The seeds of Mike London’s coaching career were planted on the night that he nearly lost his life. A Richmond police detective on the street crimes unit in the late ’80s, London had chased a van down a dark alley. One thing led to another, and he found himself staring down the barrel of a gun. The trigger was pulled. London heard a click. But the gun didn’t fire.
After the brush with death, London reconsidered his future in law enforcement. Football had been a constant through much of his life: He played at Bethel High School, the University of Richmond and was signed as a free agent by the Dallas Cowboys in 1983. “I decided maybe coaching is a good thing to do,” he says. In his new career, London went on to serve as an assistant coach for William and Mary, Richmond, Boston College, the Houston Texans and UVA.
In 2008, he landed his first head coaching job at his alma mater, the University of Richmond, and won the Football Championship Subdivision national title in his first season there. London, 49, received several National Coach of the Year awards and compiled a 24-5 record in two seasons.
On Dec. 7, the University of Virginia announced that Mike London would be its new football coach, signing him to a five-year contract that pays $1.7 million annually.
“I’m blessed and I’m honored to be back involved with a university that I have a familiar background with,” said London, who was former head coach Al Groh’s defensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007, and recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach from 2001 to 2004.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Groh,” London said. “He allowed me to grow within this system, this university. But I’m my own man. I’m my own person ... I’m looking to do my own things and make my own way.”
The Search Criteria
During his introduction of London at the John Paul Jones Arena, Director of Athletics Craig Littlepage provided a glimpse into his decision-making process in his search for a new coach. Littlepage said only one coach stood out among all the candidates. His criteria were as follows:
- “It was critical that we bring in a leader, an educator and a coach … [who] would unify and rally the various stakeholders.”
- “A coach who understands this environment at the University of Virginia, embraces it [and] uses it as a platform for recruiting talented prospective students.”
- “A coach that would be able to cultivate the Virginia high school community … At the same time, a person that could compete nationally for the best student athletes.”
- “A coach that has the character—who’s demonstrated respect for education and whose athletic and life experiences will serve as a model and inspire those under his direction.”
- “A coach that has shown that he can win.”
Shortly after being introduced by Littlepage, London shared his own list. “There are three [rules of my program], and they’re simple,” said London.
- Go to class.
- Show class.
- Treat people with dignity and respect.
London’s ties to the University run deeper than just the years he spent on the sidelines as a Cavalier assistant coach. His oldest daughter, Kristen, played basketball for Virginia before graduating with an anthropology degree earlier this year. His brother Paul London (Col ’95, Educ ’97) played for coach George Welsh and was a standout defensive back for Virginia.
“I’m very proud of [Mike],” Paul London told virginiasports.com. “He’s gone about the whole transformation the right way. He’s stayed humble. He’s treated people with dignity and respect, and he’s getting an opportunity of a lifetime.
“In my mind, Mike is the type of coach that I would want to play for. He’s passionate, he’s personable, he’s enthusiastic, and I think you have to have those attributes in today’s coaching world because you have to get your kids excited. They have to know you care about them as people and citizens, not just as players, and I think he does that. He embodies that.”
What They’re Saying
“He’s a very passionate guy, and you can see that through the way he coaches … He genuinely cares about people. You can see that. It just shows.”
— Matt Conrath (Col ’11), UVA defensive end, to the Daily Press
“There’s optimism amongst the guys I’ve talked to. What comes out of a lot of those conversations is that Coach London is a guy who we all feel that can really bring some change in that area in terms of getting some of those athletes to come to the University of Virginia. By the same token, it’s not as easy as one may think just to recruit kids. Obviously, we have (high academic) standards.”
—Aaron Brooks (Col ’99), former UVA and NFL quarterback, to the Daily Press
“He’s been in my school probably 1,000 times. I think they made an excellent choice.”
—Mike Smith, Hampton High School coach and executive director of the Virginia High School Coaches’ Association, to the Roanoke Times
“The guy can coach, so check that off the list. That should be the most important thing on the list anyway. But the guy can recruit. He’s from Virginia. He’s a young guy, he can come into a living room and relate to a kid. I know this because he related to me well as a coach. He related to everyone well as a coach. He gets it. He used to play when he was younger, and he’s a guy who’s known around the state and I think can recruit really well in the state.”
—Chris Long (Col ’08), St. Louis Ram and former UVA defensive end, to the Washington Post
“I think it’s an excellent hire. I think he knows the University, and he knows the state.”
—George Welsh, former UVA coach and member of College Football Hall of Fame, to virginiasports.com
“He’s going to be a guy that I think can really take the program to new heights. With his early success at Richmond and his upside in coaching, you knew he was going to be at a major university. I’m just glad and honored that we were able to get him back at UVA, where he already has a great reputation.”
—Chris Slade (Col ’93), former UVA and NFL defensive end, to virginiasports.com
Coach London will be a success at UVA because of he’s a talented coach who loves the young men that he coaches. Whenever you get a general who inspires his players and can bring the best out of them on the field, they’ll gladly follow him into battle on Saturday afternoons.
—Kai Parham (Col ’06), former UVA linebacker
Coach London has the respect of many of the older guys on the team because he coached here two out of the last four years. His enthusiasm, his proven skill set in recruiting top talent, and his grounding in both his faith and priorities will hopefully [lead to] a long and successful tenure as UVA’s head coach. In my opinion, there wasn’t a better selection that could have been made to succeed Coach Groh.
—Jon Copper (Col ’09), former UVA linebacker
I believe Mike London will be a successful coach because he is already familiar with the program here at the University of Virginia, he’s proven himself to be able to build a winning program, and he’s highly relatable. I think all of the players will gravitate towards him and in-turn, towards each other, for these reasons.
—Byron Glasby (Col ’08), former UVA safety
Mike is a passionate coach who really connects with the players. I think these attributes will significantly aid him in his recruiting efforts. He also is a strong advocate of integrity, which will uphold the reputation UVA has in collegiate sports.
—Mark Miller (Col ’06), former UVA linebacker
Coach London’s players will understand him. His actions will demand that his players believe in him as much as he believes in them. That small factor can mean everything in those games where the team is in a situation where there’s nothing to be done but fight and grind it out. In those situations sometimes all you have is the voice and presence of your coach, and his actions and his personality will speak volumes in those critical times.
—Brandon Isaiah (Col ’04), former UVA linebacker
I am extremely excited about UVA’s accomplishment in hiring Coach London. He is a great football coach that knows the game and cares for the men that play for him. Even more importantly, he is as solid of a human being as you will find. I could write book on what this man and what his example of being a man has meant to me.
—Connor Hughes (Col ’06), former UVA kicker
Mike London embodies all of the things you look for in a coach—leadership, knowledge of the game, energy, experience, and commitment to players and coaches on and off the field. He is the kind of man and coach who inspires excellence.
—Jon Thompson (Col ’04, Educ ’05), former UVA linebacker
I feel his personality and youthfulness are very key; he is a very down-to-earth person [who] can relate to the young men he will be coaching at UVA. I know he will be able to make a huge dent in the recruiting race because of what I just stated and also the fact that he is a native of Virginia, and he played and graduated from a very good college in Virginia. He has played on every level of football, and his success as a coach speaks for itself. I’m looking forward to great things from Coach London and the University of Virginia Football Program. Wahoo Wah!
—Marquis Weeks (Col ’04, Educ ’05), former UVA tailback and safety