Nov. 16, 2010

By Jeff White

CHARLOTTESVILLE — On its first trip to Boston College in five years, UVa’s football team will have an excellent tour guide this weekend.

The Cavaliers’ first-year coach, Mike London, spent four seasons (1997 to 2000) as an assistant under Tom O’Brien at BC. Their relationship dates to O’Brien’s days as a UVa assistant, when he recruited London’s brother Paul.

“We stayed in contact over the years,” London recalled Monday at John Paul Jones Arena. “Coaches always have that short list of coaches they want to bring with them. I think I was on Coach O’Brien’s short list. He would call me and say, ‘I might have an opportunity to go to this place or that place.’ ”

O’Brien left George Welsh’s staff at Virginia after the 1996 season to become BC’s head coach. London was then an assistant at the University of Richmond, his alma mater, under Jim Reid, who is now UVa’s defensive coordinator.

UR competes in what was then called Division I-AA. BC was a Division I-A school, and Reid, once he learned O’Brien was interested, encouraged London to make the move. Reid had been BC’s defensive coordinator in 1994.

“When that opportunity presented itself, I think Coach Reid called Coach O’Brien and said, ‘You’d be crazy not to hire this guy,’ ” London said. “So I was in the right place at the right time with the prior relationship with Coach O’Brien.”

The new staff faced a major rebuilding project in Chestnut Hill. The football program was reeling from a gambling scandal, and BC finished 4-7 in 1997 and again in ’98. In ’99, however, the Eagles broke through, finishing 8-4, and they went 7-5 in 2000.

They were “four great years,” said London, who coached BC’s defensive linemen. “Met a lot of good people.”

His pupils on the line included Chris Hovan, who became a first-round NFL draft pick, and London considers himself fortunate to have been living in the Boston area when he learned that his daughter Ticynn needed a bone-marrow transplant.

“There is no other place to be when you have a terminal illness or an illness like that to be diagnosed than a place like Boston’s Children’s Hospital,” London said.

His colleagues on O’Brien’s staff included Frank Spaziani, a former UVa assistant who’s now Boston College’s head coach, and Al Golden, now Temple’s head coach.

London and Golden left BC after the 2000 season to join Al Groh’s first staff at UVa.

When London coached there, BC belonged to the Big East. The Eagles’ inaugural football season in the ACC was 2005. O’Brien left Boston College for N.C. State after the 2006 regular season.

In a game that ESPNU will televise, Virginia (1-5, 4-6) meets BC (3-4, 5-5) at noon Saturday at 44,500-seat Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill. The Eagles lead the series 4-0.

Yet another connection between the two coaching staffs: BC offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill held that position under Welsh at UVa in 1999 and 2000.

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