Jan. 15, 2003
By Chip Rogers
Doctor, lawyer, minister, teacher, corporate CEO and TV sports personality. Those are some of the varied occupational paths that former UVa basketball players have pursued after their college playing careers ended. Others, such as Ted Jeffries, Jason Williford, and Mark Newlen, have chosen to stay intimately involved in the game of basketball as coaches. Whether serving as assistants in the college coaching ranks, like Jeffries or Williford, or in charge of their own youth program, like Newlen, they are all members of a Cavalier “coaching fraternity” that includes current NBA head coach Rick Carlisle of the Detroit Pistons.
After pursuing a professional career on the court, Jeffries moved to investigating a career on the sidelines. He started working at summer camps to get some exposure, and ran into an opportunity right in his own backyard.
“I was working at the camp of my high school coach, Morgan Wootten, when I met up with my old JV hoops coach, Pete Strickland,” said Jeffries. “We started talking, and he invited me down to Coastal Carolina where I accepted the assistant’s position.”
Jeffries, who had just come off eight seasons of playing professionally overseas, was not that far removed from playing the game, which gave him a different vantagepoint as a coach. “I had just been there,” said Jeffries, “and I knew that I had grown up through basketball. I wanted to be able to help others do the same.”
“Ted came to us after a brilliant playing career where he proved himself to be a fundamentally sound and unselfish team player,” said Coastal Carolina head coach Pete Strickland.
This is Jeffries’ first coaching opportunity, but he points to a respected list of former coaches that have helped shape his view of the profession. “I went from Coach Strickland to Morgan Wootten [the all-time winningest coach at any level with 1,247 wins],” said Jeffries, ” and then to Col. Fletcher Arritt at FUMA. And that was just my prep career.”
“My goal as a coach is to instill much more than the game of basketball,” said Jeffries. “I want to help build a great individual.”
Jason Williford, a teammate of Jeffries for two seasons from 1991-93, is also helping athletes reach their potential on and off the court. After being inducted into the coaching fraternity unexpectedly in Iceland, Williford has been on the sidelines with a couple of teams. He is currently an assistant coach at Boston University, working under head coach Dennis Wolff, who was an assistant at Virginia when Williford played here.
“I have always known I wanted to coach,” said Williford. “I wasn’t certain just when or how, but it was always in the plan after playing.”
During his senior season at UVa in 1994-95, Williford captained a Virginia team that advanced to the NCAA regional finals. Following his successful UVa career, he pursued a professional career in Iceland. It was while playing for the Haukar Club Team in the Icelandic Professional League in 1995-96 that Williford was introduced to life on the sidelines in a suit.
“Unbeknownst to me, my contract called for my coaching the Under-20 team,” said Williford. “So, after one of our [Haukar] practices, they handed me the ball and introduced me to my team.”
As it turns out, Williford had a knack for coaching as the team went 14-4 under his tutelage. Williford, who was named the Foreign MVP of the Icelandic Professional League that year as well, had found a promising niche.
After a three-year professional stint in Korea where he was an All-Star for Naray Telecom and Kia Motors in the Korean Basketball League from 1996-1999, Williford returned to his hometown of Richmond, VA. He served as a volunteer assistant at Virginia Union University in the fall of 1999 before taking the assistant’s job at his high school, John Marshall. While a student at Marshall, Williford earned first team All-State as well as Richmond Times-Dispatch Player of the Year honors in 1990-91. In 1999, Williford’s former high school coach at Marshall was in his final year of coaching, and Williford agreed to help him that year.
Williford had kept in touch with a number of people after his graduation from UVa, including Wolff, who had moved on from Virginia to Boston University. In the summer of 2000 Wolff had an assistant’s spot available, and Williford accepted the position.
“All of a sudden I was on the other side of the court,” remembered Williford. “Players came up to me and asked, ‘Coach, what are we doing?’ And I realized they were talking to me. I called JJ [Jeff Jones, Virginia’s former head coach] soon after that to apologize for all that I had done wrong while playing for him.”
With Williford on the sidelines, the Terriers won a share of the 2002 regular season conference title and advanced to the America East championship game. A dominating performance over the Black Bears sent the Terriers to the Big Dance for the first time since 1997.
“Winning the conference title was a signature moment,” recalled Williford. “It was incredible to win the title and know we were moving on.”
The Terriers are still moving, having picked up the mantle of preseason favorite for the America East title in 2002-03. Williford loves the opportunity he has, and encourages those who are interested in coaching to really put themselves into it. “It’s a big commitment, a 12-month job,” said Williford.
Mark Newlen has made the same big commitment for over 20 years. A teacher at the Collegiate School in Richmond, Newlen has coached basketball in the YMCA programs, watching more than 8,000 kids go through his programs.
“I have a passion for this,” said Newlen. “All my life I’ve been involved in sports, and I enjoy young people. Sports have given me many opportunities to learn lessons, and I want to create a similar environment for kids.”
Newlen’s camps are designed to build life skills on and off the court. Sessions focus on the fundamentals of basketball and on character development and sportsmanship. “I want everyone to feel like they are a part of the team,” he said. “They are accepted.”
Newlen’s coaching experience has not been limited to the streets of Richmond. Having been involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and the Institute for International Sport, he has coached teams internationally and reached kids from across the world.
“Kids will come to us through sport,” said Newlen, who lettered at UVa from 1975-1977. “We can coach basketball and teach the ins-and-outs of the game. We can then use sports to break down cultural barriers by placing kids from different parts of the world on the same team. Basketball is a team sport, and to be successful a team has to come together. When we play, it’s all about the basketball, and that means the team is gelling.”
“My goal is to make a positive impact on kids’ lives through coaching,” said Newlen. Young or old, established coach or tenderfoot, this sentiment is echoed by a host of Cavaliers now in the coaching ranks. Each day they reach one more person through a fraternity that continues to grow and make an impact in the lives of others.