Lon­don sees po­ten­tial at lat­est school

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - Sports -

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.

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