When Anthony Poindexter drove his family over the state line into Connecticut and arrived in the frozen city of Storrs, he finally was able to exhale after a few pressure-packed weeks where he admittedly hasn’t slept well.
Leaving Charlottesville, leaving the University of Virginia, which has been his home for most of his adult life, was one of the most difficult decisions he’s ever had to make.
In the end, it was the right decision. Loyalty be damned, Poindexter did it for the sake of his coaching career.
Today, new University of Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco will officially announce Poindexter as the Huskies’ new defensive coordinator. The two bonded at UVa as members of Al Groh’s staff when Diaco was linebackers and special teams coach for the Cavaliers between 2006 and 2008.
It was then that Diaco told Poindexter that if he ever had a chance to hire the legendary UVa All-American, he would. Hired at UConn several weeks ago, Diaco never forgot that promise.
“I’ve been struggling with it,” Poindexter said in a telephone interview Sunday. “Bobby contacted me three or four weeks ago and it has been a real struggle to leave the school that I love, the coach that I love, the kids that I love. I ain’t really slept good in three weeks.”
Still, it was a move that Poindexter had to make. He has passed on job opportunities in the past, job offers that could have advanced his career. At age 37, Poindexter knew that if he ever wanted to become a defensive coordinator, then he had better accept.
“You can only turn down opportunities so many times,” Poindexter acknowledged. “When you turn one down you have to wonder when will it come again, or will it come again.”
A native of Jefferson Forest in the Lynchburg suburbs, Poindexter carved his name into Cavalier lore as a free safety between 1994-98, earning first-team All-America honors as a junior and senior. He was ACC Defensive Player of the Year in ’98 and is one of only three Wahoos to ever earn first-team All-ACC honors three times.
He will forever be remembered for teaming with linebacker Adrian Burnim in stopping Florida State tailback Warrick Dunn inches from the goal line on the final play of the game to lead Virginia’s stunning 33-28 upset of the No. 2 Seminoles, ending FSU’s four-year, 29-game winning streak as an ACC member.
After a three-year NFL stint, cut short by a severe knee injury suffered as a UVa senior, Poindexter returned to his alma mater and served on both Groh’s and Mike London’s staffs in various roles from running backs coach to safeties coach and special teams coordinator.
Poindexter understood that the timing will leave fans and media speculating that he was leaving Virginia’s program because the Cavaliers have fallen upon hard times, but he said that was not his motivating factor, pointing out he chose to stay at the end of the Groh era when UVa was struggling as well.
“It was the opportunity to become a defensive coordinator,” Poindexter said. “I’m excited about this new opportunity but it wasn’t like I was flipping cartwheels in my driveway [Sunday] morning. It was hard to walk out of that office.
“I’m a tough guy and like to be tough, but I choked up when I said goodbye to people I’ve been around for years,” Poindexter said. “People at UVa have helped mold me for the last 17 years of my life. You never want to leave your [players] that you recruited and coached. It was so hard to leave them. I really liked our staff and Coach London. I got along with everyone. I didn’t want to walk out on them when things were down. Mike understood I wasn’t walking out for that reason.”
Poindexter said he wouldn’t work for someone that he didn’t know what they stood for, which weighed in Diaco’s favor. Diaco left Groh’s UVa staff to become defensive coordinator at Cincinnati, and then moved into that same role on Notre Dame’s staff for the past four years before accepting UConn’s head coaching spot.
“Bobby loves working with kids,” Poindexter said. “He’s energetic, has a great personality. We all kind of came from the same people. He was there with me and Coach London on Coach Groh’s staff. He comes from people I know. He’s a great motivator who cares about his players. I’ve been under two head coaches like that and I wouldn’t change that aspect.”
For Poindexter, this is a new adventure, a new challenge. He’s learned from what he estimates to be 50 coaches that he’s worked under during his years at UVa, some great football minds. Now, he wants to take all that he’s learned and see what he can do with his own defense.
“I haven’t moved in 12 years, so I think I needed to go and see what’s out there,” Poindexter said.
“I can’t thank UVa people enough and the community of Charlottesville. They’ve embraced my wife (Kim) and my kids. They all bleed orange and blue just like me and always will. I can’t thank Mike London and Al Groh enough for believing in me and giving me the chance to coach.”
Poindexter said that London deserves to win and believes he will turn the UVa program around.
A candidate for the College Football Hall of Fame, Poindexter leaves behind nearly two decades of memories, including that FSU moment.
“FSU, that’s right up there, even though I can’t remember it that clearly because I was so excited,” Poindexter said. “What I remember most are my teammates, the camaraderie of hanging out with the staff and players. You create memories every day.”
He said the good thing is that he is leaving Virginia on his own terms, no bitterness, which can be rare in his profession. His family will be here until the end of the school year, so he will be back from time to time and can still wear his UVa sweatshirt proudly.
“It’s home and it always will be a special place in my heart,” Poindexter said.
“Hopefully, one day, whenever it may come, I may able to come back to UVa in a leadership position (like defensive coordinator),” Poindexter said. “I’m going to go out and learn as a defensive coordinator so that the next time UVa calls, I’ll be prepared to answer.”
This is a giant step in Poindexter’s career, becoming one of only 130 defensive coordinators on the FBS level. Who knows, it could be a future giant step for Virginia somewhere down the road.