzo says his reputation as a coach who time and time again runs onto the field to applaud the efforts of his players has garnered special attention from the officials. Although he has had plenty of warnings, he maintains that he has never cost his team a penalty.
“The referees kid me about it all the time,” Sollazzo said. “They come up to me before the game and joke around about it. I’ve been coaching here for several years, and they know my M.O. I feel like they’re all pretty cool about it.”
Feliciano said it takes a gang of people to keep the coach corralled.
“We always have people telling him on the sideline to back up,” he said. “We get warnings all the time. That’s just because if you gave him pads, he’d want to go out there and play with us.”
His animated style and gravelly voice make Sollazzo the butt of many jokes in the locker room.
“In meetings he’ll say some off-the-wall stuff, and we all look at each other and start busting out laughing,” Feliciano said. “He won’t really get it until a couple minutes later and say, ‘Oh, I know what you guys are laughing at.’ I feel sometimes he does it just to have a good laugh with us. We like him, and he likes us. I think it’s more of him trying to be closer to the team.”
Navarre is more cautious when joking around about his coach.
“A lot of people mock his voice,” he said. “He’s got one of those really unique, scratchy voices. When he’s not around, some guys will joke about it, mock what he says, but when he’s in your face, he better not catch you laugh.”
The amicable companionship, positive encouragement and pumped-up mentality are all ways for Sollazzo to live vicariously through his players.
“I always tell them I can’t play the game,” he said. “I’m only a cheerleader on Saturdays; they’re the ones doing it. When you work as hard as we do, and our players work really hard, I think it’s important that they know when they’re doing something good, and all their hard work is paying off. I enjoy watching them. When they make a play, it makes me feel good.”
Issue 2.45: November 8, 2007