By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — James Madison football coach Mickey Matthews hired Chip West away from Fordham.
Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder hired West away from JMU.
UVa coach Mike London hired West away from ODU.
West, 39, is a wanted man in coaching circles, and for good reason, former bosses say.
“He is superior in all areas,” Matthews said. “He’s great with kids. He has a great rapport with recruits and players, and I thought Chip was an excellent teacher on the field. The other quality Chip brings to the table is, he’s a very hard worker.”
Wilder said: “Chip is one of the best coaches that I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my 20-year coaching career, and I’ve worked with a lot of good coaches.”
UVa announced West’s hiring Tuesday morning. He’s expected to coach the Cavaliers’ cornerbacks, though his assignment isn’t set.
London, whom Virginia hired in December to replace Al Groh, has filled five of the nine assistant slots on his staff. Previously hired were Anthony Poindexter, Jeff Hanson, Vincent Brown and Mike Faragalli.
At ODU, West served as assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator and secondary coach. He joined the Monarchs in 2007, two years before their inaugural season.
ODU finished 9-2 in 2009.
“His mark will be on the Old Dominion football program for a long, long time,” Wilder said. “I say that because he helped lay the foundation of this program, and this program has proven to be the best start-up in FCS history.”
Like London, whom he’s known for years, West grew up in Hampton. London graduated from Bethel High; West, from rival Kecoughtan.
“I had a few cousins that played at Bethel in the same time frame Mike did, so as a little kid I used to always be around watching those guys practice,” West said Monday in his McCue Center office.
When West was a 12th-grader, Curt Newsome was Kecoughtan’s head coach. Newsome is now an assistant at Virginia Tech.
In recent years, they’ve crossed paths in recruiting, and “it was basically no contest, being at JMU or ODU versus Virginia Tech,” West said. “But now it’ll be a little bit different.
“He’s definitely someone I love and respect. He taught me a whole lot outside of football, just in life, period.”
For most of the past decade, West has spent a part of each summer at UVa, working at Groh’s camps. He kept up with London through the years, and the “conversation was always easy, because we were from the Peninsula,” West said.
“Over the years,” London said Tuesday afternoon, “you see guys in the same recruiting areas, you see them at games, conventions, things like that.”
West “was one of the ones on a short list that fit the criteria in terms of what I was looking for, in terms of knowing the area, being well-respected in what he’s done, a local guy from Kecoughtan but also having coached at Madison and ODU,” London said.
“Having been at Fordham and Colgate, he knows how to recruit student-athletes. So he knows all those aspects, plus he’s a good football coach. It was another fit, somebody who knows the lay of the land, knows [high school] coaches, knows how to coach.”
He has recruiting ties around the state, but Tidewater — the famed “7-5-7” — always has been West’s main territory. As a JMU assistant, he landed such stars as Rodney Landers (Virginia Beach) and Arthur Moats (Portsmouth) from that area.
West attributes his success as a recruiter to “building relationships with the coaches and the student-athletes that we recruit, and the trust that comes with it also.”
In 2004, West’s first season at JMU, the Dukes won the Division I-AA national title. He also coached under Matthews in 2005 and ’06, after which Wilder targeted West for the staff he was assembling in Norfolk.
“I had asked around to see who was the best recruiter in the state of Virginia, particularly in the 7-5-7,” Wilder recalled Monday, and West’s name kept coming up.
“What makes him the most effective as a recruiter is he’s a genuine personality,” Wilder said. “People see from the very first time they talk to him that what you see is what you get, and that approach has proven to be very successful for him, no matter what school he’s coached at.”
Matthews said: “The best way to describe him is, What you see is what you get. He’s very honest. He’s as solid as a rock.”
West was an all-CIAA wideout at Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems in 1993.
He later earned a master’s in physical education from West Virginia, where he was a graduate assistant in 1997 and ’98.
Four seasons as wide receivers coach at Colgate and one year as secondary coach at Fordham followed. In 2004, West retured to his home state. And now he’s moved another rung up the ladder in college football.
“Being from the state of Virginia and being able to coach collegiately at the highest level, I take much pride in that,” West said, “and take pride in being at the University of Virginia.”
The Cavaliers went 3-9 in 2009, their third losing season in four years. West is undaunted as he prepares to start recruiting for UVa.
“I always view the University of Virginia as a good place,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a tough sell at all. And the key words are, it’s the University of …”