Home Press Conference: UVA football coach Mike London

Press Conference: UVA football coach Mike London


Mike-LondonUVA football coach Mike London talks with reporters on Monday. Virginia (4-7, 3-4 ACC) hosts Virginia Tech (5-6, 3-4 ACC) on Saturday.


Q. How much will you bring up Tech’s winning streak against Virginia? How much of a motivation will that be?
COACH LONDON: For us, the past has no power over the present moment, and the present moment for us is to prepare to get ready for a good football team. The present moment is for us to make sure we take care of the things that we can to help win a football game. Two weeks ago I talked about our focus being on finishing, playing a Duke team that we lost three straight to and six of the last seven, about having a winning home record, about going 4-4 in the conference and about finishing on a positive note for our seniors. So our biggest concern is this game and the opportunities for those things I just mentioned to occur. It’s been written about and talked about. Our focus is to just play the game. Lord willing, tomorrow morning we wake up, start practicing and we get ready for those things that can help us fulfill those goals.

Q. You talk about the past, I’ll bring it up real quick. But in these games you haven’t had a lot of success offensively. Your offense on Saturday, you mentioned you told Steve (Fairchild) just to let it go and kind of open up the playbook. Can you do that again on Saturday? Can you continue to be aggressive? Did you show too much? How do you now filter the game plan offensively going into Virginia Tech?
COACH LONDON: No, we still want to play the type of game that would allow you to have explosive plays, allow you to throw the ball down the field and allow you to take advantage of some of the things that you see defenses allow you to do. They’ve had a very good defense. They’ve had good defense for years. It’s important for us to get points on the board. It’s important for Matt to have another good game. I think the last two games Matt has thrown for over 600 yards. He’s got six touchdowns and interceptions, so we talked about him playing his best football, taking care of the football. That’s something he’s going to have to continue to do. We’ll need his best game. His efficiency rating the last couple games have been outstanding. This is, as I said, a good defense that’s going to get after him, pressure and all those things, and his ability to handle that and make the proper decisions to get the ball out will be critical.
So still want to play the game to score points and put us in good field position and know this is going to be a good team we’ll be playing.

Q. Being that it’s Virginia Tech, and it’s been a while since Virginia beat the Hokies. How bad do your players and UVA fans want this win on Saturday?
COACH LONDON: Obviously for the stakeholders, the alumni and fans, it’s always about having bragging rights. It’s always about what happens on game day and afterwards. So, again, we want to play well enough to do that, to have an opportunity to reverse whatever streak that has been going on. And as I said, focus on the finishing for us – and this group of seniors that we have as well.

Q. As you probably know, this is Frank Beamer’s last game, unless of course, he were to win and get a bowl game. Is there any sort of motivation to maybe ending his legacy here?
COACH LONDON: We want to win a football game here, and it’s our last game as well, last home game for seniors. As I said, to have a home winning record and to be 4-4 in the conference – Coach Beamer’s legacy will stand on its own for a long time. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and what he’s done and what he’s meant to coaches and coaches’ careers. Even as a young coach, there was an opportunity where I had a chance to sit down and talk to him – over the years having met with him and the other ACC coaches – knowing his wife and things like that. So, again, you learn to have a respect for a man that’s had such a distinguishing career. But the competitive part is we’re trying to win a football game as well, and we want to go out on a positive note for our seniors.

Q. Your players have continued to play hard every week, every game, win or lose. Was there ever a point early in the season when you wondered coming into work on a Sunday if that would be the case, and wondered if they’d be that resilient?
COACH LONDON: You’ve heard me say before, we’re all ruled by the psychology of results about what happens on game days and how you tie your identity to what you do. What’s been amazing is over those weeks, the close, tough games, the Boise State game, which was a blowout, was the level of resiliency and resolve that was displayed with our leadership – the captains and leadership council. That was something special. Just as the season started to unfold into some of those close games that we lost and some of the close games that we were able to win is that type of mindset. We’re still very much a focal point of what this team is and who we are. So we’re going to call upon that once again. The opportunity to focus on this game here and the importance of this game. It’s been really neat to use a word to describe being around this group of guys this year.

Q. How did you make up for the loss of Zach Bradshaw on Saturday and is there any chance he can play this week?
COACH LONDON: We won’t know Zach’s status again until later on. We talked about playing Kelvin Rainey a little bit there at that linebacker position. The personnel groups that we had, we bring in individuals and do various things with Mike Moore. So we’re able to put guys in the game that have played a lot of snaps this season based on some of the things we thought that we could do. Wil Wahee played a lot. In the end our guys executed and did what was needed to come out with a victory in this one. So we’ll have to do the same thing again with Tech’s offense.

Q. Going back to the Beamer thing, how much of a challenge and how hard has it been to have a guy like that down in the state that you have to compete against? How much harder has it made your job? And has it motivated you extra just to be able to compete against somebody that’s probably going to end up in the Hall of Fame?
COACH LONDON: Well, you just said it. You’re coaching against a guy that’s going to be in the Hall of Fame and who has done a lot of things in his coaching career. (He) has longevity in a place where it didn’t start out well, but being there and staying there, and having it come to fruition, the way he’s taking that program, you have a respect for the fact. I’m also kind of an in-state guy myself, as far as middle school, and growing up high school and college, so there is always a competitive aspect of recruiting and playing and trying to be your best. We have a guy like that that’s been at the top for a long time. In any profession you want to be as successful as Coach Beamer has been in the past. So as a young coach, you emulate that. Even as an older coach now, you emulate the fact that his accomplishments speak for themselves.
So in this profession you always want to have opportunities to be as successful as he has. Obviously being so close to the state and knowing the people that he knows, knowing the areas and the stakeholders and all of that makes it much more of an emphasis on being successful as well.

Q. I don’t think Virginia has had a first-team All-ACC receiver since Billy McMullen. Canaan (Severin) is having what I think most of us would agree is a first team type of season. After what he showed last season, did you see that kind of potential in him? How would you evaluate how he’s played in his senior season?
COACH LONDON: First I’d say that Canaan is an outstanding leader and outstanding individual. And yes, we’ve seen over the course of his career the one-handed catches and other amazing catches. He’s just really probably exceeded even his wildest dreams and imagination. Early on this season we’ve talked about him taking care of his body from everything he did, from how much he slept to keeping a sleep journal. He just epitomized a guy that wants to be the best. This season, the catches and the plays that he’s made are indicative of the type of individual that he is. I fully expect him to have the opportunity for postseason honors to come his way and also to perhaps enjoy a postseason opportunity with these all-star games and even on to the next level. I’m so very happy for him. I’m very proud of him and he’ll be successful in whatever he does. But he’s a guy that’s definitely a focal point for this football team. Not only on the field, but in leadership positions as well.

Q. Keeon Johnson has kind of been overshadowed this season by Canaan and T.J. (Thorpe) to some degree, and even Olamide (Zaccheaus). But he had a couple big catches the other day. Seems to block well on the jet sweeps. What kind of year do you think he’s had, and next season with him leaving, is he a guy that could step into a leading role?
COACH LONDON: Keeon has definitely improved. That was the key for him. You look at him physically – he’s a physical specimen. And to take that and match with the ability to block, the ability to make catches and the ability to be involved in some special teams. So his maturation process has emerged into him being a role player that fits the plays that are called and designed in that particular moment. He’s really embraced that. He’s learning. He’s gotten better and will continue to keep doing that. And just like every player when they come in, they hopefully ascend into being the guy when their time is called, and Keeon is one of those guys that will have that opportunity as well to be the guy you can count on and call the guy when his time is called.

Q. With your defensive background, if you could speak to your defense a little bit. Attrition at the beginning of the year to the NFL and stuff like that. Then Bradshaw goes out and some other things happen. Where do you feel the progress of your defense is? Where is your defense now as you look at it compared to some of the things you guys have had? No turnovers early in the season and starting to force some. How do you feel you’re playing defensively at this point versus earlier in the year?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, no doubt. You go all the way back to the genesis of losing out on Eli (Harold) and Max Valles, and those are sacks. Those are opportunities to affect the quarterback, and protect pass defense coverages. As you move forward, trying to find Mike Moore’s spot, whether he’s going to be a stand-up guy or put his hand down on the ground or bringing along Trent Corney and Kwontie Moore and those guys in order to give you that pass rush. We’ve missed out on that, but you have to coach who you have. You have to try to do things with the talent or the individuals that are playing the positions that they’re lined up in. We’ve kind of evolved into being a defense that matches personnel groupings. We’re bringing different people. We play a lot of people. Particularly we’ve had to because of the linebacker injuries. But ultimately it’s how many points you give up and that has to be down. It’s the ability to in third-down situations get off the field and create turnovers. So we’ve improved in some areas, but obviously keeping the point production down is critical to any success for any defense. And that’s something that for five games we’ve done a good job of. For games that we’ve been in it close, we’ve done it a good job of it, but we have to continue to keep playing the type of defense that minimizes points.

Q. Coach Tenuta is back up in the box now. What went into the decision for that? He’s been doing it now for two games, has he been back up there?
COACH LONDON: A lot of times you call the game from up top. You want to see the whole field. Sometimes there are guys who call it from the field because they want to get the feel of the game as it’s going on at the moment. Kind of seeing the guys come off the sideline, look in their eyes, see what’s going on and make the corrections. He just felt it was better for him to go back up in the box and rely on the things he’s done in the past and rely on Mike Archer even more to be the guy on the sideline to draw up the defenses and to give the communication to the guys as they come together. So that’s just kind of a change to try to do what’s best for the defense.

Q. Smoke has had a pretty darn good year. Talk about his evolvement and did something click for him this year? Has Chris Beatty been part of the responsibility for that? Just talk about his year.
COACH LONDON: I think all of the above. When you look at it. Again, we talk about the maturation process of Smoke. He’s been really outstanding. Never was a ‘give me the ball’ guy or a ‘me, me’ guy. It was always, ‘what can I do to help this team win?’ Learning how to run as a runner. Being a one-cut runner, a downhill runner. Understanding the protections. So not only in there just to throw the ball to you, but sometimes you have to step up and block a linebacker, the technique of how to do that, how to run routes, identifying certain coverages. So his time, his maturation along with a veteran coach like Coach Beatty, the time with those two things happening has put him in a position to enjoy probably one of the better seasons of any running back that’s run and caught the ball to have. He’s really blossomed as an individual. Became a very good student of the game as well. We’re expecting big things from him, and for him to have another big game, another blowout season – just all those things – because Smoke is a great individual as well. I could talk about these guys all day about what type of young men they are, but he has really learned how to take coaching to another level.

Q. Steve Fairchild is a guy that’s gotten some flack with his tenure here that comes with being the coordinator. Could you talk about some of the things you’ve done offensively in recent games? 31 at Louisville, 42 this week and 21 the first quarter against Duke?
COACH LONDON: Early on coming out of Spring practice we talked about we had a healthy offensive line and to have that downhill mentality of running the ball. Then through attrition when you’re losing starters there, I think there are four sitting on the sideline now, you have to find ways to move the ball. You have to find ways to get it to your playmakers and adapt to what you have. What’s been able to happen is say, ‘listen, who are our best players, and how can we get them the ball?’ What you see are elements of the jet sweep, the misdirections and things that allow us … the Wildcat. A guy like Albert Reid ran the Wildcat when he was at Maryland, so there was a skill set that he had, that you take and you add it to your offensive playbook. We’ve done a nice job of putting those players together that can put some productive plays on the field and increase the explosive plays as well. So we’ve adapted and been able to capitalize on things defenses give us, and use the players that have God-given ability like, O, Smoke, Canaan, T.J., David Eldridge and Daniel Hamm. Those guys like that that have done a nice job. I can talk about the offensive guys that have done a nice job carrying the ball or blocking. I’ve got to make sure I also give credit to the offensive line that have done a nice job in creating those holes and those opportunities. I think Matt got sacked once this past game. It’s important when you’re going to throw the ball and do some things that we do that you have a total team effort representative of the offense. And that’s what’s been going on.

Q. Coming into the last game of the year here, can you just evaluate how the year has gone, and how you see that and maybe what a win against Virginia Tech would do to that evaluation as well?
COACH LONDON: Obviously there is no doubt it was a challenging season. We had a very challenging schedule. We’ve played in a lot of close games. We talked about having played in four (games) that we lost by a touchdown or less. So we played in a lot of games that were close and ended up pulling out and ended up winning. Now coming down the stretch here, this being the last game opportunity, you’re playing against your in-state rival. It has been talked about as far as how many games they’ve won. What’s going on with the Hall of Fame coach’s career and things like that – but the fact of us still having a chance to win a football game at home, have a winning record at home, be even in the conference and send our seniors out on a positive note is something that culminated down to this opportunity on Saturday. So it’s been a challenging one, but it’s been one that we’ve met face on and dealt with adversity and dealt with the resilience of players. I can truly say that we had a never-quit mentality or attitude. And now you’re playing a game that, again, against a Hall of Fame coach at your place. I’m quite sure Scott’s stadium will be filled and it will be an exciting game. It’s something you want to be a part of, so I look forward to it.

Q. You touched briefly about your seniors. Can you just explain what this senior class has meant to you?
COACH LONDON: We were talking earlier, as you said, about a group of individuals that when tough times and tough game situations occur that have been able to be the example of leadership, how you handle those things and being a voice of reason. Being guys that when you lose a game, you turn around and you bounce back and you’re resilient about how do you approach the following week. When you’re in a game and it goes opposite, there have been times when we’re just mentally, ‘everything goes’ and you’re just hanging there until the game is over. But this is a group this season that’s kind of hung in there from a mental standpoint, from an effort standpoint. There’s never been a lack of effort. They’ve kind of talked about that with the younger players that are on this team. So I’m very proud of these individuals that the guys are talking about. These seniors that are getting ready to finish up. Because it’s been special for them – would like to have gotten more wins for them, but at the same time, the life lessons learned, the opportunities still yet to be achieved and that’s one for this Saturday.

Q. Following up on that, but Demetrious Nicholson is one of the guys coming in here later. What’s it been like for you to watch him grow over these last five years?
COACH LONDON: Tra’ is, again, a fifth-year guy that’s been through some issues medically. He was an Orange Bowl Courage Award nominee one week. Tra’ is a good community service guy that’s also recognized with the Good Works team. Here’s a guy that’s been hurt, but still pours into the community here and where he lives and where he’s at and has an influence on. Tra’ played early in his career. I think he had like 30-something games that he started and then he had to deal with the injury and tried to get him back playing the game and he just couldn’t do it. Then he had fight back to getting himself back on the field. He’s never once complained or said anything negative about the process. He’s just come in and worked every day. He’s come in and led by example from what he says and what he does every day. I can truly say I love him as an individual, because you talk about resiliency. You look at him and you talk to him, he’s a picture of resiliency. We know about his story. His mom had him at a young age. That’s a powerful story. For a young man to now achieve getting a degree here at this University, it’s an awesome story. It’s a success story regardless of what happens on the field for him. I look forward to him having an opportunity this last game as well.

Q. We’ve talked a little bit about Coach Beamer’s status. Need to ask you about yours. Have you been told where you stand regarding the 2016 season, and if you have been told, for better or for worse, is it now difficult to treat this game, this preparation week as business as usual?
COACH LONDON: The strange thing about that, it is business as usual for me. This is the most important game. My focus is on this game and on these seniors and coaching these guys up to have an opportunity. We started at first about winning home games and winning against this team we’re about to play. So that’s all my focus has been on is this game. We’ll talk about after the season after the season.

Q. Talk about some of the skill guys from Virginia Tech and slowing down Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges. I noticed Darious Latimore had a good game last week. We talked about Tra’ Nicholson. How do your guys in the secondary match up with those guys?
COACH LONDON: That’s an explosive group that you talk about with Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges. The quarterback, Brewer, can get the ball to them. There are some things that they do exceptional. It’s going to be important. It ties back into our pass rush opportunities to get pressure on the quarterback, and then go up and be competitive for the ball when it’s in the air. They move Bucky Hodges around. They do a good job of putting him at receiver, slot, and tight end on the ball and off the ball. They do a lot of creative things with him, so just being alert and aware. You just can’t focus on him, but there is enough of an arsenal there that you have to be aware of where they are and then play accordingly.

Q. You talked about your senior class this year, and the resiliency from week to week. What about these guys from year to year? They came in, the majority of them, after your bowl season. They’ve gone through some crazy schedules. They’ve gone through coordinator changes, they’ve gone through a lot of close games, some losses. How have you seen these guys kind of go through all those struggles and adversity from year to year? Not just this season?
COACH LONDON: I think you just answered it. They’ve gone and assimilated into whoever has come in and adapted to whatever style our schemes have been put together. They have responded to a tremendous amount of resiliency, have represented this University, the classroom and the community exemplary. They have done a nice job of trying to fight the adversity that happens, fight through it and stay on top of the fact that you win games, you lose games – that their identity is not tied up into that. But at the same time, these guys want to win. They want to win football games. They want to have opportunities to be successful. None better than an opportunity this last game here with all the things that are being said with a team that we’re playing. There is a carrot, a nugget to be said that they’d like to be part of something that could be significant for their last game as well.

Q. Given what you said about the seniors and everything at stake for Tech. What role does emotion play in a game like this and how can you manage it and get an edge?
COACH LONDON: The emotion part of it – that is a human element of it. There is going to be emotion. A lot of these guys know each other. They’re from the same high schools or communities. It’s going to be important to keep your emotions to a level that’s not going to bubble over into a personal foul penalty or you feel like you’re so pressed into making a play, that you allow those emotions for you to do something that you normally wouldn’t. So it’s part of the game. Both sides will be fired up. Both sides will be excited about playing. But the ability to keep your poise and your emotions in check so it doesn’t lead to costly penalties, it doesn’t lead to mental errors and missed assignments that sometimes those things do as well. So playing a game focused and poised will be important, but you’ve got to play it with energy, because there will be enough out there.



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