Press Conference: UVA football coach Mike London
MIKE LONDON: First of all, the acknowledgment that we have to play better. We have to execute and perform better. But my focus is 100 percent on this year’s team, on this year’s process. You learn to be — you learned how to be humble last season, 2013, and the process of moving forward, we’re hungry in the 2014 season.
Q. Kevin and Anthony were in here yesterday talking about the schedule again being brutal. How do you keep the confidence high to play some tough competition again, especially early on?
MIKE LONDON: Well, we always talk about the opportunity to compete. We all know that Virginia is a great institution academically, and when you see the opportunity to play great teams around the country, it raises its level to the expected performance. It’s a challenge. It’s a tough schedule. But you don’t stray away from challenges. You embrace the schedule as it is. I mean, they’re coming to Charlottesville, we’re going out to BYU, so the opportunity is for us to raise our profile not only in the ACC but around the country is to compete against teams that come to Charlottesville or that we go on the road and play.
Q. Despite the tough season last year, you’re convinced that the Cavaliers are ready to turn the corner. What gives you the optimism from what you’ve seen that you guys are ready to indeed turn the corner?
MIKE LONDON: I believe that fear is absent of objectivity, and when you look at our team now, you look at 17 starters returning. You look at nine back on defense. We lost two, Brent Urban is playing with the Ravens and Matt Snyder is in the camp with the Minnesota Vikings. There’s seven offensive returners on offense. We have our kickers Back. kevin parks is the returning ACC groundman with over 1000 yards. David Walker, who was our quarterback last year, over 2,000 yards. Greyson Lambert, who was the incoming starting quarterback for us right now has more passing attempts than nine of the projected starters in the ACC. There’s a level where we are now that we haven’t been in the past with over 55 lettermen. I talked to the players about — we have defensive backs that have played in 112 ACC games. That’s first in the ACC and second most in college football right now, so there’s an experience level that demands an expectation of performance, and we’re older, we’re more unified, and the guys are ready to play. If you talked to Anthony Harris and Kevin Parks, two of our captains, then there’s a confidence that those two young men exude and that permeates all the way throughout the team. Again, a humbling season in 2013 but a hungry season for the ’14 season.
Q. The league has dubbed you and Louisville as permanent rivals with them coming on board. How long does it take to actually develop a true rivalry?
MIKE LONDON: I don’t know the answer to that, but the fact that you compete on the football field is — they’re a competitor, and they’ve taken Maryland’s place. And now we’ll play them every year, and quite sure that there will be games that will be played that whatever rivalry occurs out of that, whatever competition rises out of that, we’ll all see. But Louisville is a great addition to the ACC, Coach Petrino has done a fantastic job different places that he’s been. They’ve won. Their athletic program is always one that you hear about nationally, and so now they’re in the league. They’re in the Coastal Conference. So we have to play our best football when they come to Charlottesville and play and be representative of the type of team that we want to have in Charlottesville. Welcome, Louisville, but now the goal is to play well and to play competitive and to have a game that’s going to be representative of the type of team that we want to play with this year.
Q. You talked about the team moving forward and going past this season, and you brought up experience with the team. The identity overall that you’re seeing with your team right now and how you view yourself as a coach of this Virginia team and how you view the team’s identity.
MIKE LONDON: Sure. The identity is one of unity. You can talk about, well, how does that happen. Last year we had four seniors. This year we have 22. I mean, there’s a maturation process that takes place when you have teams that are looking for leaders, that are looking for an identity. This year’s team I’d say there’s unity with this year’s team. As I said, we’re older. As I said, the expectations of performing are paramount for us. The coordinators are back, and so the systems and schemes are intact. The experience of guys that have played in college football games are there. It was evident in spring practice, and it’s evident as we went into the summer months. So I am a coach that’s committed 100 percent to the development of this team, to moving forward of this program, to accepting the challenges that lay ahead of us, and those are my focal points. And it starts with the freshmen that are in summer school right now and as we get ready to report for August camp with the veterans. It’s a committed staff. I’m a committed person, and again, the challenges that lay ahead, we all recognize it from player to staff and everyone that works with the football program, but we embrace the challenge.
MIKE LONDON: First of all, I believe in kevin parks. I loved kevin parks as a young man. He’s very similar to a story of myself being a parent and playing college football. Kevin is a proud parent, and he’s playing college football, and he’s going to graduate from the University of Virginia. There’s something that — you can measure some things. Everybody talks about the height, the weight, but there’s some things you can’t measure, and what Kevin has in him is an inside desire to be the absolute best. He was voted one of our captains. As I said, he was over a 1,000-yard rusher. He’s one of our leaders on the team, and he’s a passionate player. He wants to win. He wants his legacy as a Virginia football player to end up on a positive note, and with the leadership that Kevin brings to the table, I have no doubt that we’ll be successful.
Q. Greyson Lambert, how good of a quarterback can he be? What’s his ceiling?
MIKE LONDON: Greyson is the type of young man that is always studying the game of football. He loves football. As a matter of fact, you go in his room, he’s got plays all on his wall and his ceiling. Now, it might cause some of us concern about being overly in love with football, but the fact that he is a guy that wants the team to rally behind, he’s a guy that wants to be out in front, he’s a guy that wants to take the responsibility of leading this team. As I said, as far as an experience level, he’s been in college games, and he has an opportunity — the first time in a while that we’ve had two quarterbacks that have played in college football games that have experience other than our rivals that are in the ACC. You know, Greyson is a guy that the team will rally behind and a guy that wants to lead this team to championships.
Q. Most schools, I think 10 out of 14 do have new quarterbacks this year. On the other hand, every school has returning offensive linemen. Every school has at least three, some have four, some even five. I counted 48 guys who were returning starters. As a coach, what’s the comfort level of having a veteran offensive line as you have at Virginia as opposed to even if you have an inexperienced quarterback?
MIKE LONDON: Sure. There’s all parts of a team that you want to build, and obviously, being kind of — my background a line coach, it all starts up front with your guys blocking for run holds and protecting for passes. The thing about us is that we have quarterbacks or a quarterback we know that can get the receiver the balls. We have receivers that are coming back that have extensive opportunities to stretch the field, make catches for us. Our running back situation as I said with kevin parks and Tauqan Mizzell, and Khalek Shepherd in a great place, so you do have not concerns, but you know that you may have two or three perhaps true sophomores that will play for us this year. But that’s part of the process that we have with guys that are in the program, but we’ll find ways to help them whether it’s through the blocking or pass protections. The schemes will dictate how we can help them, and like I said, the surrounding cast is something that is as good as we’ve had in a long time.
Q. Rare thing when you have a draft eligible first team All-American coming back. Clemson has that in Vick Beasley. You talked about having the background of a line coach. What is it like game planning for Vick Beasley, and give me your comments on Vick Beasley the player?
MIKE LONDON: Well, first of all, he’s a phenomenal player. Any time that you talk about pass defense, you have to always look at the guys that are rushing the quarterback or guys that are affecting throwing lanes and giving time or the lack thereof for quarterbacks to be successful. He’s the type of player that you have to know where he’s at all times, and you may have to double team him. You may have to do some things to try to tie him up, but he’s an impact player without a doubt, and the more impact players that you have, obviously the better your team is. And we know that Dabo has done a great job with his Clemson team. But again, when you’re facing a guy that’s truly gifted as he is, not only Virginia or whoever else he may play, they’re going to have to know where Vic Beasley is.
Q. This year with the advent of the playoff system, your thoughts on that new addition for college football?
MIKE LONDON: You know, you’re talking to a guy that had an opportunity to go through the FCS playoff system and won a championship with Richmond. The field was representative of several teams. The system as it is now for FBS football, there are two teams. You’re always going to have the argument with a fifth team not feeling like they got due justice. If you went to eight teams, you’re going to have a ninth team. The system is the way it is. There’s an attempt to keep that intact but also the bowl game opportunities, which teams and universities play for and also experience. I don’t know the formula for that, but I know where we are right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if later on down the road that it opens up to even more teams.