The crucible of competition tests the mettle of athletes and coaches, and Mike London is no exception. In his first year as a head coach, he inherited a University of Richmond team that went to the semifinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in 2007. Expectations were high, but prospects for a repeat dimmed after three defeats, including a loss to JMU when the Dukes scored 15 points in the final 59 seconds.

Mike London Photo by Andrew Shurtleff

At the time, London called it “a painful lesson to learn.”

But learn it he did. The Spiders went on to win nine straight and claim the 2008 national championship. “You can either crack under the circumstances or rise above it. This year’s team has risen above those circumstances,” he told the Sporting News that fall.

Now London plans to instill the same spirit at U.Va., where he was hired as head football coach in December.

“I will make winning a priority, but also by doing it the right way,” he said, stressing the importance of academics and other aspects of University life.

London, who replaces Al Groh, was signed to a five-year contract that pays $1.7 million annually. It’s his third stint at the University, where he served as defensive line coach and recruiter from 2001 to 2004 and defensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007.

“The guy can coach,” said Chris Long (Col ’08), a St. Louis Rams defensive end who played for London at U.Va.

Beyond coaching, London is noted for his recruiting abilities and his personal qualities.

“He is as solid a human being as you will find,” former U.Va. kicker Connor Hughes (Col ’06) said. “I could write a book on what this man and what his example of being a man has meant to me.”

A native of Hampton, London played defensive back for the UR Spiders and was signed as a free agent by the Dallas Cowboys in 1983. He served as an assistant coach for William & Mary, Richmond, Boston College, the Houston Texans and U.Va. before becoming UR’s head coach in 2008.

Craig Littlepage, U.Va.’s director of athletics, said the University was looking for a leader and an educator who understands the U.Va. environment, has character and “has shown that he can win.”

London said a winning program relies on three core values: players going to class, showing class, and treating people with dignity and respect.

“Those are the things that I think are foundations of not just a football program,” he said, “[but also] for families or for organizations or for whatever it may be.”