by Hank Kurz Jr.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP)—Mike London said all the right things in accepting the job to rebuild Virginia’s football program, talking of how high academic standards shouldn’t rule out success on the field and the importance of building deep and personal relationships.
The latter will be especially true as it relates to high schools and recruiting.
|KEY HIRING—New University of Virginia head football coach, Mike London, left, speaks during a news conference with athletic director, Craig Littlepage, right, in Charlottesville, Va., Dec. 7.
“I think we have to recapture the state of Virginia,” the former Richmond coach said Monday. He succeeds his former boss, Al Groh, who was fired last Sunday after nine seasons and a 1-8 record against Virginia Tech, the dominant team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
London agreed to a five-year contract that will pay him $1.7 million per year to take over a team coming off a 3-9 record, its worst since 1982. It has had three losing seasons in the last four and fallen behind the rival Hokies in the minds of many in-state recruits.
London will be just the second current Black head coach in the six conferences with automatic bids to the BCS, joining Miami’s Randy Shannon, but said he wanted to be hired on his merits, not his skin color.
“I guess you guys can talk about the historical significance of it,” he said.
His hiring, though, was celebrated elsewhere.
Former NFL head coach Tony Dungy, who on Sunday night called the low number of Black head coaches in the college game “disgraceful,” said in an e-mail that he applauds Virginia “on doing an inclusive search. I hope this will be an encouragement to other universities to do the same—to look at a broad picture of candidates and hire the best person for their job.”
London is just the 10th Black coach at the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
Widely respected as a recruiter, London says he intends to build a network that reaches not only into high schools, but into the surrounding communities because, he said, “people don’t care about how much you know until they know about how much you care.”
He also had a message for high school coaches, particularly in the state:
“If Virginia hasn’t been there, we’ll be there,” he said.
London left a team that won the Football Championship Subdivision national championship in 2008 and reached the quarterfinals of the playoffs this year to return to a place he knows well, having spent six years as an assistant under Groh in two stints between 2001-07.
The courtship was “a whirlwind,” according to London, who said the downer of his Spiders losing to Appalachian State in the last 10 seconds on Saturday night was replaced early the next morning by “euphoria” once Virginia asked for permission to speak with him.
Athletic director Craig Littlepage said once he knew he was in the market for a head coach, “one coach, just one, stood out,” and he was delighted that London was available.
“There have been a lot of athletic directors who have asked me about him. I was hoping they wouldn’t hire him for that maybe one day we’d have this sort of predicament,” he said.
London’s background as a college coach also includes stops at Boston College and William & Mary, similarly strict academic schools, and he said his recruiting approach will be to seek players who view playing football at Virginia as a best of both worlds opportunity.
“It’s a fit, a perfect fit for me,” he said.