Leonard Griffin knows the infrastructure of a top-25 men's soccer program when he sees it from his coaching and playing careers.
That is a major part of why he and Grand Canyon University are a mutual fit for him to be the Lopes' new head coach, according to a press release.
The GCU men's soccer program established itself on the national scene with NCAA tournament visits and top-25 rankings in two of the past three seasons, and the Lopes tabbed Griffin on Friday to maintain and extend that reputation.
Griffin, 38, will succeed retiring Hall of Fame head coach Schellas Hyndman after spending the past decade on the staffs of Division I teams that accumulated a 98-63-28 record. Griffin served the last two seasons as the head coach at San Francisco, where his team finished third in the West Coast Conference behind two top-25 teams after being predicted to finish last.
"You can't look past the stadium and the facilities there on campus," Griffin said of GCU. "Any sort of soccer enthusiast, such as myself, is going to be wowed by it. Knowing that you have that sort of support from the fan base and the athletic department, that goes a long, long way.
"The ambition of the program matches my personal ambition as a coach. I'm still learning and growing, but I think the sky's the limit for the program to do things on a national scale. It's something I'm excited to come and do."
Known as a demanding coach who preaches a team-first atmosphere and teaches an attractive playing style, Griffin brings deep college soccer roots as a former All-America defender who played on UCLA's 2002 national championship team and went on to a six-year MLS career with the Chicago Fire (2004-06), Columbus Crew (2007-08) and Los Angeles Galaxy (2006).
Griffin was an assistant coach on Elite Eight teams at Saint Mary's in 2011 and California in 2013 before assisting a national runner-up team at his alma mater, UCLA, in 2014. He spent three seasons as a Portland assistant, rebuilding the Pilots into the 2016 West Coast champions, before becoming a head coach for the storied San Francisco program with six national championships. He began his collegiate coaching career as an assistant at Cal State San Bernardino from 2008 to 2010.
"Everything that we do will be to the highest standard and I'll hold you accountable to that, but I'll also expect you to hold me accountable to that," Griffin told GCU players upon their first meeting Friday. "I grind. I work. I love what I do and I'm extremely passionate. But I'm here for you guys, first and foremost, as people and as players. All the teams I've worked with, I care about my team more as people than as soccer players. So, whatever you guys need off the field, on the field, in the classroom, I'm here for you. My door is always open to come into my office and talk about it. But when it comes to crossing that line on the field, it stays business for me."
Griffin's 5-4-2 team at San Francisco this season included his 2020 signee Nonso Adimabua, the West Coast Freshman of the Year and all-conference first-team honoree from Nigeria. Adimabua was one of 25 recruits he signed as part of the Dons' rebuild.
Griffin has recruited and coached 35 players who have gone on to professional careers in MLS, USL or abroad. At GCU, he inherits a team that is loaded with returning talent after an 8-0 regular season this year.
"Seeing what they've been able to do and what Schellas has been able to build there has been really special," Griffin said. "The potential for the program to continue to do so is great. The WAC is growing and getting stronger. It's usually a two-bid league but I think it's going to continue to grow past that. It will be competitive but we have everything we need at GCU to stay at the top of the conference, get in the NCAA tournament and the goal is to make extremely long runs and compete for a national championship each year."
Griffin starred at Littlerock High School near Palmdale, California, before starring as a defender at UCLA, where he earned a sociology degree and was a No. 11 overall MLS SuperDraft pick.
At UCLA, he also met his wife, Paige, a Bruins diver who grew up in Phoenix and was a state champion for Mountain Pointe High School. The Griffins have two children, Ravi and Sienna.
"I had a coach when I was playing under-14 — he was a Brazilian coach — and we used to go to his house and we watched the '94 World Cup in his living room as a team," Griffin said. "That's where I really fell in love with the game of soccer and the way it looked. The beautiful game, played beautifully. That's how I believe the game should be played. I've always seen it as an art, a way to express yourself creatively and so I want to be a team that plays from the back.
"I need all players to be technically capable, to build through the lines, from the goalkeeper all the way to the front half. But I don't want to die in our own beauty in the sense that we're pushing the ball around the back 10 times and then we lose and now it's a counter. But I want to possess with a purpose, put an emphasis on getting behind the other team's back four and score as many goals as possible."