Football vs. No. 2 Florida State; photos by Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Mike London enters his sixth season at Virginia with a team that returns 10 starters and more than 40 lettermen and a commitment to returning the Cavaliers to postseason play. The focus is on finishing after last year’s team produced a 5-7 record that included several close losses that could have easily resulted in wins for UVa. Having relied on a number of underclassmen on the roster the past two years, London hopes that those talented, and now seasoned players, are ready to help the program turn the corner.
The Cavaliers face one of the nation’s top schedules in 2015 with the season opener at UCLA and early home games against Notre Dame and Boise State in Scott Stadium. London preaches to his team that “To be the best, you have to beat the best!” and he has his charges eager to take on the challenging slate.
Knowing London’s backstory, it is easy to understand why he is so optimistic as well as why his players enjoy and embrace his coaching approach.
A former Richmond police detective, London’s time in law enforcement dealing with the entire spectrum of human emotions and actions has provided a wealth of experience that he draws on to assist players both on and off the field. There are few stressful situations he has not faced - including having a loaded pistol pointed at him and the trigger pulled, only to have the weapon malfunction and not discharge its potentially lethal round.
London also had the remarkable opportunity to save one of his daughter’s lives when he was identified as a perfect match for her rare bone marrow disorder. That opportunity is one reason why London is an advocate of servitude and makes sure his players understand and embrace the concept of giving back through a variety of community services activities. One of the most visible is the team’s annual bone marrow donor registration drive as part of the national “Get in the Game, Save a Life” initiative. During his time at UVa more than 600 names have been added to the national bone marrow registry.
London’s biography includes plenty of chapters of football success on the field as well.
In the spring of 2014, defensive end Eli Harold was selected by the San Francisco 49ers and outside linebacker Max Valles later went to the Oakland Raiders to mark the 32nd consecutive season a UVa player has been picked in the NFL Draft, the second longest streak among ACC schools.
During the 2014 season true freshman safety Quin Blanding earned freshman All-America honors and was named the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
In 2011, London led Virginia to one of its most outstanding seasons as the Cavaliers went 8-4 during the regular season, finished second in the ACC’s Coastal Division with a 5-3 mark and played Auburn in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Cavaliers were one win from advancing to the ACC’s Championship game.
The Virginia turnaround featured four games that the team won in the final seconds. Along the way the Cavaliers became the first college football program to ever win road games at Miami and Florida State in the same season on the way to UVa being ranked in the Associated Press Top-25 poll for the first time since the 2007 season.
For his efforts, London was recognized as the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coach of the Year. He was also selected by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to receive its 2011 Grant Teaff Coach of the Year Award. Five of his players earned either first or second-team All-ACC honors. The 2011 team saw two players - CB Chase Minnifield and OG Austin Pasztor - receive All-America honors and CB Demetrious Nicholson was named a Freshman All-American.
Since taking over the Virginia program London has worked tirelessly to build relationships with the University’s faculty and staff, alumni and former players, fans and supporters and the region’s high school coaches. He has made dozens of appearances, spoke at clinics and been readily available to the media.
He has had the team hold spring practices and coaches clinics across the state, including in Virginia Beach to build support and interest in one of the state’s most fertile recruiting areas.
He defines the culture for the football team by prescribing three basic tenets for his players:
• Go to Class • Show Class • Treat People with Dignity and Respect
The results of his actions were tangible. In his first spring semester at UVa the team posted its best cumulative grade point average in 10 years. Those results have continued to improve and during the spring of 2014, his players once again set a high mark for its GPA.
While all of those things are impressive, London is the first to remind everyone his primary goal is to reverse the fortunes of the Cavalier program on the field. Success has been a big part of the Mike London story even prior to being named the 39th coach in the Virginia program’s history.
In two seasons at Richmond, London led the Spiders to a 24-5 record. In his first year at the helm, his team went 13-3 and won the Football Championship Series national title. The 2009 Spider team, ranked nine consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the FCS polls, went 11-2 and reached the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. His teams were 13-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association during the 2008 and 2009 campaigns.
London’s efforts in 2008 earned him FCS National Coach of the Year honors from both the American Football Coaches Association and Schutt Sports/ American Football Monthly magazine. London was also honored as the Black Coaches Association Male Coach of the Year in 2008, beating out Mike Tomlin of the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers for the award. In addition to the national honors, London was tabbed the State Coach of the Year from both VaSID and the Peninsula Sports Club.
Under London’s watch, 16 Spiders were named to the All-CAA Football Team in 2009 after placing 12 in 2008. His first year at UR, nine Spiders garnered 15 All-America awards and six were recognized on the Academic All-Conference Team. DE Lawrence Sidbury was a fourth-round NFL draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons, while RB Josh Vaughan was a free-agent signee by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Before returning to coach his alma mater, London spent six of seven seasons coaching for Al Groh at Virginia. In 2001 London joined the UVa staff for the first time as the defensive line coach. He took over the responsibilities as recruiting coordinator in 2002. In 2005 London left UVa to work as the defensive line coach for the NFL’s Houston Texas. He returned to Virginia in 2006 as the defensive coordinator and defensive line coach.
During his tenure with the Cavaliers, he saw five defensive players (Chris Long, Marcus Hamilton, Chris Canty, Andrew Hoffman and Monsanto Pope) drafted by NFL teams. Long was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2007, earned unanimous All-America honors, was the Ted Hendricks Award winner as the nation’s top defensive end and the second overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft.
A native of Hampton, Va., London played defensive back at Richmond from 1979-82. Under head coach Dal Shealy, he led the Spiders with six interceptions as a senior captain in 1982. In addition to earning all-state honors, he was chosen the team’s MVP and received the Spiders’ Coaches Award. In 1982, the Virginia Peninsula Sports Club selected him as the male in-state Athlete of the Year.
London graduated from Richmond in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a year later received a degree in law enforcement from the Richmond Police Academy, serving as a detective for the street crimes unit from November of 1984 to July of 1989. The Dallas Cowboys signed him as a free agent in 1983.
London broke into the collegiate coaching ranks in 1989, spending two seasons with Richmond as the outside linebackers coach and admissions liaison, followed by four seasons (1991-94) as the defensive line coach at William & Mary.
He returned to Richmond for two more years (1995-96) as the outside linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator, coaching All-America LB Shawn Barber, who was a fourth-round draft pick by the Washington Redskins in 1998 and played 10 years in the NFL. London served as defensive line coach at Boston College for the 1997-2000 seasons, where he helped lead the Eagles to two bowl appearances.
London and his wife Regina, are the parents of four children - Ticynn, Korben, Jaicyn and Madicyn. He has three older children, Michael, Jr., Brandon and Kristen through a previous marriage. The 53-year-old London was born in West Point, N.Y. in 1960.
His son, Brandon, led Massachusetts in receiving in 2006 and finished his career as the school’s second leading receiver. He was signed to the Miami Dolphins active roster in 2008 after spending the 2007 season on the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants practice squad. Brandon since 2010 has been with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. One of London’s daughters, Kristen, played on the UVa women’s basketball team during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons. His younger brother, Paul, was a defensive back at UVa from 1991-95.
Personal Born: Oct. 9, 1960 in West Point, N.Y. Family: Wife, Regina, and children Michael, Jr., Brandon, Kristen, Ticynn, Korben, Jaicyn and Madicyn
Education High School: Bethel High School, Hampton, Va., 1979 College: Richmond (sociology), 1983 Additional: Richmond Police Academy (law enforcement), 1984
Playing Experience Richmond (1979-82) Dallas Cowboys (1983)