Longwood coach Griff Aldrich has given up a lucrative career as a lawyer

Griff Aldrich has spent about two decades building a successful career in the fields of law and private equity. Then he blew it all up for the chance to be a college basketball coach.

Now, Aldrich is preparing for Crazy Marchas the 47-year-old coach leading Longwood University bachelors to the school’s first ever NCAA “Big Dance”.

In 2016, Aldrich was in the midst of a lucrative career. After becoming a partner in one of the world’s leading law firms, he will become the chief financial officer of a private equity firm, with a salary of $800,000 per year, he said. Articles washington last week. But then his best friend and former college basketball teammate Ryan Odom took a job as head coach of the basketball team at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Odom offered Aldrich a job as a hiring manager, a job that paid just $32,000 a year. But it brought Aldrich closer to realizing a lifelong dream: a career as a college basketball coach. He accepted.

Proven opportunity is history. UMBC’s team made it to the NCAA tournament in 2018 and passed seriously upset about the University of Virginiabecame the first 16th seed team to beat the 1st seed. Today, Aldrich is working for 150,000 dollars as head coach for Longwood, of Farmville, Virginia, leading the program to its first appearance in the NCAA men’s Division-I basketball tournament.

When asked if he would have ever foreseen this, Aldrich simply told CNBC Make It: “No. Not at all.”

But he says it’s important that when you realize what your personal calling might be, you act on it. “Sometimes it continues to do the same thing you are doing, but with a different perspective,” says Aldrich. “And sometimes it’s as drastic a change as mine. I would encourage [you] really try to find out [that]. “

A career crossroads spanning decades

Aldrich’s coaching career had almost begun nearly two decades earlier. In college, he and Odom played Division-III basketball for Hampden-Sydney College in Hampden Sydney, Virginia. And Odom’s father, Dave Odom, is the head coach of Wake Forest’s basketball team.

After graduating in 1996, Aldrich was arranged with his friend to become an assistant on the coaching staff of Wake Forest. But when eldest brother Odom discovered that Aldrich had been accepted to the prestigious University of Virginia law school, he told the young man to get a law degree instead.

After law school, Aldrich returned to Hampden-Sydney as an assistant coach for a season in which the small school went undefeated. Before long, he faced a crossroads: Should he continue to pursue his dream of coaching or take a job at the highly regarded law firm Vinson & Elkins, which would help pay off student loans his?

“That year I was so scared as a coach that I would become mediocre [as a coach]Aldrich said.

Aldrich took the job and moved to Houston, where he met and married his wife, Julie. They adopted three children as Aldrich made every effort to become partners. He left Vinson & Elkins to run an energy investment company, before joining a private investment firm as CFO in 2014.

With each step, he said, he became more and more dedicated to his lucrative career – but basketball kept lurking around in his mind. He began spending his free time coaching AAU basketball teams with the goal of coaching Houston’s teens, which only aggravated the itch.

“I loved what I was doing in private equity at the time,” says Aldrich. “But I woke up every morning thinking about the basketball program, thinking about the kids, thinking about their situation… I started saying to some of my friends who were still playing basketball, ‘Am I crazy when think about this?”

Then, in a moment of chance, or what Aldrich called a “divine appointment,” Odom asked Aldrich to take on the role of UMBC’s hiring director. “When he got that job, he said, ‘Hey, do you want to come help me build a program?'” Aldrich said. “And I said, ‘Absolutely.'”

How his company work has made him a better coach

Aldrich calls his wife a “risk-taker” and credits her for encouraging him to take the UMBC job – even if it means much lower wages and the family moving around the country. . As a devout Christian, he says his decision to change careers can be best understood “through the lens of my faith”: His obsession with climbing the ladder of The company did not satisfy him mentally.

With basketball, Aldrich says he finds deeper meaning in mentoring and guiding young athletes, in ways that he hopes can shape their personalities both on and off the court.

“I strongly believe that athletics reveals a person’s character,” he said. “Teams and coaches have a unique ability to impact lives in ways that mentors, parents, and other authority figures don’t.”

Ironically, that’s where the lessons from Aldrich’s corporate career come in handy. As an attorney who works with Fortune 500 clients, Aldrich said he’s taken a close look at what makes successful companies famous — or in some cases, what they have. can improve.

Successful organizations often emphasize traits like responsibility and character, he says. Surrounding you with people who share your goals is also important.

“It’s all about people,” Aldrich said. “We’re talking about being a growth program. So we have to have coaches that are coaching because they want to invest in the kids, not because they think Division-I basketball is real. great or because they played [basketball] And that’s what they know. There must be another level. “

The strategy seems to be working. On Sunday, NCAA awarded Longwood a 14 seed in this year’s tournament, and has scheduled the school’s first game against third-seeded Tennessee on Thursday, March 17 at 2:45 p.m. ET. The game will be played in Indianapolis and broadcast live on CBS.

Thanks to the historic disappointment of UMBC four years ago, Aldrich says he has the mindset to preach before Thursday. “We’re not going to try to do anything heroic or unique,” he said. “What we’re going to do is try to be the best Longwood basketball we can be, and compete at the highest level.”

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