Villanova University might have handily defeated the University of Michigan, 79-62, to take the National Collegiate Athletics Association title for men’s basketball on Monday night, but one big winner from the tournament has a Big Law past.
On March 16, in arguably one of the greatest upsets in March Madness history, the No. 16 seed University of Maryland, Baltimore County, shocked the No. 1 ranked University of Virginia by pulling off a 74-54 victory. It was a short-lived win for UMBC, whose Cinderella run ended two nights later in a loss to Kansas State University. Nonetheless, it helped one individual involved with the team’s success move into a new position, albeit one outside what many would consider the Am Law 100 of top-tier college basketball programs.
Longwood University announced on March 22 that it had hired Scott Griffin “Griff” Aldrich as its new men’s basketball coach. Aldrich, who spent the past two years as director of recruiting and program development at UMBC, is the latest former Big Law partner to join the collegiate coaching ranks. His move to Longwood, a public liberal arts school in Farmville, Virginia, comes six years to the month that Aldrich left the partnership at Vinson & Elkins.
The American Lawyer traded inquiries with Aldrich but was ultimately unable to connect about his decision to leave UMBC and a life in the corporate world—he served as managing director of Lift Energy Partners LLC and Atinum Energy Investments LLC in Houston after leaving Vinson in March 2012—by the time of this story. But in a radio interview with ESPN Richmond, Aldrich explained how he came to leave behind a career representing clients in the oil and gas industry for one sizing up opponents on the hardwood.
“I’d been coaching [Amateur Athletic Union] basketball in Houston for years and years. And the more I did it kind of revealed it as my passion, and even more than that my calling, working with young men in particular,” Aldrich said. “Ultimately as I reflected on my experiences with basketball, I realized that the two most important men in my life, outside of my father, were my two coaches—my high school and my college coach. Just the platform that you can have … to influence and transform lives, it may sound a little Pollyannish, but it felt like something I was called to do.”
Aldrich told ESPN Richmond that he was considering getting into AAU and high school coaching before Ryan Odom, UMBC’s men’s basketball coach, called Aldrich and asked him to come aboard. Odom, who recently signed a new contract at UMBC, and Aldrich both played basketball together at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, where Aldrich served as team captain during his senior year. After graduation, Aldrich attended law school at the University of Virginia, but did some assistant coaching at Hampden-Sydney in his spare time.
“Ryan is definitely one of my best friends and I’m godfather to one of his children,” Aldrich told ESPN Richmond. “Probably one of the hardest things in this transition is the idea of us not being together. We had just so much fun on a personal basis, it felt like we were back in college on the team together, where he would make fun of me and I would come right back at him.”
Asked about UMBC’s historic win over Virginia last month, Aldrich called the experience “surreal,” noting that his upstart squad felt confident about its game plan going into the matchup in the first round of the NCAA tournament. With the score 21-21 at halftime, Aldrich recalled that UMBC’s players realized that despite not playing their best, they were still tied halfway through an elimination game with one of the best basketball team’s in the country.
Aldrich, a native of the Tidewater region in southeast Virginia, hopes to replicate at least some of UMBC’s upstart success at Longwood, whose men’s basketball team finished 7-26 in 2017-18. That last-place finish in the Big South Conference resulted in the resignation of Aldrich’s predecessor, Jayson Gee, as Longwood’s head coach in early March.
A Vinson & Elkins spokeswoman confirmed that Aldrich worked at the firm from October 2000 until March 2012. During that time, he had a yearlong secondment at The Goldman Sachs Group Inc. that went from 2007 into 2008, according to Aldrich’s profile on professional networking website LinkedIn. His legal work focused on corporate finance and securities matters before he moved into the business world in 2012.
And while UMBC fell short of the Final Four, some other lawyers made the trip to San Antonio last weekend to take in the last four games between of the tournament, one that ahead of the championship game saw Michigan prevail over another upstart, Loyola University Chicago. Steptoe & Johnson patent litigation partner Thomas Filarski, a Loyola University Chicago alum, made the pilgrimage and managed to snag a picture with Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, a 98-year-old nun from Loyola who quickly became America’s No. 1 college basketball fan.
Villanova, of course, has its own spiritual leader in Robert Hagan. The former lawyer-turned-associate athletic director at the school, where he also serves as team chaplain for the men’s basketball and football teams, was center court for Villanova’s second championship victory in three years.