CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – The McCue Center is a happier place under first-year Virginia coach Mike London – or so I’m told.
It’s not like I haven’t covered Virginia football before.
But today, I felt like I was introduced to the program for the first time. That’s because all of the coaches’ office doors were open following their morning staff meeting -- including London’s.
Sit down, defensive coordinator Jim Reid said, before asking about my family and talking about his. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and running backs coach Mike Faragalli stopped their conversation in the offensive meeting room for a quick chat, and recruiting guru Chip West was caught red-handed working with some classic 80s music on in his office. Former standout defensive back Anthony Poindexter leaned back in his office chair, and with an aw-shucks smile deflected the sports information director’s introduction of being the staff “legend.”
Granted, there is less pressure in mid-June and most staffs are a little more relaxed, but possibly the biggest change to Virginia football since London was hired has been the atmosphere. That’s a direct result of London’s gregarious, genuine personality, which is contagious. It’s reflected in the assistants he hired, who are also down-to-earth, approachable people. And it’s visible in the players, who have been urged by this staff to become more involved in their community and try harder in the classroom.
Don’t mistake these “nice guys” for FCS pushovers, though. More than one of London’s ACC opponents have told me, unprompted, that London is the “real deal.” He and his staff want to win in the ACC just as much as Butch Davis and Randy Shannon do. They know it has to be done with blocking and tackling, not handshakes and hugs. But they also realize the importance of relationships – with each other, with the players, within the state high schools, the fan base and the media.
It might not happen as quickly as Virginia fans would like, but this program can win with London. He and his staff have already lured in 14 commitments for the class of 2011, including one ESPN 150 prospect. Eleven of those players are either from Maryland, D.C. or Virginia.
In order to win, you have to have the players. But in order to get the players, you have to win them over with your personality and philosophies.
London is certainly capable of doing both.