Aug. 2, 2010
CHARLOTTESVILLE — From an audience that comprised some two dozen of the best and brightest members of UVa’s Class of 2013, Mike London got this question Monday afternoon:
“What do you want to see at Scott Stadium: orange-out or coat and tie?”
London, ever the diplomat, didn’t hesitate. “Whatever you want,” he said. “I just want you in the stands. I don’t care what you wear.”
That said, London wants to establish new traditions at the University. Since taking over as Virginia’s football coach in December, London has spent much of his time selling himself and his program, traveling “from Rhode Island to Florida” to do so, he quipped last week in North Carolina.
London’s latest speaking engagement was closer to home. He met with the second-year Jefferson Scholars in the team meeting at the McCue Center, down the hall from his office.
It was the first day of their Institute for Leadership and Citizenship, a two-week program that includes seminars with faculty and staff, meetings with alumni panels and a public-service project.
With a group whose average combined SAT score was 2,200, London shared his thoughts on leadership in general and UVa football in particular.
He recalled, with obvious affection, the lessons of his grandfather, who urged him to be a man who leads leaders, not a man who leads followers.
Surround yourself with good people, London said, and demand and expect the best from them.
Over the course of 75 minutes, the students were treated to a vintage London performance. This is a man whose passion and energy are palpable, and at various times Monday afternoon he shouted, he laughed, he pumped his fists, he clapped his hands, he encouraged.
“All of us have an ability to influence people by what we say, what we do, how we act and how we react,” said London, who returned to UVa, where he’d had two stints as an assistant, after two years as head coach at his alma mater, the University of Richmond.
He’s been a coach for more than 20 years and was a Richmond city policeman before that. Along the way, London said, he’s learned that people “don’t care about how much you know until they know much you care.”
And so his door is always open to players, with whom London wants to have more than superficial relationships. He moved one of the Cavaliers’ spring practices to Norfolk, a gesture that played well with fans in the Tidewater area, and has spent untold hours talking to alumni and community groups.
“I opened my mouth about being accessible and available,” London said with a smile, and he’s determined to follow through on his pledge. “It’s something you got to do.”
In three of their final four seasons under Al Groh, London’s predecessor, the Cavaliers finished below .500. They went 3-9 in 2009, a season in which attendance declined markedly at Scott Stadium.
Asked how he planned to win back a beaten-down fan base, including the student body, London said, “You guys can help me by getting the word out that you’ve met Coach London, and he doesn’t have horns on his head.”
His daughter Kristen and brother Paul are UVa graduates, and London realizes that student support is crucial to his rebuilding project. He talked to student groups during the spring semester, and he plans to meet with sororities and fraternities and other organizations on Grounds this month.
“I want the students to be the 12th man,” London said.