And now starring … Virginia football
Mike London’s initial reaction to the idea pitched to him by University of Virginia executive associate athletics director Jon Oliver about featuring the UVa. football team in a weekly television series was maybe what you’d expect.
“At first, I was like, Cameras in practice? I was kind of hesitant,” said London, the first-year coach at Virginia, who eventually relented, and the series, “Virginia Football: The Building of a Program,” produced by the UVa. athletics department and the award-winning NASCAR Media Group, debuted on Comcast Sportsnet in May, and now counts among its regular viewers fans spread out in Wahoo Nation, prospective recruits, and players and coaches featured in the program.
“It’s a heckuva show,” senior quarterback Marc Verica said. “They’re doing a tremendous job with it. Our media department and the NASCAR Media Group have really done a great job. It’s a great marketing tool for our school.”
It is that. The series has chronicled the efforts of London and his staff to get the UVa. football program back on track in the wake of the train wreck that was the final years of the Al Groh regime, which saw Virginia post three losing seasons in Groh’s final four years, including an 8-16 mark in his final two, and a woeful 3-9 mark in 2009.
London’s first meetings with players, his work to build his staff and spring practice were all prominently featured early on. Recent episodes have followed players on trips to the beach, working their summer jobs and in voluntary offseason workouts.
“They show up to almost everything we do, whether it’s the workouts or the seven-on-sevens in the morning, they’re coming to guys’ houses throwing cookouts and stuff. And they’re not too intrusive about it. They’re there, but they’re not all up in your face, and you can kind of act natural,” Verica said.
Senior cornerback Ras-I Dowling gave the series a mixed review. “I think it’s a great thing to have the fans watching, but … it’s a TV show. You can’t really buy too much into that. There’s a lot of stuff behind closed doors that you don’t see,” Dowling said.
Another mixed review, of sorts, comes from former UVa. All-America Anthony Poindexter, now the special-teams coordinator under London. A recent episode followed Poindexter and another former Cavs great on London’s staff, wide-receivers coach Shawn Moore, as they played in a rec-league softball game.
Dex, you could say, wasn’t having an All-America day out there, from the presentation, anyway.
“I just want y’all to know, I made a lot better plays than falling around that base like that. I turned a couple of double plays that day,” a laughing Poindexter told reporters at Virginia football media day this week.
London had his own behind-the-scenes story to tell regarding the filming for an episode featuring his family.
“They’re outside with their cameras and things like that, fixing everything up. My kids inside were doing the, I know you are, but what am I? She’s looking at me. Stop touching me. My son smacked my daughter, she’s crying,” London recalled. “Then they come in, and they’ve got the cameras set up, big microphone with the fuzzy thing on it, and the guy’s like, OK, Coach, OK, London family, just act normal, and, Action!
“Are you kidding me? Just act normal? So then my son, Korben, who’s 12 years old, so they said, Hey, you ready? Just act natural. And … action! So my son says, Father, Father, shall I get you a glass of water, Father?” London said.
“It’s been very interesting. It can make you do crazy things,” London said.
London’s final verdict on the series, which concludes on Sept. 6, the Monday following the Sept. 4 season opener with Richmond, is overwhelmingly positive.
“Watching some of the shows, I saw the same things that we’re teaching in the meetings about being a good teammate and accountable and responsible,” London said. “They’re showing those segments of the shows of our players going over to each others’ houses, going on trips down to the beach, showing families getting around other families. Those are the type of things – O linemen going out with the defensive backs, that kind of interaction, you’ve got to have those things built up within your team, so hopefully the success of your team will hinge on, I’ve got your back, I’m playing for you, as opposed to just the different segments of the team.”
Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at email@example.com.