Hope for the ‘Hoos? UVA football coach Mike London seeks to turn talent into wins

Head Football Coach Mike London has posted a 16-21 record over three seasons at UVA. After finishing 4-8 in 2012, London fired four assistant coaches and granted junior quarterback Mike Rocco an unconditional release from the program. Photo: Jack Looney Head Football Coach Mike London has posted a 16-21 record over three seasons at UVA. After finishing 4-8 in 2012, London fired four assistant coaches and granted junior quarterback Mike Rocco an unconditional release from the program. Photo: Jack Looney

On Nov. 19, 2011, Virginia’s players engulfed Bobby Bowden Field after upsetting nationally-ranked Florida State, 14-13. With an 8-3 record and a bowl berth looming, the reclamation project was complete, the program built.

Since that night in Tallahassee, UVA has lost 10 of its last 14 games—six of them by 19 points or more—and suddenly the program is irrevocably broken.

Just as last November’s coronation was premature, rumors of Virginia football’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The Wahoos were 5-1 in one-score games a season ago, but just 2-4 this year. The 2012 campaign could have looked a lot like 2011, and vice versa.

Unfortunately, Mike London’s second 4-8 finish in three years mandated change. Eight days after UVA’s ninth consecutive loss to Virginia Tech, London fired four assistant coaches and granted quarterback Michael Rocco an unconditional release.

“After conducting a complete evaluation of the program and discussing my thoughts with administration, there are a number of areas we need to improve on and it starts with me as the head coach,” London said in a statement. “The decision to release these four coaches is very difficult, but one I feel is necessary in order to meet the goals we have set for the Virginia football program.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Reid was let go, along with Jeff Hanson (defensive line/ recruiting coordinator), Mike Faragalli (running backs), and Shawn Moore (tight ends). It was announced that Anthony Poindexter will no longer be in charge of special teams, though he will remain on staff.

Added London: “I have coached with some of these men for many years, won a national championship with some, and I truly appreciate their dedication and commitment, and more importantly, their friendships. I wish them the best.”

The staff’s unorthodox rotation of quarterbacks this season—a practice surely to be abandoned in 2013—prompted Rocco’s decision to transfer.

“The quarterback position is one where, if you have a lot of things going through your mind, it inhibits the way you play,” Rocco told The Roanoke Times. “It’s an unhealthy environment for any quarterback at UVA. It was hard on all the quarterbacks, not just me. I had no idea what was going to happen next year.”

Virginia’s on-field results have been inconsistent during London’s tenure. In 2010, an overmatched squad nearly knocked off USC and did beat No. 22 Miami, but allowed nearly 40 points per game in four losses down the stretch. In 2011, the Wahoos needed overtime to beat Idaho, just weeks before they became the first team ever to record road wins over FSU and Miami in the same season. In 2012, UVA torched double-digit favorite N.C. State after losing six in a row, including home games to lowly Maryland and Wake Forest.

London’s pedestrian 16-21 record at Virginia makes his success on the recruiting trail all the more impressive. The current class, his third, is ranked 20th nationally by recruiting authority Rivals.com, though staff attrition could alter its makeup. His second class ranked 27th. His first, 25th. The 2010 group (next season’s senior class) was recruited primarily by his predecessor Al Groh and ranked 67th.

The trick now is to translate talent into wins.

“My primary task is to continue to evaluate this program and take the necessary steps to make us successful on the field,” London said. “This University and its fans deserve a program that competes for championships. In order to do that, we need to make improvements in every aspect of our football operation.”

MACON GUNTER is a licensed real estate agent with McLean Faulconer, Inc. in Charlottesville, where he represents buyers and sellers of homes and land. A University of Virginia graduate, Macon has long covered UVA athletics and currently contributes to C-VILLE Weekly and the Virginia Sports Radio Network. Contact Macon through www.macongunter.com. 

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