The last time he was at the top of anyone's list Mike Rumph was leaving Miami as the San Francisco 49ers' first-round pick. He had the same dreams everyone else did when he was young, even as young as his players are today.
That's why, as he sits behind his desk, at a time he's big news in a smaller world, Rumph says, "Who better than me to tell these kids what's important, that they need an education? I made it in football. And, at 27, I was done."
Now, at 34, Rumph sits in his office at American Heritage School, where he is just starting, where his first season heading a program ends Friday in the Class 5A state final against Green Cove Springs Clay.
Rumph, as good a defensive back as he was, never became a star. But he was smart enough to learn from star coaches. He learned preparation from his Miami assistant Greg Schiano. Rumph even teaches the last-second defense when trailing – slapping at the center snap – as Schiano now teaches his Tampa Bay Bucs.
Rumph learned the value of humor from his 49ers coach, Steve Mariucci, who used to offer players a regular David Letterman-ish list, like, "Top Ten Reasons Why Terrell Owens Was Late." Rumph sometimes holds a picture of a player or reads one of their quotes for fun.
"That's come in handy, remembering to have fun, as we kept winning this year,'' he said.
He ticks through the other coaches he learned from – nine of his Miami assistants, became head coaches, after all. But Rumph reaches on a shelf in his office for the team photo of his 2001 championship team to point to a coach his situation is like.
"Larry Coker took over a good program and won,'' Rumph said. "That's sort of what I've done."
Rumph took over a solid American Heritage program from Jeff Dellenbach, the former Dolphin, last winter. Rumph, of course, brought in his own ideas, hired his own staff.
He challenged players to gain 10 pounds of muscle over the summer with the help of his strength coach, Michael Smith. He demanded players bond more as a team through small events such as fishing off the 17th Street Causeway in Fort Lauderdale on summer nights.
"I thought we needed to be more of a family, and so as a coaching staff we'd hug before meetings,'' Rumph said. "Some people probably looked at us like we were crazy. I'm sure some of the coaches did, too.
"The hugging has kind of faded away. But I think the idea behind it, the idea of being a family, has been important for us."
Not a bad year, then, for a guy who only began coaching three years ago. He tried a puppy business after retiring from the NFL in 2007. He then started a personal-training business for high school and college kids – even training ice skaters – that he continues today.
But he understood what kind of players he had from his first meeting as a Heritage assistant.
"They were sitting like this,'' he says, a pencil in his hand, paper before him, as if ready to take notes. "That's the kind of students you get at a school like this."
And the talent. That helps. Six, maybe seven seniors will get Division I scholarships, including star running back Sony Michel attending Georgia. There's a story to that. Michel grew up a Miami fan, wore Hurricane gear, the whole bit, which fits Rumph just fine.
"I would love for all my players to go to Miami, just like I did,'' Rumph said. "But it's their decision and I'll support whatever they decide. He fell in love with Georgia."
There have been learning curves for the first-time coach. Disciplining players. Dealing with parents. But it was the one loss in the season opener to Miami Central that paid a big dividend for him as he replayed the video.
"What did I do?" he said, smiling across the desk. "I stole their ideas."
Central's schemes of high-pressure defense and four-wide offense, became Heritage's schemes. And look where such smart thinking has helped land Heritage. Twelve straight wins. A berth in Friday's final. And a rookie coach on the verge of being a star all over again.