Chris Graham: The case for UVA football coach Mike London
Talk about low expectations. UVA fans don’t expect football coach Mike London to make it past the final game of the 2014 regular season, if he even gets that far.
That’s what a 2-10 record backing up a 4-8 year the season before will do to you. London’s teams are 18-31 in his four seasons in Charlottesville, and just 8-24 in the ACC, including 0-8 in 2013 and 2-15 in their last 17 conference games dating back to 2011.
But what if London really is on the verge of a turnaround? What if all that great recruiting that he’s done, the inroads he’s made into Hampton Roads, the 757, are just about to pay off?
Could this be the year that London gets things moving in the right direction? And will that right direction include enough wins to earn him a sixth season at the helm of Virginia football?
The case for Mike London:
Quarterback play: This has been a problem since London’s arrival, and to be fair the issue dates back to the early Al Groh years. (London was Groh’s recruiting coordinator, so he gets some of that blame, too.) George Welsh holdovers Matt Schaub and Marques Hagans had success in the first half of the Groh era, but recruiting misses (Kevin McCabe, Peter Lalich) ultimately doomed Groh.
London hasn’t had a top recruit miss as was the case in the Groh years, because he hasn’t had a top QB recruit yet. Michael Rocco was more than serviceable in the 2011 run to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but then London decided to upset the apple cart when Alabama transfer Phillip Sams temporarily fell into his lap. Both are gone now, and lightly regarded recruit David Watford flamed out in 2013, leaving the ‘Hoos with Greyson Lambert.
Lambert was a high-profile recruit out of high school, with offers from Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Miami, among others. The 22nd-ranked pro-style QB in the class of 2012 by Rivals, Lambert has shown glimpses of that potential in game action, but now entering his third year in the program (he redshirted in 2012), Lambert needs to step up big time for UVA in 2014.
Helping him is the presence of Tom O’Brien in the program. O’Brien’s two most recent quarterbacks at NC State, Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon, are both NFL starters, and his pedigree also includes Matt Ryan and Matt Hasselback.
It would also help Lambert if he could get the same level of support in rough spots as Watford had in 2013, in which the struggling Watford nonetheless got the start in all 12 of Virginia’s games. Rocco, Sims and Watford were a sort of quarterback merry-go-round in 2011 and 2012, to the detriment of all three.
Inputs and outputs: Looking at the Rivals recruiting rankings for the past four years, UVA’s haul on the aggregate would put the Cavs sixth overall in terms of talent on the roster (and in the same range as fourth-place Virginia Tech and fifth-place UNC).
Schedule: Yeah, it’s brutal, with UCLA, Louisville, BYU and Florida State in addition to the Coastal Division. Could be worse, though, with five of the first six at home, including the dates with UCLA and Louisville, and home games in the second half of the season with Miami and UNC. A team in need of a shot of confidence early on has several opportunities by the midway point on Oct. 4 to develop that confidence.
How it happens: Anything less than six wins, and London is guaranteed of nothing on Friday after Thanksgiving other than turkey leftovers. But there are six, maybe seven or eight, winnable games on the schedule: Richmond, Louisville (new coach, new quarterback), at BYU (beat ‘em last year), Kent State, Pitt, at Duke (had ‘em down 22-0 in the first half last year), UNC at home, Miami at home.
It’s a million-to-one that Virginia wins six or more in 2014, but as Lloyd Christmas said in “Dumb and Dumber,” when confronted with similar odds, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
– Column by Chris Graham