Turn out the lights: The Mike London party is over at UVA
He teared up, started talking in the past tense, then went into what he told his players after the game.
“It’s important that they understand that football is a tough game. There are consequences for many things,” said London, whose Cavs (4-8, 3-5 ACC) finished their fourth consecutive losing season, and the fifth sub-.500 campaign in London’s six years, with the loss, the 12th straight for UVA in the Commonwealth Clash.
“I told them, You’re going to be husbands, fathers, sons, employees, and employers for much longer than they will be football players. Your identity is not tied to being just a football player. I understand that we are graded by wins and losses, but you’re so much more than that.”
London will be graded by his wins and losses in the coming hours. If history is any guide, we will be getting a press release sometime in the late morning or early afternoon Sunday announcing that London will not be back for the final year of his contract in 2016.
His predecessor, Al Groh, was let go the day following a 42-13 loss at home to Virginia Tech in 2009 that finished his final season in Charlottesville at 3-9, his third losing season in a four-year stretch.
The London era saw a glimmer of hope in year two, 2011, when London was named ACC Coach of the Year after leading Virginia to an 8-5 record that had set the regular-season finale with Tech as a play-in game for an ACC Championship Game berth.
Virginia lost that day, 38-0, lost to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl four weeks later, and never recovered. The Cavs slipped to 4-8 in 2012, then went 2-10 in 2013, putting London on the hottest of hot seats going into 2014.
The 2014 UVA squad was so close to turning the corner, finishing 5-7 while blowing late leads to UNC and Virginia Tech, and coming up short late in winnable games to UCLA, Duke and Florida State.
That trend, being close but so, so, so far away from closing out games, continued in 2015. UVA lost to #6 Notre Dame on a 39-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds to go, dropped one-score games on the road at Pitt, Miami and Louisville, and then snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on Saturday against Virginia Tech, twice opening up one-score leads in the second half before losing on a field goal in the final two minutes.
“We’re so close in all these games. I’m tired of saying that. But we lose by six twice, lose by three, it’s really tough. It’s tough,” senior wideout Canaan Severin said.
And that’s where the rubber hits the road. London himself acknowledged it, that the Cavs are close to where they need to be, but it’s year six, and close isn’t good enough at this stage.
Looking at next year’s schedule, which is a couple of ticks down from this year’s slate, with the nonconference slate of UCLA, Notre Dame, William & Mary and Boise State replaced in 2016 with Richmond, Oregon, Connecticut and Central Michigan, this team will compete for a bowl bid next year. Six, seven, maybe eight wins seems doable, with 38 of the 52 players listed on the two-deep for Saturday’s season finale returning.
Listening to London address the future, it’s clear he knows his fate isn’t to be around to see the rebuilding job through to completion.
“I’m thankful and humbled to be the head coach of this team and to have the opportunity to influence young men’s lives,” London said. “During the course of the season, we played a challenging schedule. We played some tough teams and some tough games. We won some close games and lost some close games. But I’m so proud of the character that those guys have shown over the course of the season. It’s about them and not me.”
– Story by Chris Graham