Press Conference: UVa. football coach Mike London
OPENING STATEMENT: First of all, I’d like to mention that we’ve been talking about particular players that might be back and when they may be back. I do know one for sure, the status, and that’s Demetrious Nicholson. After doctors looking at his turf toe injury and after bringing a specialist in and conferring with Tra’, it’s been decided that this is probably ‑‑ this is it for him this year. It’s non‑surgical in terms of what they need to get corrected or where he needs to be in terms of them releasing him, but it’s in his best interest right now not to play. He’ll be in a foot cast or a boot and they say for a while. It’s unfortunate. Tra’ has started 30 games for us since his true freshman year. He wants to come back. He wanted to come back. But in conferring with our team doctors and specialists, we were afforded the opportunity to have a look at him – we just decided it was not in his best interest to return this year.
As far as the other guys are concerned, we’ll find out about ‑‑ I do expect Brent Urban and Maurice Canady back by the bye week. If anything happens in terms of this week of preparation, perhaps Brent Urban is the closest, Maurice Canady perhaps by the bye week. So that’s where we are from an injury standpoint.
And then one other thing: Cody Wallace on Thursday had expressed some symptoms to the trainers, and that did not allow him to play in the game on Saturday, so what you saw was Eric Tetlow, you saw Luke Bowanko play some guard, between Jackson Matteo and Ross Burbank playing center. That was found out on Thursday. We had to make the adjustment there, and I think at one time on offense in the game, there were about maybe six freshmen playing at one time.
But that’s the extent of the injury situation. Again, it’s one of those things that you’re at the point of the year where guys are injured, they’re hurt, and you want them to ‑‑ you want to make sure that it’s in their best interest to be back healthy and to be able to help the team, but we’re not going to risk any players’ career or further injury by putting them in a situation that may speak to that.
The other thing is, basically, again, a quick recap of the Clemson game. Obviously we talked about a very good team coming in here. People talk about trap games or those games where they overlook a team. They executed on both sides, all three facets of their offense, defense and special teams. Their veteran quarterback did an outstanding job of running their offense and distributing the ball to their playmakers. Again, it’s having a chance to play a top 10 team like them. In Oregon you see some of the best of the best that’s out there, and our team in the end will be better for playing them, but you’ll look at teams like that and know that that’s the benchmark for what you have to be and what you want to be.
And as far as North Carolina, going into this game with them, you look at both teams having struggled a bit, one of the things that’s common in both teams are statistically in total offense and total defense as far as points. I know whatever their issues may be, and I know Coach Fedora could talk to that specifically, but ours is having the ball is fine, but if you can’t score points when you have the ball, that’s the biggest thing that has cost us opportunities to not score when we need to. There’s plenty of time of possession but not scoring is definitely an issue, and then turnovers, particularly, again, against Clemson who is an excellent team in taking turnovers and turning them into points.
On the other side, defensively, with North Carolina you’re going to see multiple formations. This is another offense that will have a lot of remnants to some of the teams that we played with shifts, motions, hurry‑up tempo. They’ll play a couple of quarterbacks. Ebron is their all‑everything guy. He’s a tight end but he’s an excellent receiver that plays kind of like Jake McGee does for us out in the slot position. He’s their leader on offense in terms of production and catches.
Again, it’s very similar in a lot of statistical data. But for us specifically the need to score points is critical to not turn the ball over, and our guys are looking forward to going down to Chapel Hill and playing a road game.
Q. About four or five weeks ago you were talking about whether Kwontie Moore was ‑‑ whether defensive end or the line might be a better spot for him. Since then he hasn’t played. I see where he’s played in two games all season. You mentioned injured players. I assume there’s some kind of injury with him. Can you talk about what his status is going forward?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, right now he hasn’t been in enough games to want to put him in a situation where he would play extensive reps. I mean, there is a certain medical element to him and not playing and participating, and as the season has gone on, particularly with the last few games here, it’s either play him or either look to remedy his medical situation. As of right now, we’re going to choose to remedy his medical situation.
Q. So he’s a possible medical redshirt?
COACH LONDON: A possible red shirt, yes, medical. The formalities and all those things like that.
Q. Is Hamm another guy like that?
COACH LONDON: Again, he’s another one that had a shoulder issue. He burst on the scene, had the one game against VMI, played well, and then has been dogged by that shoulder. You know, although he’s practiced, he’s still ‑‑ again, there may be a medical procedure that he’ll have to go through, as well, in order to get him to where he needs to be.
Q. Back to Tra’, I think I noticed him specifically talking to Tim [Harris] on Saturday after some of those plays. I mean, is this kind of a blessing, not for Tra’ but for Tim that he has a mentor now, kind of a coach to kind of guide him through this now in what’s going to be his baby here the last three games?
COACH LONDON: Well, definitely having a guy like Tra’ that can see the field, that can observe practice, is in the meeting rooms and can help with the studying of the receivers and the different things that are going to be required for Tim to play, it is like having another coach, but more than that probably even another friend, a guy that played as a true freshman that knows exactly what Tim is going through. And when you have that type of individual that’s willing to reach out and say, listen, I’ll be your big brother, your role model, your mentor, whatever that is, again, speaks to the type of young man that Tra’ is.
Q. You were mentioning you have plenty of time of possession and yardage but you don’t have the points to match. Seems like it’s been a recurring problem the last few years even though you’ve had different coordinators, different quarterbacks. From your perspective what do you think the problem is? Do you need more playmakers or what do you think is causing that?
COACH LONDON: Well, there are probably a few different elements of it, and one of them you could say the playmaker ability to get it in the end zone, whether that’s receiving or running back or elements of offensive line. There are a lot of things that we can obviously be better at, particularly when you get down inside the red zone. That’s a critical point of being able to score points, and we haven’t scored enough points.
However you evaluate that, the bottom line offensively is to put points on the board, and we have to find guys that can do that. If it’s a receiver, if it’s a running back, whoever it may be, that’s our job to do that.
And on the other side is to keep them out of the end zone when the other team gets in the red zone, and that’s another issue. To control games, you’ve got to score when you have to and then keep them out. It’s an ongoing process here in terms of evaluating who we’re recruiting, who we’re asking and what positions we want to put them in to be successful, and that’s something we will continue and always try to do. But it has to be addressed and it has to be noted and done.
Q. I know injuries have played a role in this, but you’ve played now a dozen true freshmen. I know you want to get to a point where you can kind of red shirt those guys in development, keep the program going. How close are you to that do you feel? Is it around the corner where you can kind of cautiously bring these guys in?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, when you look at it, when you’re recruiting young men, this is 2010, there was a majority of the class that was already committed when we got here. We added a few players. Then ’11, ’12 and ’13 are guys that ‑‑ particularly the freshmen and the sophomores that are playing, and then this class, not speaking specifics, but this class, when you can recruit talented players that are some of the best in the country and they can step in right away and play, then you will afford those young men the chance to do that, when you can, particularly with offensive linemen or defensive linemen and get them involved with your strength and conditioning coach, when you can get them lifting and getting bigger and stronger, then you’d like the opportunity to redshirt them.
We will always afford the best of the best in terms of guys that are interested in coming here and the ability to play right away, but it’s about this time and this class that’s coming in in the fall is a class that you start looking at ‑‑ you look at the offensive line, for example; Eric is a true freshman playing; Sadiq, another true freshman playing; Tetlow, a true freshman playing; Jackson Matteo, redshirt. You want to get to the point now to redshirt the next guys coming in, unless there’s a dynamic or unless there’s a player that warrants the opportunity to play.
Recruiting, you always have to recruit your needs and you also have to recruit your numbers that are leaving, and understand that as I’ve said in the past here that your strength coach definitely has to become the MVP in terms of developing players.
Q. One of those true freshmen is Max Valles who burst onto the scene up at Pitt. He hasn’t had the impact since then that he did in this game. Going forward what does he need to do to become a complete linebacker or defensive player?
COACH LONDON: Well, playing that position, obviously playing the linebacker position, again, we play a lot of packages with nickel and dime package where this game he played some outside linebacker but he also lined up as a defensive end and rushed. His development right now, or his use for the team or value of the team, is a guy that’s an athletic player, whether he’s a defensive end or an outside linebacker that’s walking in and blitzing off the edge. He will be as good as he will allow himself to be. His body is yet to be defined and determined as far as when he hones in on lifting, and the nutritionist that we have and all the different elements that we have to help develop a player.
But I would imagine as we go out of this season and into spring that Max Valles and his development of where he’ll play will become more significant to us and to him when he realizes whether it’s a weight issue or a skill issue to play a particular position. I think he’s another guy that’s going to be a really, really good player.
Q. I’ve had some people ask me over time is Mike London too nice a guy. Obviously we’re not in the locker room when you come in there at halftime when you talk to them after the game or when they fumble or whatever. Do you walk a fine line between going off on them and at the risk of losing them or ‑‑ how do you walk that fine line between being too nice and not nice enough?
COACH LONDON: Well, no, I demand a lot from the players, demand a lot from myself. I am an emotional, fiery, energetic guy, so there’s no niceness in that. There’s a way that I believe that you have to play with energy and passion. If that’s conveyed in the way I talk to them, my demonstrative manner, then there is no nicety to that. There’s an expectation of wanting to play tough, smart and aggressive, and when it’s not like that, then they understand and they know that that’s not good enough.
What we have to continue to keep teaching these players and keep striving on is that there’s an expectation of performing, and whether it’s through yelling, screaming, patting on the back, kicking in the butt, whatever it is, there’s an expectation of performing. And that’s the bottom line for us.
Q. How would the players define you?
COACH LONDON: You’d have to ask them, but I feel pretty confident in knowing that I’m passionate about this game, and I think players that play it have to be passionate, as well. And you have to show that energy. Football is a game that’s a very physical game, and you get away with a lot of things on a football field wearing pads. The time to be nice is when the game is over when you shake hands after the game. But it’s a physical game that has to be played like that, and that’s the way that I see teams that are successful and the way that we emulate the play, and we’ll keep stressing that as we move forward.
Q. Your participation report shows that Tra’ has played in five of the 12 games this season. Is it a possibility for him to apply for a medical hardship after the end of the year considering the condition that he’s got?
COACH LONDON: I know after you’ve played the first three games or there’s a certain percentage of games that the medical hardship could be involved in that, but in his situation he’s played too many games to have the medical opportunity.
Q. In terms of scoring more points, when you get down in the red zone a lot of teams throw that jump ball pass they used to throw to Herman Moore here. Is that something you could do with like a Jake McGee or a Keeon Johnson every now and then, just throw it up and hope they come down with it?
COACH LONDON: All things are possible when we get into that red zone area. You’re talking about a fade route, I believe, where you throw it to the end back into the corner and you have that mismatch type of situation where there’s a small corner or a safety that’s aligned on an individual. But yes, that’s definitely something that has to be done, has to be considered. I’m quite sure that we’ve done it, but you can look at it maybe we haven’t done it enough, and with the guys that we have particularly as we’re talking about their athletic skills, that’s perhaps something that we can make sure that we keep exploring and doing when the opportunity presents itself.
Q. A lot of coaches are getting asked this question today after what happened over the weekend with Gary Kubiak and John Fox. How do you handle the stress level that comes with this profession? How do you handle it and have you changed it over the course of your career? How do you balance when you’re here and when you have time away from football?
COACH LONDON: Well, that’s a great question, because I’ve been there. You know, I’ve had those moments where that sudden rush of exhilaration or the disappointment of the last‑minute opportunities that happened, and it’s Just ‑‑ you live so much in the moment for these games that these young men are out there playing because you know that they tend to believe that their self‑worth is tied up into every play, and you want so much for the success of those plays, of those opportunities for them to come out on the positive end.
When those things don’t happen, it’s like a piece of you also disappears, as well. It’s tough, but you have to be ‑‑ I try to be grounded, as you guys know. I talk about faith, family and football as being priorities for me, but it’s difficult sometimes when the exhilaration or the disappointment of a game happens and you put so much into it, so much time, so much effort, so much energy of wanting them to be successful that when it doesn’t, that it takes a physical toll on you personally.
As I said, Kelli Pugh and Dr. McKnight do a great job with me, and I’ll just leave it at that.
Q. Not discounting the rest of this season because there’s a lot of football still to be played, but when you look at the future, how excited are you about the possibilities?
COACH LONDON: Well, you always ‑‑ as you know, you guys have known me for a long time, I’m a glass is half filled type of guy, and it is refreshing to know that there’s some young men out there that are saying, you know what, I see what’s going on, I want to be a part of this. And that’s a tremendous statement by some young men that are the best of the best that could perhaps go other places. But because they’ve been inside the program, they know people that are here, that can talk to what’s happening behind the scenes is something that you feel the process is building and moving forward.
We just talked about a few players. Max Valles and Eric Smith, Sadiq, Connor Wingo‑Reeves, that’s another guy, Billy Skrobacz is a fullback, but you could put OR there on the depth chart, as well, and he’s a true freshman that’s playing. It’s just great to see that these young guys have not quit, that they want to soak up as much as they can learn because they want to win. They want to play better. They want to do better. And I’ll tell you, it’s exciting that irregardless of what’s going on now, we still have to coach and teach these players with the three games left: North Carolina, the South’s oldest rivalry; Miami, a lot of guys in their career here have been successful against Miami; and then the last game of the year is always a big game.
As you said, there’s a lot of football left to be played, but there’s also the development of guys that have been playing that they’re going to be better football players, and that’s the exciting part.
Q. Two or three times in the last month opposing coaches, including up to the game, have praised Henry Coley. Talk a little bit about him, a guy who was suspended from the team, I think, at this time a year ago and what he’s given you in the middle this year.
COACH LONDON: Well, Henry is a Mike linebacker, and we said before that this defense is a defense that’s predicated upon the middle linebackers calling the fronts, the stunts, making the adjustments, communicating with the secondary. We also know that Henry was an All‑ACC academic performer, as well, so he’s a young man that’s smart, he’s has good football sense, and he is amongst the top leaders in the ACC in tackles because he understands the defense, he understands the gap placement, where alignment moves one place, he’s got to be at the other. He’s done a nice job of that, and he’s the quarterback of the defense because it does center so much around him getting everyone lined up and communicating all the different elements of the defense.
He’s had a really nice year, and with three games left, as I said, he could put himself in position to be in the top, I believe, five or six in tackles in the ACC.
Q. At this point you’re no longer bowl eligible. Do you start looking at guys in certain spots, start looking to 2014? Whether that’s Luke Bowanko moving back to guard permanently, do you look at it now or evaluate it down the road somewhere?
COACH LONDON: We’re looking at it to prepare to go on the road and play North Carolina and win that game by any means necessary by using the best players in that specific position. But what it also does allow for you to do is with a bye week coming up after that is the continued development not only of the freshmen we already have but even those guys that are not in the mix of playing that we have to continue to develop other players, guys that may have opportunities to play for us. So we’re going to prepare to win, and whoever we need to put in that position to win, but understanding, as well, you want to be able to develop these players by the extra practices we gain by the off weeks by getting guys healed up and getting them back. But the biggest thing I’d say is just prepare to win and taking it one game at a time for us because our bowl season are these next three games coming up, and the most important game is this game against Carolina.
Q. Tajh Boyd last week, Bryn Renner this week, two Virginia guys that I think committed, went to other places before you got here. But do you ever wonder what if in those situations, had they come here maybe things would turn out differently at all?
COACH LONDON: Well, I mean, obviously that’s fantasy football talk. You talk about those things. They’re great young men. E.J. Manuel, another young man, great, great young man that have gone to the schools that they chose and have flourished where they are. Renner’s dad, we all know Bill Renner, his dad was a great player that coaches and teaches, and so those are long‑standing relationships when not only the player but the player’s father and the community that the player and father comes from that you know. Again, I can just speak to the fact that those young men that you just mentioned and E.J., guys that I know personally that have done well, and in their own right have made names for themselves.
Q. Looking back at last year’s game, obviously Quinshad Davis did a lot of damage to you guys. Without Tra’ now, you’ve kind of got a banged up secondary. Do you bracket him? What do you do to not let that happen again?
COACH LONDON: Well, I mean, obviously we always try to identify those players – the who and the what – and he is definitely one of those players that has done ‑‑ has played against other teams and has been explosive and got behind secondaries and has done a lot of things. There are different coverage elements that we’ll have to do, and we’ll have to be aware of, and we’ll know that ‑‑ we know that they’re going to throw the ball deep on us. We know that they’re going to ‑‑ whether they go after Tim or DreQuan, we know that that’s part of what they do. Like I said, their offense is a multiple formation offense with a lot of moving parts, and right now I believe they’re 19th or 20th in the country in passing offense. They’ve thrown for over 300 yards a game. Their passing game and their style of offense I’m quite sure will continue as they’ve been utilizing it in the past, and our job is to make sure we’re in position to go up and contest balls and put a rush on the quarterback so he doesn’t have all day to be back there and throw.
Q. Counting back, Tra’s last game was the Pitt game, I believe he had an interception in that game. Do you know which play he got hurt on against Ball State or did you know right away that it was a turf toe?
COACH LONDON: No. A lot of times some of the game injuries that occur are diagnosed as potential bruises and strains and things like that. They go back in the game and we don’t get confirmation until the Sunday or the Monday after the game when the doctors have a chance to take his shoe off and actually identify and look at and manipulate and move into a position where they feel comfortable that they can send the player back out, but at the same time let us know that there is an issue. And I don’t recall hearing about Tra’s until that Sunday or Monday afterwards.
Q. You don’t remember the play where he got hurt?
COACH LONDON: Well, on a turf toe I don’t to tell you the truth. We all know it’s when you extend your big toe up and things that happen with that. But I can’t recall in what play it was.
Q. Keeon Johnson had five catches for 77 yards. He had one reviewed catch and the referee never made any announcement. What happened?
COACH LONDON: Right. They did. We were just waiting as the play clock was going down that they review it and contemplating calling a time‑out to make sure it got reviewed, but at the last second the officials get buzzed to review a play, and he was buzzed with one second on the clock there, and they reviewed it, and what I was told was that it appeared that he had dropped the ball while he was out of bounds. Again, I don’t talk about officials’ calls anymore.
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