Wednesday, September 30, 2009

the replacements: Mike London

This is the first in a more or less weekly series that will go more in-depth and, because this is my soapbox, offer up my opinion on some of the more common names tossed around in the speculation circulating around Al Groh's job.

I had some initial misgivings, because this sort of feels like throwing dirt on the grave before the patient is even dead. It seems disrespectful. But....this is what's going on these days. Might as well get with the program.

So, every Wednesday-ish for a while, until such time as it stops being useful to do so, I'll pick one name and yak about what I think. I won't be getting to every name on last week's Which Coaches post, nor will I limit myself to the names on that list. We're starting off with the most obvious choice.

Mike London

Main qualification: Former UVA defensive coordinator, D-line coach

Coaching resume:

1988-1989: Richmond - OLB
1990-1993: William & Mary - DL
1994-1996: Richmond - OLB, recruiting coordinator
1997-2000: Boston College - DL
2001-2004: UVA - DL, recruiting ('02-'04)
2005: Houston Texans - DL
2006-2007: UVA - DC, DL
2008-present: Richmond Spiders - HC

You know about London. If you're a UVA fan and you have ever set foot in this vast Internet wilderness, you've heard London's name mentioned in connection with the head coaching job. Some think it just has to be London. Some assume it's going to be and that's that. Nearly everybody assumes he'll be on the short list, and most would be pretty happy with the hire.

London definitely has a lot going for him. Most notable is his history at UVA. London's defenses performed pretty darn well; when he took over the defense in 2006, UVA went from 61st in the country in yards allowed per game to 17th, shaving off nearly 100 yards in the process. As recruiting coordinator, his first class was the highest-ranked we've ever had: 12th in the country in 2002, when commitments from Ahmad Brooks and Kai Parham electrified the faithful.

And if that wasn't enough, his first year as a head coach was as big a success as it could have been as Richmond won their first I-AA national championship under his tutelage. London is youngish for a head coach at 48 and still has quite a career ahead of him. All in all, it's a very, very solid resumé. Just the sort you look for when hiring a coach you hope will be around a long time.

So why have I gone on record saying I'd rather pass?

One thing you can't escape when talking about London is that somebody will always mention that London "knows what it takes to win at UVA." Presumably this is because he's coached here. Well, more than presumably. Obviously. This is a sentiment that annoys me to no end. London is not an alum and has never coached here except under Al Groh, the guy we are supposed to be running out of town. Any special insider knowledge London has about winning at UVA, he learned from Al Groh. So it stands to reason that whatever London has going for him in this regard, Al does too.

Which is why I call shenanigans. There is no How To Win At UVA handbook inside London's head. London ought to be judged on his qualifications, not this myth that he's got special insider knowledge.

And his qualifications are good, but not immaculate. For one, London has never coached at the I-A level outside of Virginia except for that stint at BC. This is a double whammy in my book, because ideally I'd like to hire someone with experience outside the program. We need a shake-up, and London feels a little too much like an extension of the Groh era instead of a fresh perspective. The second part of the whammy is all that I-AA experience. This is not as big a dealbreaker but the general level of competition is worlds apart.

London should be on the interview list. That's a gimme. A guy who's got ties to the state and has the success as he's had, you have to consider. But I'd like to think our coaching search would have a radius of more than 70 miles, and that in that larger radius there would be someone with more impressive credentials and more experience winning at the I-A level. If London comes in and just blows away the interview, hey, rock out. But I think the brass should be going in looking to be convinced that 1) London offers enough of a contrast to the previous regime and 2) two years as a coordinator and two years as a I-AA head coach outweighs the more extensive list of credentials that the other interviewees likely (and hopefully) will have.

Bottom line, or How I'd Feel If He Were Hired: Generally hopeful and optimistic, but unless a really, truly extensive search turned up London as the actual best candidate that would consider us, a little disappointed in the "easy" hire.

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