By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — If you’re a sports fan and lived in the Richmond area during Jim Reid’s tenure as University of Richmond football coach, you probably remember his voice and that unmistakable New England accent.
On radio ads, Reid would promise that his Spiders would play “haahd, smaaht and tough.”
Look for him to instill those same qualities in the young men he oversees at UVa. Mike London has hired Reid, a man whose passion for the game is unsurpassed, as the Cavaliers’ defensive coordinator and associate head coach.
Their professsional relationship dates to 1995, when Reid, then the new head coach at UR, hired London to coach outside linebackers and serve as recruiting coordinator.
London spent two seasons on Reid’s staff at UR before leaving to coach the defensive line at Boston College, where Reid, coincidentally, had been defensive coordinator in 1994.
Reid, 59, spent the past two seasons coaching the Miami Dolphins’ outside linebackers, an experience he called “marvelous and wonderful, working with great people.”
Under Reid’s tutelage, Joey Porter had 17.5 sacks in 2008, the most ever by a Miami linebacker.
He wasn’t looking to leave the NFL, Reid said Thursday afternoon in his McCue Center office. But he’s long admired what UVa stands for, and he decided he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with London again.
“The first issue when changing a job, no matter where it is, is who you’re working for,” Reid said. “Coach London was with me on my first staff at the University of Richmond. Great teacher. Great with the young men, not just in teaching football, but in making sure their academics were squared away, making sure their social life grew within the expectations of the University of Richmond.
“And he coached football the way it should be coached: with interest, a little bit of tough love, and the feeling always that a player could come to him. Never any problems with his players. And they grew as men and as athletes.
“Then the other issue when you change jobs is: What is the environment that you’re going into?”
When Reid, who’s from the Bay State, was a graduate assistant at the University of Massachusetts in the early ’70s, head coach Dick MacPherson asked what Reid had planned for spring break.
“I said I was doing nothing but staying in Amherst,” Reid recalled. “He said, ‘All right, ‘I’m going to send you down to observe one of the finest coaches in America. I want you to watch him, I want you to take notes, and you’ll become a better coach.’
“He sent me to Navy to observe George Welsh. Normally you went to Michigan in those days, or Ohio State. I went to Navy.”
After Welsh moved from Annapolis to Charlottesville, Reid began visiting him at UVa. He would break down film with Welsh and Tom O’Brien and other members of the Cavaliers’ coaching staff.
“So I got to know the University a little bit then,” Reid said. “And then when Coach [Al] Groh came in, he was very gracious to me, always. Almost embarrassingly so. If I walked by and he was in a meeting, he’d come out.”
Every summer, Reid said, he would work at Groh’s camp at UVa, “so I was around here all the time. It was fun. Not just that, you have a different perspective [on a school], and it was a perspective that I found wonderful.
“So now you have both of those components” — London and UVa — “and you put them together, and it’s a place you want to be. And frankly, I missed recruiting.”
Before joining the Dolphins, Reid spent 35 seasons as a college coach, starting as a GA at UMass in 1973. He’s been head coach at UMass, Richmond and Virginia Military Institute.
“Developing kids and helping them become men, that’s the big thing,” said his son, Matt, a UR graduate who’s now an assistant baseball coach at the U.S. Military Academy. “He loves the whole recruiting process. I’m excited for him to get back to the college game.”
Among the players Reid recruited at UR was Shawn Barber, who had a 10-year career as an NFL linebacker. Reid was defensive coordinator when Barber enrolled at Richmond. He was the Spiders’ head coach for Barber’s final three seasons.
“Very hands-on, very knowledgeable,” said Barber, now an assistant coach at Baker University, an NAIA school in Kansas.
“My memories are more about him teaching me life skills than teaching me to play outside linebacker or play safety … Definitely cared more about the person than the player. Talked more about honesty and responsibility, those things, more so than X’s and O’s on the field. He figured if he could coach you to be a good man, it’s easier to find your way on the field than it is in the world.”
Reid said: “It’s fun at college, because you bring them in as freshmen and you can watch the growth, and you feel a little bit responsible as they grow and as they become better and as they achieve in the classroom. Whether you are or not, it doesn’t make any difference. You feel a little bit responsible.”
Education is important to Reid, who has a bachelor’s degree from Maine, where he was a three-year starter at safety, and a master’s from UMass.
“I went to every single graduation at every school where I was head coach. At UMass, I used to carry the Arts and Sciences banner in,” Reid recalled.
“When I was at Richmond, they allowed me, after the first couple of the years, when they saw that our football program’s interest in academics was sincere, to walk in with the faculty at graduation. That was a marvelous event every year.”
Players develop in the NFL, too, Reid emphasized. But it’s different.
In college, he said, “you know that these guys are going to be with you for four or five years. You can watch them, and you develop — you should, anyways — a close and trusting relationship that helps in their development in every phase of their lives.
“You still have to win. But I honestly feel that if you take care of all of the expectations of a college student, then you have a better, more confident athlete who will compete better and harder on the football field.”
In September 2008, Reid required heart-bypass surgery after suffering a dizzy spell during a run at a Dolphins practice. His health problems are behind him, he said Thursday.
“Shoot, just before training camp [last summer] I was doing 30 miles a week,” said Reid, a dedicated runner.
Matt Reid said: “He’s stronger than he was before. He’s in great shape. The energy’s always there.”
Most of the players he’ll coach at UVa are still home on holiday break, but they’ll experience Reid’s legendary energy level first-hand soon enough.
“I’m fired up to be here,” he said. “I can hardly wait to meet the players.”
Some of the coaches he already knows. He worked with London at UR and with Jeff Hanson at UR and VMI. He needs no introduction to Chip West, whom London hired away from Old Dominion University this week.
And then there’s the former All-America safety at UVa who now coaches defensive backs at his alma mater.
After accepting London’s offer to join the UVa staff, Reid said, “I called Anthony Poindexter and I said, ‘Anthony, I’m so privileged to be with you.’
“Because let me tell you, I studied him. He didn’t know this, but I studied him. I thought he was as great a safety as ever I’ve seen. Ever. I watched him, and I watched his instincts, I watched how he reacted to players.
“I said, ‘I just can’t believe, watching how you played, that your players aren’t going to play exactly like you.’ Because I’ve also watched him in camps, and he conducts himself and his whole life the same way, with high energy and enthusiasm.”
When Reid was a head coach, his teams’ base defense was the 4-3. The Dolphins favored the 3-4 when he was in Miami. That’s also what UVa ran under Groh, but London plans to switch to the 4-3.
Reid is still finding his way around the McCue Center, but the PC in his office works. He called up NFL.com Thursday and proudly showed a visitor the Dolphins’ sack totals for the past two seasons.
Miami ranked eighth in the NFL in 2008 with 40 sacks. This season, the Dolphins were third, with 44. Whichever scheme UVa runs, Reid said, one thing won’t change.
“We’re going to rush the passer.”