When the University of Virginia hired head coach Mike London in December 2009, the move elicited excitement from fans who had just endured a 3-9 season under former head coach Al Groh.
London’s name at the time was synonymous with fierce recruiting and he propelled the University of Richmond to the pinnacle of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) by compiling a 24-5 record and winning a title in 2008. His hire at the time appeared to be a slam dunk.
Much has changed in six years.
Behind five turnovers and nine penalties for 80 yards, Virginia suffered its third loss of the season, falling 56-14 to Boise State this Friday on a rainy night in Charlottesville. The loss was London's 41st as Virginia's head coach, and it became evident that the patience of once-optimistic fans has worn thin, as many who filled Scott Stadium for the highly anticipated out-of-conference game began to file out of the stadium early in the third quarter.
“I feel like the team has no direction, there’s no aggression, they don’t have any will to win and they don’t play with any fire or passion,” Jeremiah Marshall, who has followed Virginia football for three decades, said following Friday’s loss. “As far as London’s future goes, I say he’s gone. I’ve seen enough – it’s sad. To come to a college football game and watch games like this one is very disheartening.”
After winning five games in 2014, London entered the current season facing mounting pressure from the Virginia faithful to compete for the ACC crown. He’s not off to the best start. The Cavaliers currently rank last in the ACC in rushing yards per game (93.8) and have scored just three rushing touchdowns. And while Virginia’s passing attack ranks third in the conference, the team has scored a conference-low 92 points, averaging 23 points per game.
Virginia’s schedule up to this point has hardly been a cakewalk, as the Cavaliers just ended a brutal September that included contests against UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State. One week after dropping the season opener at UCLA, London appeared to be in line for a signature win as the Cavaliers held a one-point lead over Notre Dame with just under two minutes remaining in the game. Fans at Scott Stadium watched his chance at an upset dissipate when Notre Dame scored the game-winning touchdown with 12 seconds left. Virginia rebounded the following week, but its performance in a 35-29 victory against William and Mary did little to assuage fans’ concerns about the direction of the team.
“I was optimistic after the Notre Dame game and thought they played well, but they didn’t play well against William & Mary and they were even worse tonight,” Virginia fan, Rick Ramsey, said Friday night.
In his current tenure London has gone 24-41 and is 0-5 against in-state rival Virginia Tech. In five years he’s finished with just one winning season, an 8-5 2011 campaign that included a Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Auburn. And with a career 11-29 record in ACC play, his path this season won’t get any easier. The Cavaliers now enter the ACC portion of their schedule that includes home dates against Georgia Tech, Duke and Virginia Tech, and road games at North Carolina, Miami and Louisville.
Although scores of frustrated fans left Scott Stadium early Friday, not all have given up hope for London and the Cavaliers. A few orange ponchos could still be seen scattered around the stadium as a smattering of supporters braved the rain and remained for the duration, despite the lopsided final score.
“I absolutely still have faith in Mike London – I really do,” Shannon Franklin, a 1996 Virginia graduate, said Friday night. “He’s a good guy and he can do this. I really like his positive attitude and think he will turn it around.”
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.