UVA football coach Mike London is on the hot seat, which is to say, everybody in the locker room is on the hot seat. His assistants have to wonder what their address will be come Dec. 1. Players with eligibility beyond 2014 have to wonder what happens to them if London is let go, and a new staff comes in with a new approach.
Football is a game, but it’s also a business, and it can be hard to separate the two.
“You just have to believe in what you’re doing,” said Larry Lewis, the special-teams coordinator and running-backs coach on London’s staff, which underwent a massive overhaul in the 2012-2013 offseason, in advance of a 2-10 season in 2013.
That historically bad season had many fans and alums calling for athletics director Craig Littlepage to make a change, but Littlepage is giving London what many assume to be one last shot to get things turned around.
The focus within the program is on staying the course.
“We believe in our process. We believe in our kids, our team, our direction,” Lewis said. “You kind of just have to forget about (the talk about London being on the hot seat) and really just stay the course of what you believe in, who you believe in, and surround yourself with the guys that you’re with, get everybody on the same board and get on that train and go.”
Offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild said it’s not just London’s seat that is hot.
“Today, whether it’s college or the NFL, head coach or assistant coach, every seat is hot,” Fairchild said. “That’s just the way it is nowadays. I’ve been doing this 32 years, and it seems like every year it gets to where people want results faster, they’re more impatient. They talk about some of the more successful coaches from 30 years ago that wouldn’t have been successful because they wouldn’t have given them enough time. It’s just the nature of it.”
And then there’s the pressure that they’re putting on themselves to turn things around for the coach who recruited them to the University of Virginia.
“I love Coach London. He is the main reason why I came here, he and his coaching staff. We love playing for him. We’re just going to go out there every day with the mindset to win football games,” said starting quarterback Greyson Lambert, a highly-recruited prospect coming out of high school, with offers from the likes of Alabama, Clemson, South Carolina and Georgia, among other big-name programs vying for his services.
“He was one of the biggest parts of me coming here. Just knowing that his job is on the line makes us work that much harder,” said junior defensive tackle David Dean. “We really want to protect him and protect the rest of the team as well, the coaches. It’s one big family here, and we don’t want to see anyone go, so we’re going to work as hard as we can to try to prevent anything bad from happening to him and have a successful season.”
Junior defensive end Eli Harold said players tell each other, day in and day out, “Let’s do this for Coach London.”
Harold said London, for his part, hasn’t changed a bit, given any indication that he’s feeling the pressure that he absolutely has to be feeling after having posted three losing seasons in four years as head coach.
“He’s the same guy. He hasn’t changed at all. He hasn’t panicked. He’s changed the little things for us to be successful. I really think we’re going to do it for him. He deserves it,” Harold said.
Senior defensive back Demetrious Nicholson, a key part of London’s first recruiting class, feels the pressure to keep his coach employed.
“All our seniors, we were his first recruiting class. So we just want to keep preparing hard, and if we do what we can do, go out and try to win every game, just give our all, the rest will take care of itself,” Nicholson said.
Fellow senior Darius Jennings sounded a Fairchild-like tone.
“It’s not just this year, it’s every year. That’s just how it goes. If you don’t perform, you’re on the hot seat,” Jennings said. “That’s not really anything new for me. The guys on the team are focused on just trying to get better.”
– Column by Chris Graham