Virginia Football and George Bailey

GeorgeBailyWhat happens to recruiting when a head coach has losing records in 4 out of 5 seasons? What happens when a disappointing 4-8 season is followed by an even more disappointing season of 2-10? What usually happens is the coach is reported to be “on the hot seat” and recruiting grinds to a halt as big name national and emerging regional recruits look for field success and coaching security in their playing careers. As Virginia fans know, for better or worse, there is rarely anything “usual” about UVa football.
Do you recall George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life”? Remember the scene when he was in Martini’s bar and at the end of his rope? He prayed a brief prayer that changed his life and the fate of Bedford Falls forever… “Dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man but if You’re up there and can hear me…” As a result of his prayer, his guardian angel Clarence appears and the story has a tearfully happy ending. The Virginia fan base is a lot like George Bailey headed into this season. We are at the end of our rope. We know that another losing season very likely means the end of Mike London followed by a coaching search to fill a job no one will want and at least 3 more years of rebuilding.
I had written an outline for an article that that focused on the importance of this year’s offensive line to the success of the program for the next several years. Then, Mike London did it again. He secured a verbal commitment from highly touted defensive end recruit Rassol Clemons who chose Virginia over offers from LSU, Tennessee, Clemson, & Kentucky. A few hours later London got a commitment from quickly emerging OL/DL recruit Eli Hanback from Patrick Henry high school just outside of Richmond.
The things that Mike London does on the recruiting trail just don’t happen. He is on the hottest of hot seats. Everyone knows he is a losing season away from being fired, yet for the last two years highly touted recruits with opportunities to play for successful programs with secure coaches continue to line up to join the Virginia program. In the current recruiting season Coach London has room for about 25 players. He has 20 commitments two weeks before Labor Day. He has verbals from three 4-star recruits which by historical standards is a solid number for Virginia coming off good season. CJ Stalker, Jahvoni Simmons, and Rasool Clemons had offers from national programs that are highly ranked in 2014 pre-season polls, yet they all chose to join the “hot seat” program. At least 3 more national recruits with offers from across the SEC, ACC, and Big 10 are hedging their bets just little, waiting to see some signs of success from Virginia in 2014 before jumping on board. Teams coming off successive losing seasons with a total of 6 wins against 18 losses don’t deliver these recruiting results. Mike London however, is a special leader. He is a role model to many of these kids. They respect and admire Mike London as their coach. They adore him as their mentor. Conversely, it is clear from speaking with Mike London that he genuinely cares for his players. I am sure every coach tells recruits how much they care about their success both on and off the football field. Somehow, Mike London connects with kids and their families. They trust him. They want their sons to learn from Mike London and to emulate the way he lives his life…both on and off the field.
Rayner: Average Gets it Done for UVa Football
These are special characteristics for a head football coach. I’d go as far as to suggest that they are unique to FBS college football. Coach Mike London brings assets to the program that no other coach can match. He is a part of the 1% in leadership skills. It is why the current Virginia recruiting class is ranked in the top 30 nationally nestled among and between teams that have had far more success than Virginia in the past 5 years. Mike London justifiably has his critics among the Virginia faithful. However, given his ability to recruit talent to Virginia in the face of hot seat recruiting headwinds, the potential for the program under his leadership is staggering. If Mike London can recruit this well coming off 4-8 and 2-10 seasons, imagine what he can do when he has successive 8-4 and 10-2 seasons. Imagine the recruiting juggernaut of a Mike London, secure in his job, producing winning results on the field. The upside is almost unimaginable.
Therefore here we all sit, the Virginia faithful at Martini’s bar…”Dear Father in heaven we may or may not be praying folks, but if You’re up there and can hear us…”