By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — To the surprise of no one who follows University of Virginia football, Mike London is retaining Anthony Poindexter as an assistant coach. That figures to rank among the easier decisions London has to make as the Cavaliers’ head coach.
Poindexter, who was an All-America safety for George Welsh in the ’90s, is one of the most beloved figures in the history of UVa athletics. He’s proven he can coach and recruit, too.
“He’s a Virginia guy,” London said Thursday afternoon in his McCue Center office. “People identify with him, as they should … He reminds me of when I was a very young coach.”
Poindexter, a Lynchburg native, joined Al Groh’s staff as a graduate assistant in 2003 and became a full-time assistant in ’04. He coached the Cavaliers’ running backs through the 2008 season, after which took over the secondary and assisted with special teams.
“That’s the kind of development you look for in good coaches,” said London, whose brother Paul played with Poindexter at UVa.
Virginia fired Groh on Nov. 29. About a week later, UVa hired London away from the University of Richmond. A former assistant at UVa, where he worked with Poindexter, London went 24-5 and won a national title in two seasons as the Spiders’ head coach.
His priorities include assembling a staff, and London announced his first hires Thursday. As expected, he’s bringing three of his UR assistants with him: Jeff Hanson, Vincent Brown and Mike Faragalli.
UVa retained assistants Poindexter and Bob Price to oversee recruiting and other matters during the search for Groh’s successor. London is still evaluating where Price might fit in the new football operation, but Poindexter is likely to be back in the secondary.
Wherever Dex ends up, he’s delighted to be part of London’s new staff.
“This is my home,” Poindexter said, “this is my place. I’m happy for the opportunity to stay … Mike has almost been a mentor to me and helped me through the process of becoming a coach.”
In three of Groh’s final four seasons, the Wahoos finished below .500. When Poindexter played for Welsh, UVa was one of the ACC’s elite programs.
“I think we can get back there,” Poindexter said. “Obviously there are some things that need to be done, but if we can get that stuff cleared up, get the kind of players we need in here to win — good guys, good players — we’ll be able to do some things.”
Under NCAA rules, London may have nine full-time assistant coaches. How quickly he’ll hire the other five isn’t clear.
“There’s no particular timetable,” London said. “The timetable is just to do it right. Our [players] are getting ready to go away for the Christmas holidays, so I’ll have time, because I’m devoting all my time right now to them and making sure they all leave on the same page, as far as what the expectations will be academically when they come back.”
At UR, Faragalli was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under London. Brown, a former UVa graduate assistant, coached the Spiders’ linebackers, and Hanson was assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach.
Their assignments at UVa haven’t been finalized, but Faragalli will coach in some capacity on the offensive side. Brown will work with linebackers and Hanson with defensive linemen.
London’s thoughts on the former Spiders:
*Hanson: “He’s a guy that’s very loyal, very passionate about what he does,” London said. “He coaches the players hard, but he loves the players, and there’s a deep respect for what he does, because he truly has their best interest at heart.
“Jeff, like me, is a Richmond grad, but he’s also a coach who’s been in and around the state of Virginia in terms of coaching and recruiting, and he’s very well-respected within the state. Does a great job recruiting out of state and the Texas area. Handled our recruiting for us [at UR]. Has held a number of jobs. He’s been a defensive coordinator, recruiting coordinator, defensive line coach, DB coach, linebackers coach, and he’s very extensive in his knowledge of football. But he’s an even better person than all of that.”
*Brown: “He had an extensive and very productive career [as a linebacker] in the NFL,” London said. “I brought him to Richmond as my linebackers coach, and he immediately demanded and gained the respect and attention of the players, because this is a guy that played the position at the highest level and was very accomplished. He did a great job for us, and the linebackers here and the defensive players particularly will benefit from all those things. Plus, he’s a great individual also.”
*Faragalli: “In my research before getting the Richmond job, I talked to a lot of different coaches about who he was and what he could provide,” London said. “He did a great job with the offenses that he’s been in charge of. He’s been in the CFL, he’s a very well-respected veteran coach, and he brings a wealth of knowledge in the passing game and the running game. His broad perspective is going to be an asset for us on offense.”
Hanson, a 1972 graduate of UR, had three stints, totaling nearly 30 years, as an assistant coach at his alma mater.
Leaving Richmond wasn’t easy, Hanson said, but this “is a great opportunity for me. This is a great place, a great school academically, and the facilities here are unbelievable. And working with Mike, that’s an important thing. To be successful as an assistant football coach, you’re only as good as your head football coach, and let me tell you something: We were very fortunate to have him there at Richmond for a couple years, and we’re very fortunate to have him here at the University of Virginia.”
Like UVa, UR has a sterling academic reputation. The Spiders won big in such an environment, first under Dave Clawson and then under London.
“The key is, I think that you can find student-athletes [for whom] academics are important and football is important,” Hanson said. “Now, when one outweighs the other, that’s when you got problems. And so basically the thing I truly believe is that you recruit kids that care about getting an education and that also want to be great football players. And it can be done, because we did it for years at Richmond, and we can do it here at the University of Virginia, I guarantee you.”
London’s first coaching job was at UR. He joined the Spiders’ staff in 1989, and his fellow assistants that season included Hanson.
“I knew at that point in time that Mike had what it takes to be a great football coach,” Hanson said. “The big thing is, he was always a teacher. He cared about the players, which is the No. 1 thing in this business that needs to happen with coaches.
“If you’re in the business for wins and losses and for money, you’re in business for the wrong thing. This is a people’s business, and you’re here to develop students and football players, and you’re also here to develop character. Those were things that I could tell Mike would be tremendous at.”
Brown was a GA under Groh in 2007, London’s second and final season as defensive coordinator at UVa. The ‘Hoos won nine games that season.
“Having a little familiarity with the operations here and the people and the layout certainly helps, and it’s just a tremendous blessing to be back,” Brown said.
“I had hoped for an opportunity to come back. I was here briefly and didn’t really get to put an imprint on the young men that I was around, so I’m hoping with this opportunity to really be able to make a difference and get the guys playing within the scheme to help us win championships.”
Under Groh, the Wahoos’ base defense was the 3-4. UR played a 4-3 under London, and that’s the scheme he’ll install at UVa.
“Football is football,” Brown said. “The techniques change, and there’s some differences in the types of players you need to play in the two different schemes, but if you’re a run-and-hit guy, you can play in any scheme.”
The Cavaliers finished 3-9 this season, their fewest wins since 1986. They went 5-7 in 2008.
“We understand that the last couple of years have been tough,” Brown said. “We also understand that there’s talent here in the program, and we just have to get the best out of them. We may have to go out and get a few more pieces, but we’ll get the best out of what’s here.”
Like the other imports from UR, London included, Brown said he’s convinced that high academic standards are not impediments to success in football.
“There’s no reason you have to separate the two,” Brown said. “You go out and find those students that are committed to getting a great education that want to play great football, and then you get them in there and let them do their thing.”
Faragalli has worked with London for only two seasons, the fewest of any of the newly hired assistants.
Still, Faragalli said, “I’ve obviously gotten to know him well and have the utmost respect and admiration for his character and the way he does things.”
Faragalli, a Rhode Island alumnus who has spent a good part of his coaching career in the Canadian Football League, admits that he does’t know much about UVa. But if his boss believes, Faragalli believes.
“It all starts with Coach London,” he said. “I’m just really excited about the opportunity to join him here after the couple of years we had together [at UR]. Certainly it’s a great school with a great academic tradition, a great football tradition, and just as a career move, obviously it’s a step up. So I’m very excited for the opportunity.”