Mike London press conference
UVa. will kick off its 2010 season on Saturday against Richmond.
Q. Going into every season, you know what your team can do and whatever, a new team, getting to know them, but how do you gauge your expectations and what do you expect?
COACH LONDON: You always want to assess a player’s abilities. You want to take your schemes that you have to match those abilities to maybe find players that can you hope exceed your expectations. I think the early part of training camp as we have gotten into going into game week, and we have some idea about, you know, those individuals or those schemes, those things, that you think maybe would help us, and you know, with this team, everybody wants to do well. No one wants to perform poorly. You know, you’re going to have to play much better than what we have done in the past and then you give yourself a chance. That’s what the camp has been about and that’s what going into this week is about.
Q. Can you talk about Raynard Horne’s rise to a starting spot on the depth chart this fall?
COACH LONDON: Raynard has done a great job of doing the things that I’ve asked him to do over the summer. You know, academically, socially, from a football standpoint, and he’s moved himself and put himself in a position where he warrants the close look. He may be the starter on game day. I’m going to put the ball in his hands, obviously on the kick‑off returns. He’s done things in practice and in scrimmages that, you know, have made you take a double‑take on Anthony Poindexter, the special teams coordinator said a couple of years ago that he was the MVP. We are looking for that competitor, that guy, and thankfully for us he showed up here during the summer and during the early part of August.
Q. John-Kevin Dolce starting at tackle, did you have any reservations about a 250‑pound guy being able to tackle the way he can?
COACH LONDON: Well, he’s inside. He’s probably ‑‑ pound for pound he’s probably one of the strongest guys on our team. Just ask him if you want to. As an H player, I think it suits his skills and his ability. Now, if he was still a 3‑4 nose tackle or defensive end, that would be probably tougher for him. But he’s done a great job of, you know, playing on the edge and the things that Coach has taught him, he can use his hands well and he is an up the field, aggressive kind of guy, and so we’ll be excited to see how that can transition into him actually playing against another opponent.
Q. Playing off of Hank’s question earlier, in the early part of the season ‑‑ the two FCS teams, a national contender and a bye week, when do you think you’ll know what kind of team you have, what their capabilities are, and what will you look for through the first month of the season?
COACH LONDON: Well, obviously, one of the things of being competitive, to see competitive in regards to who we are playing, what team, what level. You spend so much time against each other in training camp and beating on each other and after a while, you don’t know if you’re as good as you think you are or you’re as bad as you think you are. It’s just one of those things. When people start playing other people, you have some sort of idea about what you are.
I think the first three games, because of the test and the degrees of where we are going and travelling and all of that, it’s going to be interesting to see coming out of that going into the bye game about where we are and then where we should be.
Q. Obviously as a new coach, the team has not won an opening game in the last four years; do you inquire at all to ask the players to get any kind of feedback on what their status is and why they haven’t played very well the last four openers?
COACH LONDON: Not from why they haven’t played well, but the fact that it’s out there, the facts are the facts, we have not won a home opener in such a long time and that’s one of the team goals, one of several goals, but, you know, as you look at this particular season, and as you alluded to, a new this, a new that, it’s a new opportunity to change the way things have been going for a while, in particular, with these fourth and fifth year seniors. That’s been a point of emphasis with this game coming up being the first game, but the importance of having a chance to play well on your home opener.
That’s one of many goals that we set, this is the first one that we have an opportunity to do so on September 4.
Q. You had talked in practice a couple of weeks ago about how you were going to install some Richmond game plans, but you were focused on yourself and worrying about yourselves; is that coming along as you would like it?
COACH LONDON: It has, but like I said, there’s always room for improvement. We are playing football and you want the stats to be 100 percent. You want the throws to be made in a position where the receivers can catch it only. You want guys that break down and tackle the proper way. Throughout practice, that’s why you practice. I mean, this thing that you always try to emphasize to players, that you have to do this, you have to be in this position, and the other team is allowed to move. They are allowed to do other things, too, that’s going to reflect or effect what you do. So you know, this week in practice will be as important as any other week, particularly now that we are getting ready for an opponent. And the first thing about having an opponent that you don’t know a whole lot about other than personnel is you don’t know the schemes.
And I’m quite sure on the other side, that all they will be talking about is taking care of ourselves first and then worrying about what happens during the game. So there’s only certain other ways that you can play coverages and run different plays. We just have to be able to be, you know, technique‑sound and proficient. So whatever they do, we can react to.
Q. What are your thoughts on going up against your former team and can you just talk about the emotions of facing off against them, having recruited and coached them?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, sure, I would not be human if I sat here and said it’s another game. It’s not another game. That’s my alma mater. I spent years there as a coach and a player and I won championships there with that team, and there are coaches on that staff ‑‑ I have a lot of respect for the coaches and the players, as you said. Dr. Ayers who was here before, the president there, along with Jim [Miller], he gave me an opportunity and I’m forever grateful for that.
But as things happen sometimes, opportunities and doors open that you take the most of an opportunity, and now I’m here wearing the orange and blue. So my priorities now are to the University of Virginia and make sure we are ready to play and hopefully coincide with the captains wanting to do, as our first goal, which is to hopefully win a home opener.
Pre‑game they may not want to talk to me. I understand that. Hopefully after the game, I remember when I was here before, and left, and went to Richmond as a head coach, before the game was kind of chilly and you’re getting ready to play, but after the game, you know, it’s just out of mutual respect and love for people that you have and spent a lot of time with, the embraces and well wishers, so hopefully we will do the same type of atmosphere before and after.
Q. With John-Kevin Dolce, is it a designation of what he has done or is something holding Matt Conrath back?
COACH LONDON: If you looked at it, you would probably see those guys, they are a three‑way rotation, basically. No matter who starts, you look at the three guys inside, Nick and Matt and John-Kevin, they are probably going to play the same amount of snaps, because they have all earned and it warranted it. Matt is back now off of the injury that he had, and he’s had a pretty good camp and John‑Kevin has played well. He was voted captain by our guys. So I think the three of those guys inside in a rotating fashion will give us what we need.
Q. Can you talk about your philosophy on special teams?
COACH LONDON: Everybody knows the kicking game is a third of the game. If you have your best players in the position to help with your field position or keeping them from starting where they like to start, then we’re talking Poindexter, we want to start with the best players we can. Hopefully try to capture an advantage in one of those areas.
Special teams wise, Raynard returning kids, [Perry] Jones back there, Chase [Minnifield] returning punts, we are trying to position the team in a way that, you know, with special teams, it’s a one‑play type of deal. And if you’re not at your best on that one play, punt, punt return kick, kickoff return, you’re susceptible to poor field position or gaining and advantage, and we want to get all of the advantages we can get and we want to try to put players in those positions to help us out.
Q. Can you talk about the position battle at middle linebacker?
COACH LONDON: Aaron [Taliaferro] has done a nice job. Unfortunately, you know, Steve [Greer] got hurt during spring practice, but as Steve started coming back, you started to see why he played a lot and why he made a lot of tackles, because Steve was a very smart player. He’s like the quarterback on offense, the defense; he calls the fronts and makes the adjustments and a lot of times it affects the secondary and what they are doing. You can see over the course of August practices and here up until recently, that, you know, he has an eye for the football, he understands the game, and he puts himself in position to make plays.
So actually, he’s made the competition at that position, you know, much more fierce, because now Aaron knows that he’s got to be on his Ps and Qs. We’ve, being able to understand lineups and formations and making those coverage calls and things, will just cause Aaron to have to step up. So he’s been helping competition both of them playing a lot. So it’s a good position to be in, I’m quite sure for both of them that no one has anything over one of them we need both of them to play.
Q. What’s the biggest difference between an FCS school compared to an FBS school?
COACH LONDON: Obviously the numbers, in terms of scholarship numbers, 85 FBS and 63, you know, for FCS. I think that a lot of those kids, being on the other side now, there are times when they have not had opportunities to be recruited by going to, quote, a BCS school. And sometimes that’s a motivating factor for them, because they start out wanting to be recruited and things just worked out that it didn’t happen that way. Lawrence Sidbury should have been at a I‑A school when he was at Richmond, he just did a fantastic job. And those are motivators I know for young men like that.
Sometimes you think at the BCS level that you have the best of the best athletes that are out there and sometimes that may be the case, but a lot of times it’s not. You can’t measure the heart of a young man or an individual, and I’m quite sure that having been on both sidelines now that part of it for them is, you know, they want to play in this venue, hopefully be a great crowd, ESPN game, they want to play against so‑called “BCS” athletes. And at the same time, we are going to have to be able to match and exceed whatever excitement and enthusiasm they bring, because this is a very good team. You know, all things considered, you know, we are a team that lost to Duke last year and Richmond was a team that beat Duke. And you can’t take any of this lightly and like I said, we are going to have to match the energy and excitement that they bring. But the fact that this is our home opener and home game and a chance for us to change our own fortunes, makes it very important for us also.
Q. How do you feel about your starting quarterback, Marc Verica, coming into the season, now that you have you seen him in camp for a few weeks? And also talk about the depth chart and Mike Rocco.
COACH LONDON: You know, Marc’s done a great job of handling the offense and making the plays and running the offense. Now it’s going to be on him to make the throws, to be efficient, to distribute the ball, not to make mental errors, not to force throws. I mean, just kind of manage things. He’s a fifth‑year guy, he’s been in a lot of games and he should do that.
The tricky part was choosing that second quarterback, knowing between Ross [Metheny] and Michael [Rocco], they had really separated themselves from each other, so with that in mind, both are listed on the same line and depends on how the game is going, which one will go in the game. That will be determined as the game goes on. So we are looking for a clear second, but you know, we don’t have it right now. We have two guys on the same line, and they are going to have to compete, even this week, to find out who will be the first to go in the game.
Q. You have a lot of substitutions, how is that going to work out on the field Saturday with the play clock running?
COACH LONDON: With the rotation of the players? Just basically being mindful of the 40‑second clock, that it you’re going to make a substitution, be smart about what areas of the field we make it on. If it’s a 30‑yard line close to your bench, it makes good sense to do it. If it’s on the other side away from us, obviously trying to put a player in the game for the sake of calling a game, we have got to be smart about that.
The players know, we practiced this throughout camp, not only at the McCue Center, but also the stadium about what areas of the field we’ll make substitutions, when we will make substitutions. Obviously we will do that in a two‑minute situation. Obviously we have to be aware and situationally smart about what we do as coaches and players.
But the players that are going to play in the game are going to be the ones that are ready to play and I’m sure they will be excited to do so.
Q. You are referring to John‑Kevin as an on‑the‑edge player, for a defensive tackle, what does that mean, literally on the edge, for a tackle to be on the edge?
COACH LONDON: Well, what you have, a three technique is a tackle that’s shaded outside solely by the guard. A tilt technique, he’s shaded outside, shoulder on the center. So that’s what I mean by being on the edge. Defensive edge, five technique is shading on the outside edge of a tackle, or nine technique is shaded on the outside edge of a tight end. So when I said John‑Kevin is on the edge, it gives him a chance to go vertical, utilize some of his strength and quickness attributes that he’s shown. So that’s what I mean by that.
Q. The three‑four he would have been ‑‑
COACH LONDON: Head up, controlling the player, having two gaps, you know, those type of things. But I think his weight will help ‑‑ where he is now with his weight and what we are asking him to do, he will be a more productive player.
Q. Can you talk about the dynamics that you mentioned earlier in preparing for Richmond. It’s going to be an educated case, how you prepare for that? How much adjusting will be going on?
COACH LONDON: I think from both standpoints, his staff and our staff, what you can do is you can assess, you know, player’s skill level. You can evaluate players as far as strengths and weaknesses, you know, perceived or maybe, you know, by error. But I think most guys had a chance to lift during the summer and get better. I’ve always been an advocate that you make your biggest gains over the summer because you have a strength coach with you all the time.
So I know both sides will probably talk about the personnel, who can do what, who can’t do this, who is susceptible to that move or whatever it may be, and whatever scheme that you have, we won’t know, there’s speculations, you try to find out where the coordinator was and who he has been influenced by, and all of those things. But probably do something ‑‑ we will possible do something that they haven’t seen or practiced for and that’s what you hope about taking care of yourself, being able to adjust and being able to play and not get paralyzed by what you see out there. So with two new teams and two new coordinators, just the whole aspect of what’s going to happen, we have just got to be prepared for anything, basically, and if the game goes on, then that’s where, you know, where we will have to match trying to put maybe our best player against whatever, a perceived weakness or scheme of a particular side of the ball or whatever. So during the game, it will be important, what they are doing, what we are doing and how we can adjust.
Q. You told us last week that you would look at Kevin Parks for a couple more days and then kind of make a decision on him as to whether you use him for the first game. Outside of Morgan Moses, is there anybody else, any other freshmen, who you can see playing this week?
COACH LONDON: I think looking at our depth situation back in the corner position that Rijo Walker will probably play. Drequan Hoskey who came here on a track scholarship may play in some limited special teams role; and you mentioned Morgan, that’s probably about it. Kevin right now is a very, very good ‑‑ he’s going to be a very, very good player here, but I’m excited about the backs that we have to use during the course of the season, with Raynard and Perry, Dominique Wallace, Keith Payne, that you know, they will be able to provide us the type of spark that we need.
So I have not made a definitive decision about it. Kevin may even travel with us just to get used to that and just to be with us, but we’ll see how that goes as the season goes along.
Q. Talk about facing the quarterback from Richmond, Aaron Corp, that you don’t know much about.
COACH LONDON: I know he came from USC and he played three games and he’s a highly‑recruited player, you know, for that school and he’s a great get for Richmond, for him to transfer there. I know they have a quarterback that’s talented that’s coming out of high school, everybody wanted him. So he’s probably upgraded their ability to do a lot of things that I know they want to do with the ball. We are going to have to do, what we need to do to hopefully minimize any opportunities for him to spend a lot of time back there. So it was a great gift for them and I’m sure he’s made their whole offense better by having an experienced quarterback.
Q. Given the position battle for backup quarterback, what role will Michael Strauss have these days?
COACH LONDON: I think Michael is still in a learning process here. The competition has made everyone have to step their game up a little bit. You know, Michael Strauss is not far away. He’s not far away from that mix.
But after awhile, you can’t give three backup quarterbacks reps in practice. You’ve got to start fine tuning what’s going on, and right now, with Ross Metheny and Michael Rocco, those are the guys.
After this week’s practice or next week’s game, the open week, it may alter a bit, so those guys are all on notice about being able to perform.
Q. What do you recall about sort of your approach and your thoughts two years ago leading into your first game as a head coach, and how is that any different with a couple of years under your belt sitting in the big office leading into this game as head coach here?
COACH LONDON: Well, you know, talking to the guys there, just truly enjoyed the venue and it’s going to be a great atmosphere, and just play to win.
Sometimes if you play not to lose a game, just play to win; and you do as a coach, talk about, we have nothing to lose, being the school that’s traveling off the road to play the BCS school. So I would imagine that ‑‑ Latrell was here, Coach Scott was here and I’m quite sure that was part of the approach. But for us, as I said, and this is a good team that we are going to play, and we have got to play better than what we made in the past in order to change the for tunes of last couple of years are home openers. We have to play better in order to limit any opportunities when you leave on the field that aren’t to our advantage.
So we have to find play makers and get the ball, so we have to rush the pass. There’s so many things that we have to do first that whatever they do, we’ll just have to react to what they do, but we can control our own efforts and our own energy, and adjust it, as the game goes on as to what we have to do.
Q. And far as you ‑‑
COACH LONDON: As far as me? No, still the night before, Nervous Nelly, all the stuff like that, stay up till one o’clock, watch SportsCenter, drive my wife nuts and stuff like that.
But as a coach, you still feel those anxieties of, have you done enough, have you prepared enough, should I have put in the triple reverse throw‑back pass or something like that. I mean, after a while, it’s like, hey, listen, let’s go, let’s play.
But I’m looking forward to the game, as I’m sure all of the coaches are on both sides, because I know them well.
Q. Zane Parr is not a guy you get a lot of questions about, but he’s a returning starter and made a number of big plays last year. Where is he in your defense and what are your thoughts?
COACH LONDON: You know, you’re right, Zane has been kind of a quiet guy. He’s not very ‑‑ doesn’t pound his chest or anything like that. Just very unassuming, but he plays the defensive end position and plays it well. Now he has to step up into more of the light of, hey, listen, you have to make sacks, tackles for losses, you have to do well against the run, against the pass, because you’re more so now, if not an every down player, you’re now one of the guys now we have to count on making plays. You’re not just a reserve coming in on nickel team. Now you have to make as many plays as possible to help us.
Q. What do you think last year when you learned that Virginia wanted to talk to Brandon Hourigan and what did you think when you lost him? (Strength and conditioning coach).
COACH LONDON: I thought, oh, and then I said, uh‑oh, what happened? I had a chance to talk to Coach Groh during the early part of the season, and the last two years I was at Richmond, and talked about how I thought how Brandon had done a great job for us there, particularly the 2008 year we won the championship.
However, whatever happened, the situation opened up at Virginia and then Brandon had an opportunity. Hated to lose him, but, you know, I was there in Richmond in the process of hiring Chris Stewart who is the strength coach at Tennessee and Chris has done a great job at Richmond now.
And then coming here with the change, you know, as you’re looking at coaches and who to bring in, it was more reassuring to know that Brandon was already here as a strength coach so he was as important as any of the assistant coaches. So it was good to have him here and start lifting with his philosophy and the way he does things. It’s going to take some time but I think we are on the right track.
Q. With the offensive line last year, you have some experience up there, only two seniors in the top ten, what are your thoughts on where they are going to be and what they will do this year?
COACH LONDON: Obviously have to play better, that’s for sure. You look at a guy like Oday Aboushi, he played in some games and now he’s a starter. So now his acceleration and learning has to go fast. It’s got to be where he’s playing on a high‑caliber level and it’s like you have to take your lumps with him but he’s got to play. You know, Mihalik and Pasztor, B.J. Cabbell, Anthony Mihota, same thing. He was behind Jack Shields and now he’s the guy. He’s the one that’s calling protections and things like that. His level has got to accelerate to a position that’s going to allow us ‑‑ give us a chance to win, give us a chance to compete.
So it is to a relatively fairly young offensive line. But you know, that’s just football. It’s college football. Weight room and birthdays, those are the things ‑‑ line guys, bigger, faster, stronger. We have who we have right now and you address those issues by recruiting and so we’ll season to do that and then keep trying to bring in a good offensive line, because the offensive line has been good around here.
Q. Teaching chemistry is one thing but coaching chemistry during the game, whether the guy is in the box or on the field, have you given much thought as to who is going to be where and how that’s going to play out?
COACH LONDON: We addressed that on the last couple of scrimmages and we addressed that with Coach Reid and Coach Lazor, kind of much talked about who is going to be on the field who is going to be in the box and what duties and assignments each coach has. This past scrimmage we did a practice game where the players went off on the sideline and they sat on the bench area and whoever is going to address them, address them, and where we are going to go in half time in the locker room, so if you try to do all those things and it happens on game days like we have already done this, we know where to go and who is talking to me on the head set, we have done all that and now it’s time to play the game.
Q. Will both coordinators be in the box?
COACH LONDON: Coach Reid is in the box and Coach Lazor is on the field.
Q. Is there any advantage for you in having coached some of these Richmond guys for two years and knowing their idiosyncrasies and how to respond to adversity and stuff like that?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, I don’t know if it’s any huge advantage. Like I said since December, whatever developments that they may have had, what they have been doing, but you do have a sense of evaluations because you were there and you can make some assessment as to skill level and ability, and then hope that you’re right. You know, like I said, all of these guys have a chance to use summer to get bigger, faster, stronger. When schemes change, then maybe the guy within the right scheme or whatever, it could be a number of things. And I’m quite sure they are saying that on the only side, too, about knowing players and their perceived weaknesses and strengths.
Going into it, we all know that and we are going to have to see as far as what we are going to have to do as far as what kind of schemes we are going to play. The bottom line is being able to play against whatever they do is what’s going to count.
Q. Can you address your kicking game a little bit?
COACH LONDON: Sure. We are going to go with three guys kicking the ball, Jimmy Howell will punt, Chris Hinkebein will kickoff, and he will kicked long field goals, he kicked a 55‑yard the other day in practice, which is phenomenal and then try to make him do it again and he shanked it far, far, far left, and then of course, Randolph is going to be our place kicker and extra‑point guy. Happy to know that he’s a Lou Groza award candidate, rightfully so, and we have those three guys handling our kicking duties.
Q. You were talking earlier about Raynard Horne, is Max Milian a similar player this fall, a guy that was not on the top of the depth chart after the spring?
COACH LONDON: You’re right, Max has done a great job in being a fullback and playing the role that fullbacks need to play in a two‑back offense, being able to block, isolation on the linebacker, being able to slip out of the flask, being able to protect when teams are blitzing, being able to protect the short yardage belly plays, a lot of the plays that fullbacks do, Max has done, and done a good job in challenging Terrence and may have surpassed him slightly, but nonetheless because of what he did and what he’s done in practice, he’s been recognized and he’s been a guy that we think we can win with.
It’s made the combination in that area, for both those guys, it’s heated up quite a bit.
Q. Can you just briefly describe what you and Coach Reid want to do defensively? Is it along the lines of you want to contain people or if you want to be aggressive, do you live like your defense needs to create opportunities to score or ‑‑
COACH LONDON: Are you a secret agent or something like that? Do you want me to just say, yeah, we are going to ‑‑
Q. The game plan ‑‑
COACH LONDON: You know, that’s an ongoing discussion right now about, you know, what we are going to do and how we are going to approach it. With any team, you have to define who the play makers are for them and how you can attack what a scheme or match‑ups, so when I’m done here, I’ll walk over to the McCue Center, Coach Lazor and Coach Reid and I will sit down and talk about that.