Good man, but maybe not right man for Virginia
This is a difficult column to write. It isn’t because the subject is particularly sensitive or the opinion over the top or combative. It’s because I’ve broken one of the cardinal rules of journalism and it is now coming back to bite me.
We learn early in this business not to get close to the subjects we cover. The nature of our jobs puts us at cross purposes pretty often and you never know when you might have to report or write something that isn’t too complimentary.
But if you get to know Mike London at all, it is almost impossible not to form a very favorable opinion. Over many years, I have come to know London, currently the head football coach at the University of Virginia, and my opinion of him could not be higher.
We’re not buddies. We’ve never had a meal together or even a drink. Our relationship has been strictly professional, dating back to his days as a player at the University of Richmond. He’s been an assistant coach at schools I’ve covered as well as a head coach.
I like him, a lot. He’s a man of integrity and honor.
That said, I’m starting to wonder if it is going to work out for him as the head coach at Virginia. Check that. I’m pretty convinced it won’t. As much as it pains me to say it, I think the school needs to seriously consider making a change.
Granted, I view Virginia football at a distance these days. I haven’t been to a game since London has been head coach there, nor have I spoken with him. I see it with a very detached view and that view is one of a
major disconnect. It just isn’t working.
Virginia is off this weekend, which is good news because it means the Cavaliers’ losing streak won’t grow. They’ve dropped seven straight and given up at least 35 points in the past four. They sit at 2-8, with a victory over a good Football Bowl Subdivision squad in Brigham Young and a bad Football Championship Subdivision team in VMI.
Ahead are games at Miami and at home against Virginia Tech. In a season with a favorable schedule that featured eight games at home, a 2-10 record seems likely. Worse, Scott Stadium has been about two-thirds full. Nothing damages an athletic department’s budget quite like too many empty seats at its biggest revenue producer.
Athletic director Craig Littlepage has given London a vote of confidence in recent weeks and said publicly he won’t make a change. It is admirable he’s standing behind London, who was plucked away after only two years at Richmond and is now being paid about $2.5 million a year. It just may not be smart, even given the high price tag (in the $8 million neighborhood) that would come with cutting London and his staff loose.
London had as many wins over Duke in two years at Richmond as he’s had in four years at Virginia: one. Yes, Duke isn’t the doormat at used to be. That’s one of the sticking points. If Duke can upgrade its program, why can’t Virginia?
Worse, from the Cavaliers’ point of view, is the fact that Virginia’s rivalry with Virginia Tech has become onesided to the point of absurdity. Tech has won nine straight and 13 of the past 14 against Virginia.
There’s no reason for that, no reason Virginia shouldn’t be much more competitive with its in-state rival. Virginia is located in a wonderful city, boasts a beautiful campus (or grounds as they say in Charlottesville) and offers a world-class education. It should be able to look Tech, and pretty much any program in the ACC, right in the eye on an annual basis.
The Cavaliers haven’t had any problems attracting quality players and recruiting is one of the reasons Littlepage gave for sticking with London. Since 2002, when the website started keeping track, Virginia’s class has ranked higher than Tech’s four times in Rivals.com’s national recruiting rankings.
Not quite even, but not so out of whack as the on-field results would indicate.
Look, too, at current NFL rosters. You’d think a school that’s won 13 of the past 14 meetings over the other would have a higher number of active pros. Nope. According to charts kept on each school’s athletic website, Virginia Tech currently has 22 players on NFL rosters at some level (active or injured reserve). Virginia’s number? Also 22.
So Virginia is recruiting almost as well over the years and better in several years. It is producing professional players at the same rate. Sure, other factors are involved, but again: no way should this rivalry be as lopsided as it has become.
Virginia went to bowl games five times in nine seasons under Al Groh, but only once in his final four seasons. London was lured away from Richmond, where he went 24-5 in two seasons and won an FCS title in 2008.
London earned the ACC Coach of the Year award after going 8-4 his second season and it looked as if the Cavaliers were going to progress to where they were early in Groh’s tenure, and maybe further.
But Virginia slipped to 4-8 last season and that’s the best it can do this season if it manages to beat Miami and Virginia Tech.
Interest is waning, as crowd counts show. The results are discouraging. Here’s hoping Littlepage is correct and that keeping London proves to be the right call. Never would I be so happy to be wrong.
The success that Mike London had at Richmond (above) got him a dream job at Virginia. But this season has been a nightmare for the fourth-year coach as the Cavs are 2-8.