2014 – The Second Year for Mike London

It will be a happy day for Virginia football fans when the talk of the program is focused on games and players rather than the job performance of the head coach. Today is not that happy day.
 
Mike London was hired in 2010 to take over a program that was weary from the leadership of the know-it-all curmudgeon Al Groh. When Mike London was announced as the new head coach at UVa, I was as pleased as any Virginia fan. My brother-in-law (a fellow UVa die-hard) and I went to a “meet the staff” event where Coach London and his new staff mingled with UVa fans and donors. Mike London was impressive. His message was a breath of fresh air.  He said that Virginia football was going to win with kids who went to class, who showed class, and who graduated with their degrees.  He spoke of his background in law enforcement before he began his coaching career. It was obvious that he would connect with kids, their families, and high school coaches who for years had written off Virginia football. While Mike London was hired in 2010, it is my position that 2014 is only his second year with the tools he needs to win and in reality the second year of the Mike London era.
 
When we “met the staff” in 2010 I was enthralled, swept up by the overwhelming sense of optimism. I intentionally ignored the sneaking feeling that something was askew. Virginia football fans always feel like something is askew even in the best of times, so it was easy to suppress this feeling. I was delighted to see three former UVa greats, Anthony Poindexter, Shawn Moore, and Ron Mattes on the Virginia staff. These guys knew how to win at Virginia. I was pleased to see a mix of respected coaching veterans in Jim Reid, Jeff Hanson, and Mike Faragalli mixed in with coaching newcomers Bill Lazor and Vincent Brown.  Chip West and his legendary recruiting acumen was an added bonus to the staff. What I was choosing to ignore was an anxious concern that none of these coaches had a track record of winning D-1/FBS football games. I saw lots of FCS experience and 1-AA success, but no one had delivered sustained success in a major FBS conference. I chose to bury that concern with optimism and alcohol and I headed to the bar for another drink.
 
It might have been buried, but my concern was neither dead nor unfounded. After posting our second 4-8 record in three seasons, Virginia overhauled its coaching staff, firing coaches Reid, Hanson, Moore, and Faragalli. Bill Lazor left the program to return to the NFL. In their places, Virginia hired Tom O’Brien, Jon Tenuta, Mike Archer, Steve Fairchild. All of these coaches have significant D-1/FBS experience. They have won at national D-1 programs. They have a track record of success over time in the ACC or equivalent conferences. 2014 is the second year that Mike London has the tools he needs to win which is why this is the second year of his tenure. The first year of his new tenure was a disaster as we installed new systems on both offense and defense, shook off a ridiculous and ineffective quarterback rotation, and players figured out the nuances and expectations of 4 new coaches.
 
While the new coaches are a needed infusion of experience and know-how, there are lingering questions. Can the contrasting styles of Mike London (a players coach and inspirational leader who connects with the players) and Tom O’Brien (a stern disciplinarian and Naval Academy graduate who served 9 years in the marine corps and has won consistently everywhere he has coached) mesh to deliver a winning system and more importantly a winning culture? Can Mike London compliment his innate art of leadership with the science of winning football games? Most importantly, can we leverage the wealth of coaching experience currently in the program into a winning record in its second year? That’s all the time we have. We squandered the good will and optimism of Mike London’s first three years with a staff that was learning on the job. As a result, have one season to show that this is the staff that can bring winning back to Charlottesville.
 
There is no doubt that Mike London was a big part of the hiring process of his initial staff and owns the ultimate responsibility for its composition. However, as is always the case with Virginia football, something is always a little different. Meddling and heavy-handed Associate AD Jon Oliver is never far from the decisions surrounding the Virginia football program. How influential was he in the hiring of the first staff? We don’t know, but there is no doubt his fingerprints were on the hiring of the initial staff as they were on the hiring of Mike London. The unfortunate reality for Virginia football fans is that we have exactly one more year to find out if this new, highly qualified staff can win, or we get to start the coaching conversations all over again and the happy day when we move beyond talking about coaching staffs to talking about winning football games will be forestalled, once again.