By Mitchell Gilbert |
Jim Sollars has never been a conventional Division 1 college basketball coach, and after 28 years at UP, the women’s head basketball coach has announced his retirement. At 71 years old, coach Sollars has decided to retire from the fast paced action college basketball embodies.
In a young person’s game, where recruiting for programs can begin as early as eighth grade he has decided that it is time for him to pass the baton on to someone else.
“I don’t think I have the energy for it anymore, and I think that is a sign,” Sollars said. “My wife told me I should go with a great group of kids and this is as nice of group as I have had in my coaching career.”
As a coach who genuinely cares about his players both on and off the court, it’s not hard to find a player who feels blessed to have played for him.
“Sometimes as a student athlete you can kind of get lost and feel as though you are just a pawn. But, he makes you feel like you are a person, and that you matter,” junior Jasmine Wooton said. “He understands that if you are having a terrible day, you may not have a terrific practice. Unlike most coaches who would just yell at you.”
Sollars has never treated his players in ways that are typical of a program of this caliber. Instead of asking his players after practice, “how did your shot feel?” or “how did you feel about the game?” Sollars takes a much different approach, always asking the players, “how are you?”
This is not the entire depth of Coach Sollars’ coaching techniques. He has a way of consistently turning any downfalls into successes by showing his players the benefits of learning from their mistakes.
“He has a motto that if we are not winning, we are learning,” senior Amy Pupa said. “He always makes the changes that we need after the game. He is not out there to embarrass his players.”
This attitude and motto has lead Sollars to a successful career compiling over 400 total wins, as well earning three WCC conference championship titles. He currently ranks second all time in WCC wins (166), and has been named league coach of the year five times.
Sollars has been a part of the UP community for 28 years and has served it in a few different ways. He had two kids attend the school, as well as his wife Pam, who earned her master’s degree from the university. He also taught history for 11 years on campus while working as the women’s basketball coach.
“It has been a great experience for my whole family. My two youngest were basically raised in this gym,” Sollars said. “We have been a part of this institution for almost 30 years, and obviously if we didn’t enjoy it we wouldn’t have been here for that long.”
Sollars spends most of his time off of the court at his ranch in Washington with his wife. However, he has many grand aspirations for his retirement.
“You have a gut feeling and know when it is time,” Sollars said. “I figure by the time I am 80 it will be tough to accomplish some things I want to accomplish. I would like to work for Habitat for Humanity. I would like to learn Spanish, so we are going to have to live in Mexico.”
It has been a difficult decision for Sollars to leave, after so many years at UP he has coached many different women from 28 different programs. He touched the lives of many of them, including his current players. For many of the women he has served not only as a coach, but as a mentor, and a friend.
“I was definitely sad. I cried,” Wooten said. “Because the first thing that he said when he told us he was leaving was that we could still come over for Thanksgiving, he had already checked.”
The next women’s basketball head coach is yet to be named as the program is focusing on celebrating Sollars’ final season.