London sees potential at latest school
When it was over, and it was over long before the game actually ended, Richmond had defeated Howard 68-21.
That leads to the question, just how bad is — wait for it — not Howard, but the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Football Bowl Subdivision team Howard, a level below in the Football Championship Subdivision, defeated 43-40 in Las Vegas two weeks ago.
Perhaps this is an existential question for which there is no definitive answer. Unless you coach at Alabama, each week in college football presents a different challenge.
College football isn’t the NFL, where you are what your record says you are. In college
athletics, your record doesn’t always say everything about the job you’re doing.
Mike London is the coach at Howard. On Saturday, he returned to the university where he enjoyed great success, first as a player, then as the head coach of the team that won the national championship in 2008.
From UR, he moved to Virginia with the intent to turn around a moribund program. It didn’t work out. In six seasons, London’s teams were 27-46 with one bowl appearance.
He resigned. Within 10 days, he had a job as the associate head coach and defensive line coach at Maryland.
Last season, Maryland was 6-6 in the regular season and played in a bowl game.
The upside for an associate head coach at a Big Ten school would seem to be considerably higher, at least in terms of salary and opportunities, than the job as head coach of an FCS school that has struggled to be competitive in the MEAC.
But London is not so much about upsides these days as he is about building a program and helping his players accomplish as much, and maybe even more, off the field as on. And he’s also about where he is and who he’s with.
“I believe in the whole (idea of) go to class, show class and treat people with dignity and respect,” London said. “I understand we’re in a profession where W’s and L’s count. But I’ve been fortunate to be at some places where having an influence on young men made a significant difference in their lives. And I still get the calls from every place I’ve been from players. That’s the gratifying part of it.”
Maybe if he’d waited another year or two, London might have been presented with the opportunity to be a head coach again at the FBS level.
But he will be 57 in October, and in a nomadic profession, sometimes there’s more to a coaching job than the initials FBS or FCS.
London is from Hampton. His wife’s family lives in Newport News. If another opportunity came to be a head coach, there was no guarantee it would be as close to home as Howard’s campus in Washington.
“In this profession, it’s hard to find jobs where your extended family is,” London said. “My son’s on the staff. You don’t get too many opportunities in this profession to coach with your son, to coach at a place that’s very similar to all the other schools where you’ve been, Richmond, William & Mary, Boston College, Virginia, schools with similar academic goals and mission statements (as Howard).
“I was approached by Kery Davis (athletics director at Howard) and Wayne Frederick (president of Howard), and they talked about building something, about taking the football part to another level. We talked about longevity, about facility improvement, about the aspect that young men should be educated young men and all the academic responsibilities that go with it.”
The UNLV game aside, London appears to have plenty of work ahead. The Bison are 1-2 now.
But London can close the deal with recruits, so maybe this time his W’s and L’s will match the talent he brings in.
Meanwhile, Virginia was 2-10 in 2016 but is 2-1 this season after a victory over Connecticut on Saturday.
London seemed surprised to hear his successor at Virginia, Bronco Mendenhall, has mentioned how he was caught offguard by the culture of losing and lack of depth in the Cavaliers program when he arrived. The lack of depth, Mendenhall has said this season, remains an issue.
“Really?” London said. “No comment. I know a lot of guys there. I love the players there. I still hear from them. But I’m here, worrying about what’s going on with Howard.”
In the weeks and years ahead, London hopes success, on and off the field, will lessen the worries.